UCLA screenwriting professor Weiko Lin has transformed a sorrowful event from his past into a global story about reconnection and rediscovery that will soon hit the big screen as a feature film.
With the help of one of his screenwriting students in Taiwan, Lin was able to transform a successful theater script into the screenplay for “100 Days,” his first-ever Chinese language feature film, directed by Emmy Award-winner Henry Chan.
Lin, who served as one of the film’s producers, said the experience of losing his mother six years ago helped him reconnect with his Asian roots and discover the “100 days” tradition, in which people must appease the spirits of their deceased loved ones within this span of time. Sometimes, as in the case of the film’s main protagonist, this even means getting married within 100 days.
“I thought, what a cool and interesting concept for the film. In a way, having been away from Taiwan, my home, for so long I thought it would be nice to do a movie for my mom,” Lin said. “She was always wanting me to come back and give something back to the home country in a way. You know how Ang Lee went back to Taiwan after having a great career in the States, and that was kind of the inspiration to go back as well.”
Lin said this experience allowed him and Chan to experience filmmaking from an Asian American perspective by combining the skills they have gained through previous projects here in the U.S. Lin said he and Chan have known each other for eight years through their involvement in the Asian American committees found in both the Writers Guild of America and the Directors Guild of America, but were waiting for the right project to come along before working together.
After Lin’s play was workshopped in Chicago while he was teaching screenwriting and playwriting at Northwestern University, he decided to keep the play’s heartfelt approach and develop it into a screenplay.
“The play and the movie are completely two different stories and different characters. One is from an American, theatrical, raw kind of a culture, so I took that concept and then I developed basically more of a ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ version of it for the movie,” Lin said. “I worked with a local screenwriter who was my former student at Taipei National University of the Arts.”
The result was “100 Days,” the story of a young man’s reluctance to leave the big city and return to his village in Taiwan, where he reconnects with a girl from his past who may be the answer to his “100 days” predicament. But the man soon finds that complying with tradition will not be as simple as it seems.
Once the script was written, both Lin and Chan said they were faced with the challenge of working exclusively in Chinese for the first time.
Chan said mastering the proper Mandarin pronunciation, as opposed to his native Cantonese, made the first table read with the cast and crew both challenging and humorous at the same time.
Lin said working in an unfamiliar film market also posed a great challenge to him and the entire production team as they adjusted to a completely new way of doing things while shooting the film on an island in Taiwan.
“Because I’m producing the film, that was a big challenge because it was my first time. The industry here (in Asia) is not like the studio system where there are so many people and so much budget,” Lin said. “We had to ship 14 trucks, cranes, two cameras, and we had to ship extras because there were so few local villagers. … But it was a really wonderful experience because if I worked in the U.S. system, there’s no way I would be involved from the very beginning all the way to the end.”
Lin’s co-producer, Stacy Fan, also acknowledged these challenges and said this was also her venture in the world of production. Fan said she and Lin were very hands-on as producers, especially since the film’s story is so personal for Lin.
“Weiko (Lin) and I really oversaw everything, from the opening credits to the end credits,” Fan said. “Henry (Chan) did a great job of doing a first edit and we had that done really quickly. … We were really involved in everything from color correction to sound mixing to working with the composer and lyricist to get the music that we wanted. We were very communicative about what we wanted to do and we were very strong about the vision that we had for the overall concept of the movie.”
Now that the film is about to be seen by its first audiences, Lin said he hopes to be able to continue making globally minded films like this in the future.
“I would definitely love to find the right material and, with the China market so relevant, be able to team up with studio partners and really collaborate and make global movies,” Lin said. “It’s not about a Chinese movie, a Japanese movie, an English movie or German movie. It’s a global movie and that’s what’s very, very exciting.”