Toronto: The Chinese director says he loves absurdity more than black humour.
Chinese director Ning Hao loves absurdity. Just don’t call his newest film a black comedy. Breakup Buddies, which plays at TIFF 2014 in the Special Presentations programme (and is sold by IM Global), follows Geng Hao, a recent divorcee. After hitting rock bottom, Geng and his best friend hit the road for a wild trip full of colorful characters, bizarre situations, and insightful meditations on the way people connect and communicate, all set against the changing landscape of Chinese society.
Actress Zhou Dongu, a student of the Beijing Film Academy who appears in Breakup Buddies, praised Ning as one of the most important directors of black humour. Also in the film is Ma Su, who called the movie “a story of rebirth and growth, mixed with laughter and tears.”
For all the kind words he received from his actresses, Ning couldn’t help but return the compliments with a wry dig. When asked how he tapped into his stars’ funny sides, he simply said, “The characters they portray are their true selves.”
This is a man who knows funny, despite his serious and thoughtful demeanor, and despite the prevailing tendency to label his films as black comedies, Ning maintains that this is not entirely accurate, as he is more interested in themes of absurdism. Comparing his recent venture to his past films, Ning claims that “only No Man’s Land features black humour, telling a story of death and the negative side of human nature, but I believe that Crazy Stone and Crazy Racer lean more towards absurdism than black humour. This particular movie (Breakup Buddies) seems to have a more positive attitude because it is more realistic and more about human emotions and relationships.”
But to Ning, form is equally as important as content, revealing that road movies offer an suitable medium for story because, even though they are “quite traditional, you get different perspectives and different aspects. In China, at the moment, the society is going through a huge development at a very fast speed, and you can find many themes of absurdism in society, which is why I am very interested in, and feel comfortable to use, this method.”
Telling the story of a changing China is an important aspect of his filmmaking, and a responsibility that Ning takes quite seriously. When asked if he used humour for subversive purposes of escaping censorship, Ning was quick to explain that there is actually a long history of absurdism in China, starting in the Tang dynasty. “We have different forms of entertainment,” he said. “We use humour and we have actors and actresses who are talented and trained to express humour.”
Of course, Breakup Buddies, isn’t the first Chinese road trip film, and Ning has little concern audiences will grow tired of this kind of movie. “Road movies and the car culture is relatively new to China so we’ve only made several of this kind of movie,” said the director. “The genre is relatively new and the highlight is some ways away. It’s a genre that could express many different movies and there will be many of this type of movie to come.”
So what separates Breakup Buddies from other popular road movies? “This one is directed by Ning Hao,” beamed the director.