Interview: Fu Yue

Fu Yue is the director of Our Youth in Taiwan, a documentary focusing on Chen Wei-ting, who later became known as one of the key student leaders of the Sunflower Movement, and Cai Bo-yi, a Chinese student participating in Taiwanese social movements.

Our Youth in Taiwan won Best Documentary at the Golden Horse Awards in November 2018, with Fu’s acceptance speech being widely reported on. Other films by Fu Yue include Dialogue Between Green and Blue, A Perfect Clash, and Mirror! The following interview was conducted on April 2nd, 2019.


Brian Hioe:  The first thing I wanted to ask is, how did you begin filming Chen Wei-ting and Cai Bo-yi? How did you get to know them? It’s quite interesting you were filming then before they were famous.

Fu Yue:  I got to know Chen Wei-ting because of the last film I was working on, Dialogue Between Green and Blue. I was looking for a young person who was concerned with social issues and participated in social movements. So I found him on Facebook. [Laughs]

One of my professors shared a status he wrote. That was a video. He and a few friends from Hong Kong went on the streets. They were trying to support the Jasmine Revolution in China. There were just a few people, five or six people. It was a small protest action.

Fu Yue speaking during a screening of Our Youth in Taiwan. Photo credit: 我們的青春,在台灣/Facebook

My professor shared the status, saying that he envied young people today, being able to participate in politics while so young. I hadn’t participated as much in politics. Like I discussed in the film, I was also afraid that I would have no way to enter. That sense of worry was originally that they hated China and the KMT, but that I might not have hated them as much. At the same time, it looked as though he was trying to support the Jasmine Revolution in China. He knew Wang Dan. And he would go watch documentary films about Tiananmen Square.

It looked as though he might not be the kind of social movement participant I expected. I originally had this sort of stereotype in mind. I clicked on his profile. His Facebook stated quite firmly that he supported Taiwanese independence. But he was also concerned with issues regarding Taiwan and China.

I thought that this person seemed quite special. So I PMed him, asking if he was willing to participate in the filming of Dialogue Between Green and Blue. I was originally afraid that he would refuse. But he turned out to be very friendly. He said that he could introduce lots of people like him to me.

I got to know him in that way, and he also participated in the filming of Dialogue Between Green and Blue. There were eight or nine young people in that film, each with different political views. But he was the one that stood out the most. He loved to talk. And he was good at talking. And he was very active. So oftentimes, the lens would focus on him. He was also doing some things to lead young people to become concerned with politics in Miaoli. I felt that he was quite interesting and kept filming him.

After I finished filming Dialogue Between Green and Blue, when deciding how to film a follow-up, I decided to keep filming him. I decided to film him for four years originally. But I didn’t expect this to go over four years. It was like that with Chen Wei-ting.

As for Cai Bo-yi, Cai Bo-yi turned me down originally. Although you can see that Chen Wei-ting is very friendly, Cai Bo-yi is a bit more introverted. Or she can look a bit harsh. But she has a bottom line. When she crosses that bottom line, she’ll be friendlier toward you.

At the time, I was still filming Dialogue Between Green and Blue. I was thinking about whether I could maybe also film the points of view of young people in Hong Kong and China, not just with regards to Green and Blue in Taiwan. They are neighbors and have influenced us a lot. How do they look at elections in Taiwan?

Chen Wei-ting during the Sunflower Movement. Photo credit: 我們的青春,在台灣

There was another person I found. But I also wanted to find Cai Bo-yi. Because she wrote an essay then. That essay was read by many people. I read it as well. I thought she had quite interesting thoughts, so I PMed her. Originally, she refused me. At the time, the media was focused on her, so she might not have been used to it, and she was afraid that this might cause her to get in trouble. So she just responded to me in just one line, “Sorry, I’m not interested.” She said she wasn’t interested in this.

She refused me in the beginning, but I wanted to film a follow up to Dialogue Between Green and Blue, focused on the exchanges between Taiwan, China, and Hong Kong and to conduct dialogues between them.

I wanted to find more Chinese students. To get to know more Chinese students in Taiwan. So one time, I invited Chinese students, Hong Kong students, and Taiwanese young people that had participated in Dialogue Between Green and Blue. I also found some more active participants in social movements, such as Jiho Chang. Chen Wei-ting introduced him to me quite early on.

