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31 October 2008, 5pm at Pariss International Seafood Buffet Restaurant

You make your debut feature film that takes a year to conceptualize and a month to complete the screenplay. Then you run into problems securing financial interest, before being forced into heavy debt before its release. But because you believe in your craft, you pressed on. Miraculously, your film becomes a box office and critical success. Not only do you manage to clear your debt, the film becomes a nationwide sensation and goes on to represent your country to compete in the 81st Academy Awards under the Best Foreign Film category.

You can be sure that as a filmmaker, this roller coaster ride will change your life forever. And this is exactly how Taiwanese director Wei Te-sheng feels upon looking back at what has happened since he got the inspiration to make Cape No. 7 in July 2004.

"The box office success has definitely changed my life," the soft spoken filmmaker tells movieXclusive.com in Mandarin when he was in Singapore for a promotional tour of his debut film, Cape No. 7.

"There were three possibilities we foresaw when we started the project," recalls 40-year-old Wei, who is married with a six-year-old son.

"One, the film would do badly at the box office and get lousy reviews, then I would never be able to make a film again. Two, it would get average box office returns and decent reviews, and then I may be able to get by. Three, it would earn a lot of money and get rave reviews, and this is the best case scenario."

"We took a bet, that is what we got, and I’m very thankful for that."

Wei’s film career began when he got a job in a small production company some 20 years ago. Over the years, he got involved in several prominent local feature films like Edward Yang’s Mahjong (1996) and Chen Kuo-fu’s Double Vision (2002). He also shot a number of shorts himself along the way.

In 2004, he raised NT$2.5 million to shoot the trailer for a historical epic entitled Swwdiq Bale, but because of countless financial constraints, he ended up making Cape No. 7 first instead. What Wei didn’t expect was the phenomenon that followed, including a whopping box office receipt that has soared over NT$400 million, making it the second top selling film in Taiwan history. The movie standing in its way is Steven Spielberg’s 1993 blockbuster Jurassic Park.

"Yes, it’s just that dinosaur standing in our way now," Wei laughs heartily.

Cape No. 7 tells the story of how seven unlikely individuals come together with their aspirations to form a band. This is interwoven with another plot line which involves seven unsent love letters penned 60 years ago.

Dressed casually in a brown vest and jeans, Wei says that this is a story he truly feels for: “I would like the audience to feel the same emotions I had when I wrote the script.”

The inspiration for the script came from a report Wei read years ago about a postman who successfully delivered a piece of mail addressed in the old Japanese style.

When asked about which cast member was the easiest to direct, the humble director says without hesitation that it was Chie Tanaka, who plays a Japanese model-turned-translator, simply because of the acting experience she had in her home country.

"She hasn’t had much exposure in Japan, so I hope this film can show the world how talented she is," states Wei, between taking sips of warm water because of his cough.

On the other hand, Yin Wei-min, who plays the drummer in the band, was a challenge for Wei to direct, because the actor’s personality is totally unlike the character he plays in the film.

"The character he plays appears to be carefree and wild, but Ying is a very serious person in real life, and it takes quite an amount of alcohol to relax him and get him into character," reveals Wei with a chuckle.

The film has also garnered nine nominations at the upcoming 45th Taiwan Golden Horse Awards, including Best Feature Film, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor and Best new Performer. So which prize does Wei most look forward to winning?

"It’s got to be Best Feature Film, because everyone’s efforts will be recognized. But we have some strong competition here," says Wei, referring to other big budgeted movies like Peter Chan’s The Warlords and Feng Xiaogang’s Assembly.

But the director is very confident that Ma Ju-Lung, who plays a loud spoken local town council representative in Cape No. 7, will take home the Best Supporting Actor trophy.

"He’s really very good, and I can tell you that there is more than 90 per cent chance that he will take home the Golden Horse statue!"

Cape No. 7 opens 27 November and is reviewed here


Report & Photos: John Li with additional photographs courtesy of Festive Films
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