Interview: Chiang Wei-hua

Chiang Wei-hua was the director of The Edge of Night, a documentary film following participants in the 323 and 324 attempted occupation of the Executive Yuan and in the aftermath of the Sunflower Movement. Chiang previously documented the Wild Strawberry movement in the film The Right Thing. The following interview was conducted on March 21st, 2019.


Brian Hioe:  Can you first introduce yourself for voters who might not know you?

Chiang Wei-hua:  I’m Chiang Wei-hua. I was studying at the Graduate Institute of Sound and Image Studies in Documentary at what was the Tainan National College of the Arts. That’s when I began to encounter documentaries. In college, I studied art. But I only played around with the camera a bit, I didn’t have too much to do with documentaries.

So from graduate school onward, I began to learn about documentary films. In my three years of graduate school, what I primarily filmed had to do with young people. Subcultures. Such as skateboarders in college. Or online games or Internet cafes. Or overseas students.

After graduating, I filmed young people that work late at night. Up until the Wild Strawberry Movement. I went to Liberty Plaza. When I met the young people there, that was when I got to know social movements.

Trailer for The Right Thing

From the 2008 Wild Strawberry Movement up until the Sunflower Movements, although it might seem like I continued filming social movements, I was just filming the same group of young people from 2008 up until 2014, 2015, and through 2016.

I don’t dare to say that I’m a filmmaker who films documentaries about social movements. I used kept filming young people and as it happened, this group of young people encountered some of the larger social movements in Taiwan in the past ten years. It so happened I experienced this age with them.

The film I made about the Wild Strawberry Movement was called The Right Thing. That was my first full documentary, that was over two hours. The Edge of Night is my second. It’s more or less that.

Brian Hioe:  What kind of impressions do you have, in filming this group of young people? For some of them, the Wild Strawberry Movement was also their first movement.

Chiang Wei-hua:  I got to know these young people in Liberty Plaza. In the beginning, I was more like an observer. This was all very new to me. Getting to know these young people ten to twelve years younger than me, I was also very curious about their views.

Many also can be thought of as intellectuals. They went to better schools. Some were like that. These were people I had encountered less in the past.

In the beginning, it was observing and participating like that, and then we gradually became friends and collaborators. I’d often hang out with them. And with some of their actions, whether big or small, I’d go with them.

During the Wild Strawberry Movement, they encountered a sense of defeat. During the two months of the Wild Strawberry Movement, what I saw was a sort of unadulterated expression of people. Young people in their 20s, expressing what they believed in a very public space, a very open space, and using their bodies to physically confront a larger, systematic thing. A government. Adults.

That was something that I was drawn to. But by the end, they experienced a sense of defeat. They still existed in a state of conflict with society. And after experiencing those two weeks, they felt quite defeated when they withdrew. For some people, they felt “movement injuries”.

They held onto these feelings in proceeding through the next few years. I felt that they continued to look for an opportunity to continue to try and make up for that they had experienced in their first, more planned social movement.  Wanting to fix problems they had initially encountered or to  resolve their movement injuries.

And then the Sunflower Movement happened, an even larger action, or even opportunity you could say. These people were now more experienced and they encountered this, so they wanted to prove something or to achieve a different result.

Trailer for The Edge of Night

But it seems like they ended up experiencing an even larger “movement injury.” It seems like a strange fate almost. No matter what happens, you still fall into an even darker place.

What’s also quite interesting is that I think they look at themselves in a rather cruel light. They see what they are lacking, they also see the limits of people and what they are lacking. Where people are weak. But they also see more clearly who they themselves are. Where the limits of their ability are.

In a movement, in just a few days, it seems like almost a test before entering society. So I thought that quite interesting. During those few days, I thought that this could become a story. Because in the past few years, let’s say from 2010 to 2013 and 2014, I wasn’t really very aware that I was filming a documentary. If I had the opportunity to, I’d go film. But I didn’t have any plan to make a full-length documentary. But between 320 and 324, I suddenly felt that a story had appeared. There was something that I’d seen myself. That’s how the film took form.

My relationship with them became closer and closer. I felt more able to understand their way of thinking and what they felt. Now we’re more just like friends.

Brian Hioe:  So your filming 324 was because the people you had been filming happened to be a group of people.

Chiang Wei-hua:  That’s right. They were primarily a group of people that had experienced the Wild Strawberry Movement.

Brian Hioe:  It was quite interesting that you also went to Hong Kong with them, or also filmed Jiho Chang running for office. What kind of changes do you think you observed in them over time? From the streets literally to becoming a city councilor or something like that.

