Extraordinary Talent Interview with the award-winning director, actress and writer Yiwen Cao

Extraordinary Talent Interview with the award-winning director, actress and writer Yiwen Cao

Yiwen Cao is a director and actress, known for Chubby Café (2019), Dao Meng Mei Ying (2018) and Astrall Story. Her upcoming project is Fallen

Hi, Yiwen Cao! Thank you for granting this interview and sincere congratulations on your Outstanding Journey as a Filmmaker.

1. First of all, thank you Yiwen Cao for the interview. We know you have about 10 years of experience as a director, actress and writer but how did you get involved in the world of cinema?

Thanks for your sincere invitation. Please allow me to explain something in advance: yes I wrote some novels and performed on TV when I was a kid. But personally, I may not regard them as an official start of my film journey. It would be better to take the suspense Chubby Café as the start of my film career, because I am the screenwriter and main actress in that feature. So maybe I already got about 5 years’ experience as a filmmaker.

Now let’s move on to the first question. Actually, unlike some people who know what they will do at their early ages, I had never noticed that I will be a filmmaker when I was a kid. Basically, I had a typical life as a normal Chinese student for my early twenty years: studied hard, explored talents, attended competitions and tried best to train leadership through joining leagues in school. I was a very busy student and I had no idea about which career I will throw myself in.

But at same time, I knew that I love writing and performing from instinct. And I wanted to experience different lives as much as possible. Thus, I tried to use time effectively: I got a chance to be exchanged to California for studying and working from my original school–Sichuan university, which is one of top universities in China. After coming back from USA, I became a postgraduate in the Chinese University of Hong Kong, which is a top 50 university in the world. I got much different experience in these places.

For example, when I was in USA, I got many part-time jobs, like interpreter, activities desk agent, housekeeper, even dish washer, etc. I did them almost at the same time. Those jobs made me exhausted, and I earned a little. When I came back to Sichuan, I found that I lost around 20 pounds. But since I treated every job seriously, the American company gave me a medal pin to praise my work.

And due to my hardworking, some native workmates raised interests in me and came to share their stories with me.  But I felt so sad after hearing their situations. No matter how hard they worked, they could only get minimum salary, because they were not well educated. Their parents did not get benefit from education, and so did them. So they wanted to earn money to feed themselves as soon as possible and most of them started to get full time work at 18. However, since they didn’t have higher degree, they got the minimum salary. Though this money could make them survive, they could not get in a higher class and to get much more money. All in all, their lives were trapped in a circle. And most of them will always be poor, no matter how hardworking they are.

To be worse, I found women’s situation was tougher and complicated. Since some girls gave education up were not for themselves, they did it for their boyfriends. And the reason why they did it is because they lack enough attention and love. Thus, girls were easy to devote themselves to people who showed a little warm to them. That’s very pity.

I still remember a local girl who became mother at 16. When I met them, her husband and she was only 18, but they already got two babies. She told me that she was a high school student when first met her husband. Both of them did part time jobs in a fast food shop. Her husband was always confident. But she was self-abased because she was short and big. One day, her husband passed by her but came back, he told her that her smile was cute. Maybe he was just used to say compliments to everyone, but these words lighted her life. She got crushed on him and ran away from home later. But she came back in a year, because her husband was missing, and she needed her parents to look after her new born baby. Though in the past year, that man didn’t treat her well, she admitted to marry him later and got pregnant again.

I asked her why she married a man who already abandoned her once. Suddenly, she burst into tears. She seemed to be embarrassed but could not stop sobbing. Then she started to murmur: “What should I do……I had no choice……I just need love, no matter whether it was fulfilled with desires……what if no one will love me anymore……”

From that moment, I realized that some women lived very humble lives. They are easy to find shortcomings of themselves and criticized by people around them. But oppositely, most of men are ordinary but confident. And they ask women to forgive them straightly after cheating or making other mistakes. They even claim that “Every man makes mistakes.” or “Men are always boys.” They always have excuses and blame others. But they tell you this is “normal”.

Maybe from that time, I wanted to help women be confident, and get more attention and opportunities. Then I find film gives me the best chance. Film needs women’s voice. And there are so many things that men do not know. Men created marriage to make sure they can have their own inherits. But women marry men for love. You can see that women and men are totally different creatures. Men will never understand women from their bottom of hearts, so women need to have equal platforms to show their opinions. In addition, men do not need to worry about giving women too many rights. Women are peace lover. If men and women can equally work together, they will see a much better world.

2. Which of the three professions are you most passionate about?

Firstly, I love being director. I think film is a very unique and profound tool to show directors’ thoughts and values. I will be indeed grateful and delight if people can get positive power from my films. That will make my life meaningful.

I also believe that a good director should also is a good screenwriter. Because in most of situations, it’s hard to find a director to understand your plays well, especially for independent films. Luckily, I love writing.

Personally, I like to act. Because it is very meaningful to let films record how you look in your different ages and it can see how you grow up. So I also like to write some roles according to my real images.

Overall, I would love to be director, screenwriter and actress.

3. How difficult has it been to stand out in your career and in your country?

Money is always the most important thing to start a career. Since global economy is not very well in recent years, investors do not want to take any risk. They prefer give money to celebrities or projects of big companies than young people or independent films. In addition, the Covid  reoccurs from time to time. So filmmakers need to take more risks when starting projects, because every accident means additional budget. Thus, we have to be very cautious to make a new film.

