Chinese director René Liu’s film debut Us & Them made history by making $200 million ticket sales in just 10 days. She is then the highest-grossing female director for a Chinese language film. Netflix took notice of this feat, and acquired the rights to make the film a part of their streaming lineup starting June 22.
In an MB Entertainment exclusive, Director René Liu and the film’s lead stars Jing Boran and Zhou Dongyu, share their experiences in creating a moving story about two people falling in love, breaking up, and meeting again.
What made you pick Us and Them as your directorial debut?
René Liu: Us and Them was inspired from my short story Home for Chinese New Year, which was published in 2011. It describes a man and woman from Mino of Kaohsiung who both went to Taipei to work. There, they fall in love, get separated, and then get married to other people. Yet every year, they meet when they go back to their hometown for New Year. Producer Zhang Yibai encountered this story and made it into a script. The scene changed from Taipei to Beijing. Now it tells the story of a man and a woman working at a foreign land. They meet on a homeward train and get emotionally tangled for 10 years.
Did you even imagine that this would top the box office?
René: I remember the first time I got the Best Actress Award from Asia Pacific Film Festival. At that time, people said I was good at acting. To tell you the truth, even though I got the award, I still had no clue about acting. It’s the same for filmmaking. I still don’t know nothing about directing. Why did this film become a mega-hit? I don’t know. I think the most important part is that our whole team is excited about it, and this brought a great energy.
What was your reaction when you found out that Netflix wanted to acquire Us & Them?
René: I am honored that the film was chosen as Netflix’s first Chinese language original film. Director of photography Mark Lee Ping-Bing told me that cinema has its own language. But the film also exists for numerous viewers. I think It’s crucial that there will be so many people who will watch it. And this makes me feel that the film will never be off the screen.
How did you prepare for your role?
Jing Boran: I came across the script of Us and Them by accident and immediately fell in love with it. Then I met René and we talked about my views on the script and my ideas. We found that we agreed with each other, and therefore I decided to take up the role. It’s my first time to play a character who is young but has gray hair. When I saw myself in the mirror after the test makeup, I thought, “Wow, I’m so excited!” It’s something that I’ve never done before and I never thought I could be transformed with a different look.
How did you relate with your character?
Jing: I feel that Lin Jianqing shares so many common traits with countless men. Every man has come-of-age, a time when you’re green and you love a girl with such burning passion and total devotion. I started my career at a young age; I devoted myself to work and hardly had any love life. I feel that like Lin Jianqing, every boy would have such a profound and earnest relationship at some point in their lives and it truly moves me. The better understanding they gain from their relationship, the love between Jianqing and Xiaoxiao, and between Jianqing and his father are all moving.
Zhou Dongyu: I think the process isn’t important. If the audiences regard it as a good film after seeing it, then it’s a success for us.
What is your favorite behind-the-scenes moment?
Jing: I’m a lightweight drinker and allergic to alcohol. But when I need to get emotional in a scene, alcohol could be a tool. When I’m drunk, I relax and stop thinking too much. Everything, including all the stories and the characters’ emotions, accumulates in my heart. So, what I pursue is a relaxed state, and in such a state, I can play the character more naturally. I wouldn’t have to pretend or deliberately think about it. That’s what you call “to hear, see, feel and drink for real.”
Zhou: The time when we were shooting in Hailar. It was -30°C. It was so cold that I wore six layers of leggings. I’ll never forget it.
How was it working together?
Jing: First of all, René is a very nice person. From an actor’s point of view, I feel happy working with her since she loves her actors. I always say that René is someone who I devote myself to; since she loves me so much, I love her so much, too. Secondly, René is full of sentiments, just like the story she wrote for the film. I don’t know why. The shooting went smoothly from beginning to end. We had a rapport that I didn’t think of before.
Zhou: I think it’s important for the actors and the director to trust each other. Although we didn’t work or even know each other before, we got on so well that it took us such a short time to feel familiar with each other. I rarely feel so happy when making a film.
What were the challenges you encountered?
René: We went to Hailar in temperature -30°C to shoot it. With -30°C, snow is guaranteed. Just walk out the door and in 10 minutes you’ll get frost on your eyelashes. It’s painstaking. But once I saw the picture we got, it was all worth it.
Jing: The period in which the character I play goes through in the film, is the longest so far. It’s difficult to play someone in his mid-thirties. I haven’t experienced it yet. I remember what it was like to be in your twenties. Nevertheless, the most difficult part is to capture the growth that goes in his mind when a boy turns into a man, and how his ideas of love, family and home have evolved. I feel that the hardest is to show what Lin Jianqing has experienced in a decade. After all, I have to convey what one has gone through in 10 years in two months, so I have to work hard to experience and grab the right moments. Of course, all these have become part of my own life experience and made me grow up.
Us & Them is exclusively available on Netflix this June.
Images from Netflix