25th Far East Film Festival: In Conversation with Cheng Wei-hao & Jin Pai-lunn of “Marry My Dead Body”

In 2019, Taiwan became the first state in Asia to legalise same-sex marriage. It was a landmark moment in the region for LGBTQ+ rights, and since then it has also become an important part of pop culture – Cheng Wei-hao’s Marry My Dead Body is a prime example.

The comedy, which was shown at the 25th Far East Film Festival in Udine, Italy, follows Wu Ming-han (Greg Hsu), a homophobic detective who accidentally gets engaged to the ghost of a gay man, Mao Pang-yu (Austin Lin). Mao Mao, as he is known, was killed in a tragic road accident, but Ming-han is dismissive of the whole arrangement. Ignoring the engagement leads to a spate of incredibly bad luck, though, and eventually the detective relents.

When he meets Mao Mao’s spirit, Ming-han decides to do everything he can to get rid of the ghost by helping him fulfil his final wishes. But as Ming-han starts to investigate his betrothed’s death, he suddenly realises that the accident might have been more sinister than he initially thought. Through their joint quest to seek out the truth, Ming-han learns to understand Mao Mao and his past struggles, as well as the error of his homophobic views. 

Director Cheng Wei-hao and producer Jin Pai-lunn spoke to View of the Arts about the process of making the film, examining homophobia through a comedic lens, and more.

25th Udine Far East Film Festival – Cheng Wei-hao and Jin Pai-lunn – Marry My Dead Body / Image ©  View of the Arts

What was the inspiration for this story?

Cheng Wei-hao: Together with another company, we launched a short story competition, one of the entries that ended up winning the number one prize, the grand prize, is a story about a street cleaner who was sweeping, and he picked up the red envelope, and then got involved with the ghost marriage. That story caught their eye, and it was also the winner of the competition, so it became the inspiration, it started the concept of the movie. Then, we decided to enrich the story by creating a gay character, the gay ghost, and then a straight guy, and using the conflict of this issue of gender, sexuality, and using all these concepts to build into and expand it into the current story.

Why were you interested in exploring these themes in Marry My Dead Body?

Cheng Wei-hao: We wanted to make a comedy, to make a comedy you need conflict. You need conflict in the story to make it fun, so having a gay ghost and a straight guy, itself, is a lot of fun, and you can make a lot of comments in the story. And I also want to add some aspects of modern society, how do they value LGBTQ+ people and same-sex marriage? That kind of issue. So, all these elements added into it, and it created a path for me to write the story because the path that I needed is going from misunderstanding to understanding. I think, in the end, I wanted to make it interesting and so that’s why I chose these two elements and added it into the original concept.

On that note, in Marry My Dead Body you choose to tackle homophobia in a comedic way, but you include homophobic language to do so. Why did you decide to do this?

Cheng Wei-hao: In order to reflect contemporary society, and how homophobic people view same sex marriage, I had to build those elements into it. Even people who are afraid of ghosts, there are a lot of misconceptions and those who say, ‘I don’t believe in it, you can’t believe in it,’ and this creates more misunderstanding. Using all these misunderstandings is a tool for me to reach the endgame, to be understood by everybody. It highlights the conflict, it highlights the conflict between the ghost and the straight man, this itself gave me a lot of material to reach that understanding in the ending.

In your previous work you’ve used a lot darker themes, and this is a comedy that leans into that darkness but still works on the comedic side. Since this film looks at the way to deal with the unknown, do you feel comedy can speak to these topics as well?

Cheng Wei-hao: When I first started making movies, I made a lot of short films and all my short movies were comedies, or a fun movie with a happy ending.  So, I don’t know why I ended up with four features that are all dark! I always believe that comedy can tackle serious matters, you can make people laugh and yet they get the meaning of the serious issue, and they are not being preached by it. That is actually a good approach that could be accepted by more people so, when I began making Marry My Dead Body, it actually gave me the right set up for me to accomplish that. In the end, I want people to understand some serious matter that matters to us, LGBTQ+ rights are very serious, it’s not easy to understand but using comedy makes it’s easier for them to accept, they don’t feel like ‘you must do this,’ they gradually, in their life, accepted. So, I thought it’s a very good tool to make this film a little dark but it’s a more common approach.

