A while ago our reporter Curt Wiser got the opportunity to see Release, from Henry Liu. He then followed that up with an interview where Liu covers everything from returning to China and taking 27 cuts to get scene right.
Curt Wiser: Where did the concept of Release come from?
Henry Liu: In 2015, I went back to Beijing, I haven’t been back for about 6 years, and I was overwhelmed and shocked by the changes of contemporary Chinese society. The huge gap between the rich and the poor, the growing anxiety of the middle class, the government officials’ pressure due to the anti-corruption movement, the difficulty of getting hospitalized when people are sick…all of those things mixed together become the inspiration of this short film. Qing Ping is like a mirror, I’m trying reflect the current situation of the society through her by using simple characters and images.
CW: The job and setting of a Karaoke bar with a man in a private room with a female entertainer like Qing Ping is not something we have in the United States. I got the feeling more goes on there than just singing, is that correct?
HL: You’re right, some of the karaoke bars in China provide “special services”, when you go there, the “Mommy” will bring many girls to your room and let you choose, the girl will keep you company, singing, drinking, flirting, playing games…Some of the girls can be taken out and of course, you need to pay for it.
CW: The scene when Qing Ping irons food against a pan to feed Shishi since her stove is broken was particularly interesting. Where did the idea for that scene come from? Is there a story behind it?
HL: For me, the most interesting thing is observing how people behave or react when they’re in trouble or dilemma. Qing Ping is struggling to take care of her family. Think about the situation: her mom is hospitalized and still in coma, she owes other people a lot of money, the roof is leaking, her son is starving, she can’t cook on the stove because she forgot to pay the gas bill, a normal person will break down, but she doesn’t, when she’s cooking with the irons, her love for her son is shining with guilty and self-blame.
It took me a long time to figure out how to deal with this scene, one day when I saw the irons in the room, I know I found the solution.
CW: In the second scene at the Karaoke Bar I noticed gobo lighting on the walls that looked like abstract fish. Was that that your idea, or a suggestion by your Cinematographer Mitchell Sturm?
HL: That’s very interesting interpretation, we can’t do too much change/decoration at the karaoke bar location, and Mitchell did a great job by lighting the interesting structures at the location.
CW: Since you also edited Release, how did that inform the way you directed? Did you edit in your head, or did you shoot a lot and found it during the edit?