Nelicia Low

Source: Photographed by Amanda Koh

Nelicia Low

Growing up in Singapore, Nelicia Low began her a career as a filmmaker after representing her country as a fencer.

Retiring after the 2010 Asian Games, Low would go on to receive her MFA in Film Directing from Columbia University and make a number of well-regarded shorts, including Freeze (2016) which screened at more than 70 festivals across the world, including Clermont-Ferrand and Busan.

Her feature film debut Pierce, set to premiere today (July 3) in the Crystal Globe Competition of Karlovy Vary, is a tense psychological thriller in which young fencer Zijie (Liu Hsiu-Fu) dreams of being reunited with his older brother Zihan (Tsao Yu-Ning), in juvenile prison for killing an opponent during a fencing match. Zijie is convinced of his brother’s innocence. But when Zihan is released, Zijie soon begins to wonder whether the unshakeable faith he puts in his brother is justified.

The film is a co-production between Singapore, Taiwan and Poland, produced by Singapore based companies Potocol and Elysium CIne, Flash Forward Entertainment located in Taipei and Polish outfit Harine Films. The co-production company is Poland based fixafilms. World sales are handled by LA and New York based Magnify

How easy was it to pull together the funding for the film, especially it being a co-production between Taiwan, Singapore and Poland.

The film was always meant to take place in Taiwan, so our first step to begin financing was to look for a Taiwanese co-producer, and I knew that I’ve always wanted to work with a European-based director of photography so we kept our eyes open for a European co-producer. We met Flash Forward Entertainment and Harine Films through Full Circle Lab Philippines, and we were able to secure financing within 16 months - a feat for a first feature film.

What kind of influences were there behind Pierce?


Source: Karlovy Vary


The story was partly inspired by a real-life incident that happened in Taipei while I was there making a short film in 2014 - 21-year-old Cheng Chieh stabbed as many people as he could on the subway, killing four. While his younger brother visited him at the police station, crying, in denial that his older brother could do something so monstrous, his parents went onto the streets of Taipei to publicly apologise and begged the government to execute their son. His younger brother’s reaction reminded me strongly of my relationship with my older brother, who is autistic. When I was young, I used to idealise him to be a loving, caring older brother, but as I grew up, I realised that our entire relationship was made up in my head.

When I grew up and truly understood my brother’s condition, what was strange was that the love I had for him, which was built on a fantasy, remained as strong and pure as ever. This is precisely what I want to explore in Pierce - if love is completely made up in your head, is it still love after all?

The fencing made sense for the story because of the character of Zihan, Zijie’s older brother, who was hyper intelligent, enigmatic and manipulative. Fencing is very much like chess played with swords, all about strategy and predicting each other’s moves. It made sense that he would flourish at it, for he would be able to predict what his opponents would do, while preventing them from guessing what he would do next.

As much as it is a traditional thriller, it’s also a coming out story.

I did not want to focus on it as a coming out story as Taiwan is very LGBT friendly (gay marriage is legalised), and I wanted the local and international audience to feel this progressiveness. Therefore the older brother’s reaction to finding out his younger brother is gay is a muted one. I instead see the substory between Zijie and Jing Hui as first love, and more importantly a chance for Zijie to receive much needed normalcy (away from the chaos of dealing with his older brother).

What are you planning on working on next?

I have been writing my second feature, Duet, for the last two years. It will be my American debut, in English and Cantonese, set in San Francisco in the 90s. The story revolves around a young, talented Cantonese Opera actress who has to choose between chasing after her dreams in a dying artform with her idol and mentor, a charismatic older female actress who only plays male roles, or making her father proud by becoming his successor at the Chinese American bank he founded. It was inspired by the difficult journey of making Pierce, and the love and sacrifice that artists make for their art.