25th Far East Film Festival: In Conversation with Kai Ko & Kent Tsai of “Bad Education”

Welcome to this exclusive interview with Kent Tsai and Kai Ko, two of the talented individuals behind “Bad Education”, a Taiwanese film that was shown at the 25th Far East Film Festival. Kent Tsai stars in the film as the lead character, Wang, a high school student who falls victim to intense peer pressure and gets caught up in a world of violence. Meanwhile, Kai Ko serves as the film’s director, bringing his unique vision and artistic style to the project. In this interview, Kent Tsai and Kai Ko share their insights on the making of the film and the challenges they faced. So sit back, relax, and get ready to hear from two of Taiwan’s talented film professionals.

Kai Ko & Kent Tsai  promoting their film "Bad Education" at the 25th Far East Film Festival/image © Far East Film Festival
Kai Ko & Kent Tsai promoting their film “Bad Education” at the 25th Far East Film Festival / Image © Far East Film Festival

I would like to start this interview by asking you, Kai Ko, about your venture into directing. You are an actor by profession and now, you made your first film, “Bad Education”, which Giddon Ko wrote the script for. What was your experience like making your directorial debut? How closely did you work with Giddon on this film?

Kai Ko: So, the script was written half a year ago before the shoot began. Throughout those six months, we went through the script a lot. [And while working on the script,] I was more concerned about the logic of drawing each character. I was looking to understand why the writer “designed” the characters the way he did, as well as the characters’ responses in each scene. I was genuinely concerned about that, because I wanted to make sure that all the character development was logical and fit naturally into the script. Once the shoot started, Giddon decided to take a step back as he believed that he should not influence me or the other way round, as we both believe that it is the director’s job to make the film, not the [scriptwriter], and I got full autonomy on how to shoot the film.

So, Kent, how did you approach and prepare for your character, Wang? At first, we see him as a quiet student that has just graduated. However, with time, we do see a different side to him, a young boy who quickly becomes a man, in some ways.

Kent Tsai: It was not much of a challenge when I was handling this role, but if [the viewer] thought he has actually changed [in an emotional way] then yes, he did break down at some point, however, he never crossed to the evil side [like other characters that the audience witness throughout the film]. The anger and frustration were caused by people whom he regarded as good friends, who were not who he thought they were. And, because of that, he was forced to seek some action and end up being the only bad guy doing all the [bad] things. But it was the situation that was forced onto him, and it was more about his disappointment and anger about losing this group of friends that he considered his best friends. Portraying this role was [satisfying to me].

Kai Ko, as I mentioned before, you are an actor, but now, with “Bad Education” you directed actors yourself. How did you approach directing actors for the first time?

Kai Ko: At the beginning, I decided to write that I should not be the one teaching acting on the set. I made the decision to let the actors act, and I [became] an observer. The reason I decided on this was because every person, every actor, has a way of interpreting their characters, emotionally and physically, and they might react to the cultural situation differently as well. Therefore, I decided not to interfere with any of them on the set. I just made sure that the [three main characters] were in the same world. I didn’t want them to deviate and get out of that environment, mentally, emotionally, or physically, I wanted them to be in that space. Also, before I started to shoot the film, I acted out the characters myself to learn more about their world. It was quite an exercise, but it was also a particularly good experience for me. It was remarkably effective, and you can tell from the actors’ performances that they were excellent as well.

How much artistic freedom did you get from director Kai Ko whilst filming, and how much of the script did you follow?

Kent Tsai: [During the shooting] I was given almost 100% artistic freedom. I was allowed to act out the scene how I wanted and if there was no problem then we just continued shooting. When there was an issue that the director picked on he would approach me, describing the issue in a way that I could understand what was missing in [my acting]. The director’s advice gave me the background to rethink [certain scenes] and do it right next time. In that sense, I was lucky to collaborate with a good director.

Kent Tsai  & Kai Ko of "Bad Education" during the interview with View of the Arts at the 25th Far East Film Festival / image © View of the Arts
Kent Tsai & Kai Ko of “Bad Education” during the interview with View of the Arts at the 25th Far East Film Festival / Image © View of the Arts

Kai Ko, what did you learn from your experience as a first-time director? Did you have any doubts when you decided to work on this project? And what would you do differently in your next film, if you got a chance to direct another film?

Kai Ko: Of course, I had doubts. Sometimes, I had a little bit of fear. But on the other hand, I had an exceptionally long amount of preparation time, for studying and understanding the script. It was a long time before I realised everything, I still remember that particular stage of my life from high school to graduation. So, I had a lot of personal experience that I could adapt into the directing of the whole film. But, of course, the entire process from shooting in the end, and acting every day, you reflect, you get something, something new that you got to give back to the production. In the end, when it comes to editing, it’s another reconstruction of the film. How do you reconstruct it? Pull them apart and put them together and then tell a coherent story, and [luckily] the story was told the way I wanted it to be. It was a great learning experience; I think in the end I’m very satisfied.

Going back to editing; how was that process for you? Did you spend a lot of time in the editing studio?

Kai Ko: The editor I’ve been working with is another award-winning editor from Golden Horse Awards, he is very respected in the film industry. He followed the script and cut it, maybe the first half or whatever. The first or second cut was quite good on the whole, but we all believe that it could have been even better, so we got more involved. For another six months we worked on it, cleaning up each scene and looking at each frame with longer shots, etc. I was more involved with the editing at that time, but, in the end, we trusted each other and of course, I respected his choices. Overall, it was a good collaboration.

This question is for both of you. The film has a lot of very graphic violence, was it a challenge to act out the scenes and direct them?

Kai Ko: So, the graphic violence needed to be as realistic as possible, otherwise it looks so fake, right? So, the effect would be completely different. You have to make it look realistic. But, while thinking about all of that, I had to control the budget as well. The total shooting time for this film was only 20 days, and all those finger-chopping scenes took 3 days to film, that’s all we really had time for. But if we had more days of shooting then the film might have ended up being more violent.

Also, our [prop] and [make-up] team were great, they are all pioneers in their profession. They were all supporting me, from making fake fingers, the art director, the cosmetics, everything, everyone was there. I was incredibly lucky to have everybody’s support.

Kent Tsai: Yeah, as an actor, actually at that point of the film chopping off someone’s finger was the easiest thing for me [laughs].  

But what about the emotional side of your character?

Kent Tsai: When we got to that point of the film, I just wanted to kill the other guy because he chopped off one of my fingers [laughs].

I really loved the dynamic of the trio, going from being friends to becoming enemies, you did so well on that emotional aspect of the film. How did you work together to create that insanely intense energy between the three of you?

Kent Tsai: Well, all three of us personally didn’t know each other, we were not buddy-buddy, and it was the first time we collaborated on this film together. In terms of emotions, the director’s decision was to make the scenes in the sequence of the development of [the characters]. So, the emotions you see by the end of the film are very real, the anger and the hate for each other were built up well because it was filmed in the right sequence.

And my last question, what’s next for you guys? Kai Ko, you have a new project coming to Netflix, right?

Kai Ko: It’s a Netflix series that we have recently wrapped up. So, as for now, I really do not know the release date [laughs].

Kent Kai: I am currently reviewing some projects before I get into action again, so maybe next year I’ll start shooting. We will see.

Written and interviewed by Maggie Gogler

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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