It was this group of people and they came to my house to discuss politics. At the time, the Anti-Media Monopoly Movement had taken place around the same time, so everyone was talking about the Anti-Media Monopoly Movement and the China factor. I originally wasn’t planning on inviting Cai Bo-yi, since she had turned me down. But expectedly, one of the Chinese students I had invited brought her along.

I was surprised that she would come since she had turned me down, but when she came, I found that this person seemed to have changed. She was more outgoing and talkative. And was concerned with social issues and social movements. The college she went to was in Tamsui, so some issues broke out, and she brought flyers there from that. The people there were quite surprised, particularly the Taiwanese people. They said that Taiwanese people weren’t concerned with the issue, but that she was. What were people in college doing, then, if a Chinese student was taking up issues in Taiwan that Taiwanese people weren’t concerned with? I became very curious as to why there was this change in her.

Actually, during the Anti-Media Monopoly Movement, when they camped outside of the Executive Yuan, she also went. I filmed her then, but I was too afraid to talk to her. I was very curious why she was there since this was opposing the China factor. Wasn’t that dangerous?  Before then, Chinese students gave me the impression that they didn’t want to be involved in this since it was dangerous.

This made me really want to understand her. To understand what had happened. So I kept following. In participating in social movements, she became more open after that and was willing to let me film. So I kept following her.

Cai Bo-yi. Photo credit: 我們的青春,在台灣

Brian Hioe:  Do you think your being interested in these topics has to do with your own sense of identity? Such as being interested in the political divisions between Green and Blue and then in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China. I have a bit of a similar background to you since my dad is Indonesian overseas Chinese and my mother’s family is a KMT family. But I also participate in Taiwanese social movements.

Fu Yue:  I guess it may be related. Since my family background had nothing to do with this in the past. Up to now. My mother and father are both pan-Blue. And very deep Blue. The reason for this is because one of them is Malaysian overseas Chinese and the other is Indonesian overseas Chinese.

When they came to Taiwan, there was only the KMT. And what they identified with was the KMT’s Republic of China. What they didn’t identify with was the CCP’s People’s Republic of China. They thought of their mother country as the Republic of China, which was founded by the KMT. It’s quite normal.

They think that anything else is chaotic. That’s related to their background. But growing up, if I had no other sources of information, I would be the same as them. This is also pretty normal. But because I later came across other sources of information. Because of politics, or through arguing with friends, I found that the world was different than I had originally thought.

That opened up my understanding of why there would be Blue and Green divisions in Taiwan, which had to do with past history. Without this history having been resolved, there would be this divide in identification. This was something I only later came to know after encountering the outside world. Another large reason is my first film about politics.

The predecessor of Dialogue Between Green and Blue, Mirror!, focused on my mother and father and the parents of one of my classmates. Again, my parents are very Blue. My classmate’s parents were very Green. So it was a previous version of Dialogue Between Green and Blue. In this process, I discovered how people from the other side thought. I began to be able to identify with their views. I thought that there was a reason for this and that there was a period that I really hadn’t understood in the past. That’s why I began exploring.

Brian Hioe:  As I understood it, the film eventually becomes your story, in many ways, although it starts from Chen and Cai. What was the process of transformation that led it to become a film focused on yourself, in that way?

Fu Yue:  The largest shift was that the film became a film about my own growth. I thought I was focused on their youth and their personal growth. But it may have been me who grew the most.

I was confused. I didn’t know how to face Taiwan, I wasn’t sure how Taiwan’s politics, or Taiwan’s future, could improve. I originally looked forward to finding an answer in social movements. That social movements could allow Taiwan to become a better place. That was my original hope.

And not just Taiwan. Whether young people in China or Hong Kong, they could also identify with different social movement values. Through these shared values, could we fight against something? That was my original hope. However, it turned out to be only me thinking that. A great deal of this was because of external factors.

Fu Yue. Photo credit: 我們的青春,在台灣/Facebook

I originally hoped to see Taiwanese, Hong Kong, and Chinese civil society coming together. There was that kind of theoreticization back then and there was that kind of opportunity. That China could become more open. But after the Sunflower Movement and after the Umbrella Movement, connections between the three have been cut. Apart from some underground communications, it’s no longer possible for this to take place openly. As you see after the Lee Ming-che case.

