Saturday, June 22, 2024

Tian Xu talks HONGFU HOTEL (2024) Tribeca 2024

Tian Xu's HongFu Hotel was one of the first films I saw for Tribeca and now many weeks and 100 other titles later the film remains at the very top of list of the best films of the festival and of 2024.  It is a stunning ghost story about the living communing with the dead and trying to move on. 

It is the calling card of a great director who will soon be rattling the pillar of cinematic heaven. (Watch tHONFU FU HOTEL and you will see I'm write)

Because the film is so good and because Tian Xu impressed the hell out of me I asked him if I could ask him a few questions. He agreed. 

We did the interview via email, unfortunately because of circumstances the final set of answers arrived just as I was going on the ground to the festival so it has had to sit until now.

STEVE: The film opens with a shot of a huge mural. Where is that mural? Do you think the figures in the painting can help spirits cross over? DO they go back?

TIAN: "The Yaoshi Fo Mural, housed in the Met Museum in New York City, is a captivating masterpiece dating back to the Yuan dynasty around 1319. At its heart lies the Buddha of Medicine, surrounded by an array of Buddhist deities. In our film, one of these deities emerge from the mural to aid the lost spirits in finding their way home and reincarnate."

STEVE: Did the mural inspire the film or did the mural get brought into the screenplay?

TIAN: I'm a buddhist myself, my dad and I visited the Met museum to specifically look at The Yaoshifo Mural, to see the mural in person was half of the reason why we we traveled to New York

Our motivation to create a film stemmed from our need to share our personal story, particularly our experiences as immigrants and our religious beliefs. The mural provided a perfect backdrop to explore these themes in a meaningful way.

STEVE:  The film is being tagged by Tribeca, and even your own press material, as, among other things, a horror film. While the film has a spooky feel to it because it concerns ghosts, it’s not really a horror film. Does it bother you that the film will get unfairly lumped as a horror film? How do you see the film?

TIAN: I've always had the intention of creating 'Hongfu Hotel' as a horror film, but my upbringing was heavily influenced by the works of Del Toro and his unique perspective on romanticizing monsters and ghosts. His approach intrigued me, where the more terrifying a ghost appeared, the more relatable and sympathetic their character became.This stark contrast between terror and empathy is what drew me to create the characters of Hongfu Hotel.

STEVE: I love the grandson's attitude about the hotel "It's full of ghosts" expressed as if it means nothing What are your feelings towards ghosts? I ask this because there is a casualness with which the living and the dead converse which you don’t really see in any films, certainly not a drama. 

TIAN: In 'Hongfu Hotel', each ghost is portrayed as a close relative of Feng. Despite their eerie appearances, Feng interacts with them much like anyone would with their own grandparents or aunts and uncles – with a mix of familiarity, annoyance, and distraction.

This dynamic is a key element of the film's tragedy. As the main character, Feng is consumed by his own personal struggles, barely pausing to truly connect with his spectral family members. It's a reflection of my own experience everytime I go back to China to visit my family and how I'm often too preoccupied with my own work and problems to appreciate the short moments I spend with my grandparents. 

The irony deepens as these ghosts, visually striking and unsettling to the audience, but our main character Feng is totally unfazed to them. It's only when he drives away from the hotel that he realizes the gravity of his rushed farewells, and how much he's left behind.

STEVE: One of the things that makes the film work is that there is a sense of life, of family, of place. There is a connection between the characters and the places in the film that transcends words on a page. How did you manage to bring so much to the film that isn't spoken but adds volumes? How did you make the film actually seem like we are watching something in CHinatown? How is that you could make us believe in a few fleeting moments that a marriage is crumbling without overdoing it? The loving but strained relationship between father and son? Where did the insight into so much come from?

TIAN: Through the lens of horror, I wanted to explore the detachment experienced between generations, similar to the estranged relationship between the living and the dead in the film. Just as Feng, the protagonist, remains indifferent to the whispers of his family, I also find myself increasingly disconnected from my own cultural backgrounds and families back in China. 

I also wanted to draw a parallel between the ghosts of the Hongfu Hotel and the fate of the ancient Yaoshi Fo mural, since the film delves into the theme of cultural preservation. Despite the museum's best efforts to protect this historic artwork, time inevitably takes its toll, the faces of these powerful religious deities and symbols fading into the wall. Similarly, despite Grandpa's steadfast determination to safeguard the legacy of the ghosts haunting the hotel, their voices grow fainter with each passing day, drowned out by the sound of New York City.

“The Hongfu Hotel" serves as my way of telling the immigrant experience, grappling with the complexities of forging a new identity while struggling to preserve the cultural and religious roots that anchors myself to the past. 

STEVE: What are your thoughts on film length? Do worry about length or just telling the story? Is a short a proof of concept or the finished project? I say this as someone who thinks this film is the perfect length for what it is. I can't see where it would go as a feature.

TIAN: This film served as a proof of concept for a feature film that's been a passion of mine for years. Expanding on the concept introduced in 'Hongfu Hotel', the feature film delves deeper into the dynamics of this unconventional community of monsters and ghosts retiring in a hotel. Pitching this idea at the Tribeca Film Festival is an exciting opportunity to share my vision with a wider audience and hopefully garner the support needed to bring this project to life."

STEVE:. Only because I can't shake it- where were the exteriors shot?  I keep trying to sort it out.

TIAN: The opening exterior shot of the Hotel took place in LA. We decorated a studio back lot in New York. You can see on our website on how we transformed it to look like New York City. However, we filmed all the B roll shots in NYC. Here's the website:

No comments:

Post a Comment