25th Udine Far East Film Festival – Cheng Wei-hao and Jin Pai-lunn – Marry My Dead Body / Image ©  Far East Film Festival

Greg Hsu and Austin Lin have great chemistry together onscreen in Marry My Dead Body, what was it that you felt made them perfect for the roles of Wu Ming-han and Mao Pang-yu?

Cheng Wei-hao: First, these two are the hottest actors right now, they are so popular in the entire Asian region. Everybody knows them, they are very popular, but I also found out that they are not just good looking, they can act. They also had a lot of experience of acting in all kinds of films, they never stuck to one type, they did not stereotype themselves and they were quite good. Also, they’re funny, and so the minute I finished writing the script I said, ‘let’s try these two’ and we found they were perfect. They have a refreshing chemistry because they are so opposite to each other, they’re totally opposite but, in the end, they reach the same place together, so their journey is something that the audience really likes. Their chemistry is not just natural chemistry, there’s a lot of work behind it. We did a lot of rehearsals, a lot of readings, we made sure the tone that they said things and everything else all works well on screen, so it takes a lot of work as well for them to reach this outcome.

If you had the chance to make another film like this, do you feel it is important to cast gay actors and have them play gay characters?

Cheng Wei-hao: If I had a chance to make another LGBTQ+ themed movie, I wouldn’t just look at casting gay actors. I’m very inspired by Stanley Tucci in The Devil Wears Prada, he plays a fashion assistant for Meryl Streep’s character, because he’s not gay but he played that character very well, and he was very believable and convincing. So, I think I wouldn’t make that a condition.

In terms of being a female producer in Taiwan, what would you say are the main challenges? Is it getting any easier after the COVID pandemic?

Jin Pai-lunn: There’s still a lot of challenge for us, not just the women. There are actually a lot of female producers, there are more than male producers in Taiwan, and they are more successful. However, the movie industry in Taiwan is facing a very tough time right now. Even though there are productions, there are films that never got shown long enough and the box office was poor because of that, and a lot of movies got made and never got released. So, we are in a poor situation right now. The challenge that is faced by producers, whether it’s a male or female one, is to be able to make a film that becomes commercially successful and is artistically interesting so that the audience will come back to the theatre to see it. That’s the main challenge right now, how to get the Taiwanese audience to come back to support their own movie industry. I think that’s one thing that we must continually search and explore, and we are trying to find a way to bring our audience back to the cinema.

There are a lot of fun moments in this, especially when Mao Mao is enjoying his hilarious ghostly shenanigans. What would you say was your favourite scene to make?

Cheng Wei-hao: Well, as a director all my scenes are my favourite. However, the one I believe had the strongest impression on me is the two emotional scenes focusing on each of the lead actors. The one where Mao Mao was crying while talking about his struggle to get through to his father when he explained his wish to get married, that is a heavily emotional scene. The next one is for Ming-han, he was totally wounded in the hospital and yet he tried to convey Mao Mao’s message to his father, and it was a very emotional scene. At that point, Greg and Austin were already fully integrated into their characters, so much so they had genuine tears coming out while telling their story and I was touched. I was so touched I cried when I was watching them act in those scenes, so I think these two emotional scenes are the most memorable for me.

Written and interviewed by Roxy Simons of View of the Arts and Sanja Struna of Ekran Magazine.

Featured Image ©  View of the Arts

View of the Arts is a British online publication that chiefly deals with films, music, and art, with an emphasis on the Asian entertainment industry. We are hoping our audience will grow with us as we begin to explore new platforms such as K-pop / K-music, and Asian music in general, and continue to dive into the talented and ever-growing scene of film, music, and arts, worldwide.

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