I’m not sure if you’ve read Wu Jieh-min’s The Third Vision of China (第三種中國想像). I later discussed it with him. I originally hadn’t talked about it with him, I had just read his book. He said that the current situation is very different than in the past. Now, there’s no way to evaluate things from the perspective of Taiwanese, Hong Kong, and Chinese civil society. Because the possibility of exchanges is harder now. This is the point of view of a scholar.

So it’s not unsurprising that I would feel very depressed. The force we’re facing is too strong. As small shrimp, we can’t confront a giant whale. But in this state of despair, it’s very hard to do anything. You’ll feel that there’s no point to anything. People describe this as “movement injuries”. You feel that social movements have no point, so why not just try to live a good life? [Laughs] It’s more or less that kind of feeling. I had that kind of feeling back then.

After filming so many documentaries about politics, at that point in time, I felt that I was no longer interested in politics. And that this would be my last documentary about politics. I thought that I would casually finish it and get it over with.

But editing this film and showing it to them and hearing their feedback after watching it, I discovered that I had a blind spot. My blind spot was that I kept hoping to find answers from them. Finding an answer about what kind of future Taiwan should have from them. I put that on their shoulders.

Yet in reality, if I continued like that, I wouldn’t able to find an answer. Since that would be their answer, not mine necessarily. They later told me directly. They said that it was like I was taking them hostage. And then I found out that was right. I originally didn’t realize that I had made this kind of mistake. I wanted to do something, but why did I feel that it was something they should do?

I discovered that I had made a mistake. I felt very ashamed. Because I didn’t think that I was a person like that. I also thought of myself as an intellectual. I also thought of myself as part of civil society. I thought that these were very much like cliches, that everyone should make their own decisions, and not just vote, but help provide oversight over government. I knew all this.

Only then did I realize that I really didn’t understand this. This was all just theory. For me to really be a good citizen, in the course of experiencing this sense of helplessness, I had forgotten all of this. I hadn’t really taken on my civic responsibilities. That’s how I felt.

Photo credit: 我們的青春,在台灣/Facebook

So I felt very ashamed then. That sense of shame made me feel that I couldn’t continue on like that. I should stand up on my own. I should look for answers on my own. I should try and see for myself what I should do.

This was a form of growth. Even if you originally think that you are powerless and that there is nothing you can do, that’s pushing the responsibility for who should do this onto the outside world, onto other people. You just vote for someone else. Many people are like that. You just hope for the appearance of a hero. But I found that I couldn’t do this. I had to think of ways to not be like this. This was part of my process of personal growth.

Brian Hioe:  What kind of responses have you had from audience members so far?

Fu Yue:  Many people have a sense of identifying with the film. But this is the people who have come and talked to me about it after. If they don’t like the film or don’t identify with it, they might not come up to talk to me.

Most people who liked the film or felt moved by the film said sometimes that they had never seen a film which was as moving. But that sense of moving was because the people in the film, maybe primarily with regards to I myself, felt very similar to how they felt. Though on the surface, it’s Chen Wei-ting and Cai Bo-yi’s story, they would feel that their feelings were similar to me.

The two of them are people rushing in front. They’re among the minority, the elite, of people who are able to make strong decisions for themselves. On the other hand, the majority of people are like me.

I originally thought that I was an elite as well. That I was part of the minority. But that wasn’t the case. I was the same as the majority. I’m afraid. I’m scared to go onto the streets. I’m lazy. I only go if I have hope. And I’m used to shrugging off responsibilities. Putting my expectations and hopes onto others’ shoulders, hoping not to spend so much energy myself.

When I started editing, I originally didn’t have the notion of discussing myself. Because I hadn’t realized either that I was this kind of person. But then I realized that I was. I realized that I was quite like the majority, in fact.

This might not be my personal issue. Or that of the majority of people. It might be human nature. People are like that normally. If it’s like that, then doesn’t that mean there will never be any improvement. it was a process of gradually realizing my blind spots and my personal faults, fixing them one by one. Only then can we be better as a whole.