Chiang Wei-hua:  In terms of personality, I actually think very little has changed. What has changed is their place in society. In confronting the things they believe in, their beliefs, or their positions in fighting for something have changed. If they are protesting something, how they fight may have changed. From the streets into the system, or from being students, to entering adult society. This kind of shift.

But I feel that in terms of their personalities, or their reactions in facing things, or their attitude in taking care of things, everyone is still as they originally were. That hasn’t changed too much.

I don’t know. I also feel that it requires more time to be able to make a comparison. Because from my observing them through documentary film, I also only documented the point in time in which they changed social positions.

The last part of the film was probably shot in 2016 or around then. When Zhang Sheng-han, the main character, went to go serve in the army. So I ended there.

To some extent then, some had already entered the system. Some entered the DPP, some entered the NPP, or these different positions. Some people took up political work. And it was quite interesting to me that the majority of the people I filmed did enter political work.

But I haven’t continued to follow them. So regarding if there’s any change or whether they become different people, I think one still requires time to see. I still don’t have any ability to say.

Photo credit: The Edge of Night/Facebook

Brian Hioe:  What kind of responses have you had regarding your film from audiences?

Chiang Wei-hua:  There are many kinds. Regular viewers, who might be more external, such as people who are not regular participants in social movements, but might like to watch movies, they’ll usually like the film but have many questions. Like after the screening, they’ll ask me what happened during something in the film, what the background was, or what the people in the film are doing. They’ll have these kinds of questions.

Because of the way I made this film, I deliberately didn’t give a complete description of everything that happened for the audience. That everything is narrated completely. An ordinary viewer may have some questions.

For viewers that are less external, who may have participated in the Sunflower Movement, or went to the Executive Yuan on 323 and 324, or may know some of the people in the movement, people like that from social movements sometimes have this sort of recollection. They might have various dissatisfactions or questions about the movement. Or various feelings of hurt from the movement.

There are people who said they’ve become reconciled with themselves. That’s right. I’ve even heard that. Other people say that now they can understand how people in different positions in such a large movement felt and what their circumstances are.

What’s also quite interesting is that some people who were already upset by 324 became even angrier after watching the film! [Laughs] Some people may be even more dissatisfied. Some people may be like, “So it was like that. I’ve been tricked all this time.” Or, “So, people made decisions in such a haphazard manner”. They might become even more self-critical toward themselves in the past.

But I think this is all okay. I hope that after watching this kind of film, people can feel something emotionally. I want to grab them and pull them back to how it was then. To look more clearly at what they saw then. What the story looked like back then.

In filming and editing, that was what I wanted to pursue as an effect. To pull people back to how it was then and to use a more subjective means of connecting these chaotic events, that’s closer to people, in which you can see their emotions and their decision-making. To feel how things were back then in a more deep manner. Some may feel confused, others may be angry, some may be frustrated, and etc. And some may be like, “Oh, so that’s how they decided on things. That’s how that happened.”

Those kinds of reactions are fine with me.  What I’m afraid of more is that people will deliberately turn their backs on these events. I know that some people may just not want to think about this or to confront their confusion. I can understand their feelings. People have different movement injuries. But I feel that if we want to continue to push Taiwanese society towards a better direction, these events which only occurred four or five years ago, we shouldn’t ignore or not look at them earnestly.

Photo credit: The Edge of Night/Facebook

Brian Hioe:  What kind of particular meaning do you feel regarding your film appearing now, five years after the Sunflower Movement?

Chiang Wei-hua:  I haven’t really thought about it. I never treated it as a film about social movements, like I said. I just filmed the experiences of a group of young people and it so happened that they later encountered the Sunflower Movement.

The film ends in 2016, which is only three years from now. But people very easily put the focus onto the few nights in which the Sunflower Movement took place. I’m not sure either. Three years later, five years later, or ten years later, I’m not sure what the meaning of this film will be. I haven’t thought about it. But I think that documentary films should be a form of reflection after the fact. It’s not like news or media, it’s not propaganda either. It doesn’t have or need a utilitarian value. Some things might only be discussed ten years later, although it’s a form of documentary.

For those of us who participated in this, I hope that people can look at this more calmly and to discuss it in a more detailed manner. I’m a bit hoping that those in social movements can also try and face each other again. In the past few years, we all know that social movements have split and receded.

Part of the reason why I would edit the film in the way I did is that my target audience was, in some way, people participants in social movements. I hoped that they would come see this story. I didn’t think about members of the outside audience as much. I hope that this could be a medium for people to understand each other better, regarding this even that took place. I think that with more time, with more thinking, we can look at each other more calmly. And I hope that I can help this circle of people out a bit in this way.