Oriental Outlook: But we haven’t seen you write any commercial films.
Ah Cheng: The directors haven’t asked me to. If they asked me, I’d do it. But would the movie sell? It’s not something you can simply will to happen.
Commercial stuff is very hard to do. It’s like a cow—everyone’s seen one, so if you’re even a little bit off, everyone can criticize you. Art is a ghost—since no one’s seen one, how do you know what I’m really thinking? Ghosts are easy to paint. Cows are not.
Oriental Outlook: When you were in the US, did you have to work for a living?
Ah Cheng: Of course. Do you think I held up banks? I worked a lot of jobs in the US, but I mostly did house painting. Painting doesn’t require any thinking. Who says I have to find a mentally-taxing job?
Oriental Outlook: What books are you reading these days?
Ah Cheng: I’m most concerned with primary sources, primary materials from society. Literature is not produced out of literature. If that were the case, it would be idiotic. Inbreeding always produces idiots.
I read the local news in the newspapers. People’s stories can help your thought process.
Oriental Outlook: What sort of help?
Ah Cheng: We normally live our lives within limits. Reading primary materials, you’ll see a different side of life, one that you’ve never had a chance to see, and you’ll discover lots of relationships that you never before imagined.
Oriental Outlook: So what is the appropriate designation for your current identity?
Ah Cheng: A person without an identity—you probably haven’t interviewed one before. I’m just someone a little bit better-off than those disadvantaged groups.
Oriental Outlook: As an author and an intellectual, how do you perceive the invasion of high culture by commercial culture?
Ah Cheng: First, as I’ve said, don’t call me an author. If you call me an author, you’re calling me a beggar.
Commerce is the foundation of production and of life. Without commercial culture there’d be no high culture. We cannot escape it for even an instant; we would cease to exist if we were to do so. There is nothing blame-worthy about commerce itself; the measure is whether a commercial product is of high or low quality. Hollywood films are commercial products of the highest quality. Domestic commercial films, shit, with quality as poor as that, they aren’t commercial films. They’re like low-quality fakes—toothpaste that doesn’t work when you brush your teeth. This is the crux of the problem.
We’re only trying to eliminate low-quality fakes right now, but we haven’t truly engaged commercialism. Only in a society with full financial and credit systems can we talk about commercial issues. Does China have real credit cards? Can someone without a job get a credit card? When you use a debit card you are spending your own money. In the US, utilities are hooked into the credit system, so your credit is built up gradually. If you don’t have that foundation, then you can’t talk about commercial culture.
Do you think that American beggars are all a certain sort of person? There are double PhDs all over the place, people who simply lost their credit and now are disconnected from commerce.
17 November 2010 at 06:15
I wonder how Cheng feels about early Zhangke, especially Platform.