Production Talk on 'Last Trip Home' with Han Fengyu

Han Fengyu's Last Trip Home has garnered several accolades, from a feature at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival's Cinefondation Selection, to a screening at the Singapore International Film Festival last year. In March this year, the film was deemed Best Picture at the 6th Singapore Short Film Awards in March 2015. 

SINdie catches up with Fengyu to find out more about the inspiration and process behind his award-winning film. 

A father and son, Chinese immigrants, want to go back home with their only remaining possession—their car. 


Last Trip Home Trailer

What was the casting process for your film like? Did you cast the characters of Father and Son together? I understand that the Son is played by a newcomer, Zhang Zheng Yang. What was their dynamic like? 

HF: We street casted Zheng Yang which was a process that some of the lecturers had a problem with and we found the father (Huang He) through a friend in the industry, Bee Thiam. Huang He used to do opera. Finding Zheng Yang is a miraculous story, my producer Adar Ng decides that we should pay NTU a visit and it was at Macdonalds that we found him. My DP, Lee Sze Wei felt that he looks like a grown up version of Yang Yang from Yi Yi by Edward Yang. And we approach him, he has no experience and knows nothing about cinema. 

When Adar asked him if he is interested to come down for an audition, he did not exactly agree. On the audition day, we almost cancelled the audition as we could not find anybody who fit, but eventually he came. We gave him scenarios and instructions and he just moved and did what he needs to do on his own. He has a certain rhythm in his movement, that's when I then decided to go with him. I abandoned my previous script and rewrote for him. 

Huang He took care of Zheng Yang as if he was his son. It worked well because Huang He has some experience and Zheng Yang has none, it was a very nurturing relationship.

The film comes across as very meticulously made in all aspects, from the acting to the cinematography. Did you set out to work in this very exacting way? What was the process like? 

HF: The film was made in this manner due to a few reasons and none of them override the other. Firstly, during that period of time my DP, Sze Wei and I were into Tsai Ming Liang. Prior to that we shot many things together with many different styles and at that stage we were into Mr Tsai. Secondly, it was out of practicality, Zheng Yang only has limited hours with us due to dormitory regulations. By shooting almost one shot for one scene we consciously reduce the number of set-ups, and focus on important aspects like performances and the crafting of scenes. Thirdly, we were shooting as minimally as possible, making use of what the location can offer us instead of "changing" the location to suit us.

I do believe that style is derived from two aspects, one, what is the most suitable for the film and two, practicality. So yeah, the style is out of necessity. 

Are there any films or directors whose work influenced you, shaped the direction of Last Trip Home

HF: If I want to be a bastard I would say "The entire film history influenced me and shaped my direction as a director, as an artist and as a man because I believe that's just the way it is." But I think I shall spare myself from that reputation and answer honestly. Edward Yang is my saviour. Lars Von Trier shown me what is cinema. Michael Haneke taught me how audience are like. Tsai Ming Liang taught me the craft to engage. Dardennes taught me characters and salvation. P.T Anderson taught me intensity. Those mentioned above are just the contemporaries who are old but still alive. The list will go on forever if I continue, Tarkovsky taught me self. Bergman taught me love. Kubrick taught me epic. Ozu taught me life. Godard taught me form. Seriously if I would to go on, this will look like a thesis paper.

You've said before that this film is not "about family, [but] … about love" (SGIFF interview). What kind of distinction did you draw between the two, and why? How did that translate into the on-screen portrayal of the father-son relationship?  

HF: I don't really understand this question. I did not draw any distinction between the two. I meant that family has love and love includes family but the film is about love thematically and that's what I am trying to explore. 

What were the biggest challenges you faced in making this film? 

HF: The biggest challenges in making any films for me are the same. "Why does this not work?"

What was your experience at Cannes Film Festival's Cinéfondation like? Did you hear any responses to your film when it screened there?

HF: Some people like the film, some people hate the film, some did not understand a thing, and in that aspect I think the film has done what it should have done to my audience. Cinefondation is great, it caused a lot of confusion, anger and generated my next project due to these emotions. 

Are there upcoming plans to screen the film locally or elsewhere? 

HF: No, I had enough of the film. I had enough talking about it, watching it and hanging onto it anymore. Really, it's time to do something else. I must move on. 

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