It’s not just depending on the one or two people running in front. Because their distance may be quite far from us. We can’t catch up. Some people will feel that because we can’t catch up, we shouldn’t try to catch up. Other people will just feel that they’re just in front, that they are different from us. This is also why there’s a strong sentiment of opposition to elites now. Elites may be very far from us.

People are like that. But an important thing for us to change is to realize that we are this way. And hope that we can be better ourselves. This is what many audience members said to me after screenings. After that, they may have realized something that they could do themselves.

Photo credit: 我們的青春,在台灣/Facebook

Brian Hioe:  What’s next for this film? The film is going to be shown in theaters in April. Likewise, are there any plans to show this film abroad?

Fu Yue:  Internationally, in May, I’m going to first go to America. And then to Europe in June. There are several stops I’m making there, because of events organized by people enthusiastic about Taiwanese movies. That includes some schools, as well as some student groups, and some Taiwan native place associations. There are also some commercial groups, who heard about what happened in the Golden Horse Awards and feel there are some opportunities. They might not have supported Taiwanese movies in the past, but they may want to now. And there are some Taiwanese film festivals, such as the Taiwanese film festival in Boston.

I’ll end up going a lot of different places. I hope that we can allow local people, not just Taiwanese in these places, to see the movie. To understand Taiwan’s situation in this way.

Brian Hioe:  After having finished this film, do you know what you want you are hoping to film next?

Fu Yue:  I’m not very sure. I have a feeling. Since, like I said, when I was editing, I felt very depressed and as though I had a sense of “movement injury,” and that I wasn’t interested in politics or social movements anymore. But now, after I’ve finished this film and came to feel I should stand up on my own, I feel like I’m somewhat interested in politics again. Particularly as the influence of the China factor is deeper and deeper, as well as more and more shapeless.

Of course, I don’t want to film what has already happened. Like before, I was interested in exchanges between Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China, and I had some hopes for that. Now I maybe am less hopeful to exchanges, but I am interested in the relation between Taiwan, China, and America. I want to understand this some more. This may have to do with Chen Wei-ting, since in the film, he mentions that he wants to understand the possibilities for a new relationship between Taiwan and America.

Likewise, Taiwanese people in America are very concerned with US-Taiwan relations, and they feel that this could influence relations between Taiwan and China. I was less clear on this before, but after encountering some people like that, I would feel like I want to understand more. And because after Xi Jinping gave a speech on January 2nd regarding Taiwan, there has been much commentary.

There was one essay with a different view than us, maybe, which discussed 2030 as the deadline Xi Jinping has set to unify Taiwan. That’s also quite worrying to me, but we still have ten years. In these ten years, what kinds of shifts will occur in relations between Taiwan, China, and America and how this will influence Taiwan’s future. I am interested in this now. 

There are still ten, eleven years, but I don’t think that’s a long period of time. It may be ten years before I am able to make this film, but I feel that this is what I can do for my ideals. This is something I may do. Although it may be very slow and take a long period of time. 

Photo credit: 我們的青春,在台灣/Facebook

Brian Hioe:  Is there anything you would like to say in closing to readers? Whether Taiwanese or American?

Fu Yue:  I hope that more people can come see my film. That’s about it. Because although the film is about the Sunflower Movement, which took place five years ago, and the Anti-Media Monopoly Movement took place before that, six or seven years ago, these events are still quite related to the present. And the situation is becoming more and more serious.

For an average young person, who might not be concerned with society or politics, they don’t have this sense of crisis. They won’t think that the situation is serious. They think that they may see hope from some political leaders. They don’t think that so-called Chinese infiltration is a real issue. They think that it’s a false issue. This is something very dangerous for Taiwan.

But many young people in Taiwan may be unsupportive. This may not be because they don’t want to. They just may not know. They don’t have the means of knowing this. It could be that because they hate the DPP, have ruled out getting to know about this. I think that this is a shame.

I just hope that, though some people may just see what it’s about and not want to watch, I still hope that it can be a good documentary. That this documentary, as the story of the three of us, can become a way for people to understand what we are concerned about in the form of a story. Where we why there is a crisis. If out of ten thousand people, even just one person watches the film, and while they might not have had that sense of crisis in the past, they start to have that. Then their life will be very different afterward. The way they look at things will be very different. They will discover that the situation now is serious. What should we do now?

And so I hope for more people to watch this film.