4. We are living through pandemic times and it has affected us in many aspects, but you have not stopped working on your next project.

Actually, my new film is delayed due to epidemic. But there are always many things to do. I tried my best to keep enhancing the part of my job because I don’t want to waste any time. I will be director, screenwriter and actress in my next film. So I did a lot of writing job during the waiting days. And I had kept reading, challenging and changing my script constantly over three years.

I know many people have suffered a lot in recent years. But we can think things in positive ways, like you are not the only one affected by the Covid, and everything has its own period. The pandemic will die away at last. So the most important thing is focus on improving yourself and insisting your dream. No matter whether you could success at last, you feel no shame to yourself.

5. What can you tell us about “Fallen”?

Personally, I want to name the new film “Invisible Alliance”, because I want to indicate people though life is tough, there are always hope. But another filmmaker of our team strongly recommends “Fallen”, since she thinks it sounds more powerful. So we have not made the final decision yet.

This film is about how to make men and women work together to help women get real equal rights and make the world better. It shows audience how the world will be when ruled by both men and women equally. To make people see the consequence of keeping repressing women’s rights, I create an extreme social situation in the film, which women only take 10% of population there. It sounds ridiculous now, but it has realistic meanings.

Nowadays, some people may think women are already equal to men, because women can be educated and hired. But that’s not the whole world real looked like, and there are still lots of things to do. In most of places of the world, women can not get equal opportunities to have work and education. Men are much easier to find jobs than women and even women work in Hollywood get much less pay than men.

One of the main reason to cause this phenomenon is that men control economy and media. The way they show you how well they treat women, like they give some sweet to their pets from time to time. They can’t feel women’s feeling, so only women can know how tough their lives are. The real equity is a kind of care from the bottom of your heart. It’s not a performance. Thus, I want to encourage people to pursue equity and dreams through the film.

6. In “Fallen,” you focus on a very painful subject, the sale of women. In this context, do you think there is still a lot to do, both as a society and as a government to stop it?

Only gender equity comes true, the sale of women will stop. And that needs both of women and men’s cooperation. Because only at that time, people will not think women’s most important function is giving birth to babies. Men won’t regard women as their personal belongs. And they won’t judge women by appearance and think whether they would like to sleep with her at first glance. That’s all “Man Gaze”. I hope women and men will live together only because of love, instead of under the social pressure like they must have babies at the suitable ages. Only when men regard women as equal people, not the fertility tools, women can be really liberated and focus on exploring the value of their own lives. And that’s need both of women and men’s cooperation.

7. The twist you give in the film is important, there is always a light in your pathway, tell us how Anxin’s story came to you and end up turning it into a film.

I can’t tell you a specific story of the main role of my new film Anxin, because she is not a sole person. Anxin is a common girl with common appearance, common intelligence quotient and common kindness. She will remind you of your girl friends, your relatives or the younger you. Overall, Anxin is everyone. But she is also unique, because she keeps individual thinking and dares to say no.

In the movie, every girl should get married after graduation from university. But Anxin wants to work. Every girl improves herself to raise her value and marry a richer man. But Anxin studies for herself. Everyone obeys Xueyuan’s rules without asking any question. But Anxin dares to sue the highest officer of Xueyuan, just for helping a strange street male cleaner. Though Anxin looks so common and weak, she never surrenders……People always tell Anxin what she should do at her age, and they believe that’s for her sake. But Anxin has individual thinking. So she finally realizes that a part of rich men control the place, and they will never regard women as equal people. They are used to please men by selling women to make sure that place stable. And they do it in a very smart way, so many women do not know they were sold and just receive the rule as “normal”. At last, Anxin finds that only both of men and women have the equal power to rule the place, the place can have the real peace and development. Women are such peace lovers that beyond men’s imagination. Give women a chance, the world will have the real peace.

8. Xueyuan are towns, cities, and places that exist in different parts of the world. Do you believe there can be a change to stop these types of situations?

You can think Xueyuan is everywhere, because almost everywhere is controlled by a little part of rich men, just like Xueyuan. Those rich men don’t have the ability to emotionally understand what women and common men’s feeling and needs. Thus, we need to put more kinds of people to Xueyuan. And let women join the ruling power is the first step.

9. After “Fallen,” what’s next for Yiwen Cao?

In different life’s phrases, people show different feelings. I don’t know what the next work will be, because I need to focus on current film. But one thing is for sure: I will try my best to encourage people, especially women to pursue their dreams and explore their lives’ values through making positive films. I will be very comfort if anyone can get benefits from my work.

10. Without a doubt it is important that women are paving the way for new generations to get involved in the world of cinema. What is your message for those who doubt they can’t make big productions and create stories like you?

I think the most difficult thing is to make 0 to 1, and things will be much easier to make 1 to 100. Thus, I want to encourage women to pursue their dreams bravely. If you already know what your interest is, congratulations! Because there are billions of women in the world do not know what they want through their whole lives. You already have the direction. So the first thing is to know what do you want. And then, you can divide your dream into every single step, and find a way to achieve them one by one.

For instance, if you want to be a screenwriter, do not hesitate to start writing a script. If you want to be an actress, just go to a film school or find chances in movie studios. Protect yourself well, then just do it. You don’t need to think lots of things at the same time, like what if nobody likes my script or where should I find money to shoot my script? Just start to achieve the first step. And then you may realize chances have already waited for you for so long. Cheer up, girls! What’s more, never give education up, and keep learning. Your knowledge is your most powerful armor to protect you to explore the world!

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