“Where are you going? One day you will return there.” Standing amid rubble, HUANG Da-wang whispers to the doll in his hands. In front of the camera, HUANG looks out around the rubble, as though looking for an exit.
HUANG Da-wang, Black Wolf, sound artist, made his name with his Black Wolf Nakashi shows and their combination of electronic noise and improvisation. On stage, HUANG is a talented performer, but he personally considers himself a loser who finds it hard to be accepted by the public. Lingering at the margins of society, Huang often adapts songs to put voice to the anger of Taiwanese society in a self-deprecating way. Amid the howl and roar of these creations and songs, though, people find release and a means to re-energize.
Director Jessica Wan-yu LIN’s film TPE-Tics not only showcases the charismatic performance style of HUANG, but also looks closely at his subtle, but close relationship with society. Through precise and beautiful shots, LIN creates a sketch of HUANG’s daily life, giving audiences a view of the naked reality in front of the camera and gradually reaching into HUANG’s rich, sensitive thoughts.
TIDF interviewed LIN about how she developed her ideas from thoughts to film, what she learned along the way, and what it was like getting along with HUANG. What follows is a summary of the interview.
Q: How did you develop the idea?
I’ve long been interested in the performances of sound artists, and in 2011 and 2012 I recorded a lot about them, and it was during that time that I got to know Da-wang. I hadn’t been planning to make a documentary about him; perhaps it was seeing something touching in his performances that inspired me to make the film.
What I find interesting is how on stage Da-wang weaves current events, including his own observations of society, and social satire into his performances. When off-stage in his ordinary life, his stories might make you think he was a weirdo, but once he’s up on stage, everything makes sense. He’s happy on stage, and so are the audiences. But there’s still sadness; there’s his self-deprecation and his anger at this society. Through him, I found some of my own ways of telling stories.
Performing artists like Da-wang are comparatively with niche audience and minority interest, and I could be considered similarly marginal in the documentary world. While shooting, I often couldn’t quite find out my own position, so I focused particularly on Da-wang’s own feeling of being marginalized.
Q: When you decided to make the film, what side of Da-wang did you want to showcase?
Da-wang is a serious creator, someone who would never approach a performance without substantial thoughts. As a result, he can get anxious because of his dissatisfaction with himself, and this is a little different from everyday him.
Our respective personality has a profound effect on our relationship; I can see some part of things he showed me, but a lot of parts I still didn’t see. My personality naturally would impact how he approached me. That’s unavoidable despite that I, as a filmmaker, have my own point of view on him. These factors are always there, and so I chose to focus particularly on certain part of Da-wang in this film.
Da-wang’s a good, kind person, without an ounce of suspiciousness in him. As a result of his personality, he has a lot of trouble hiding his own secrets, which I think is part of why everyone likes him. On top of that, I also wanted to really try to understand him, so I never took anything he expressed for granted.
I also edited in dialogues with asking him directly about anything I didn’t understand. I cut my own voice in, and afterward I found that there were things he didn’t express very clearly. If I didn’t put those parts that felt broken, people might think Da-wang isn’t a logical person. But in fact his logic is very clear, he just doesn’t express in a way we’re accustomed to.
Q: TPE-Tics is your first documentary feature work, how did you structure your story?
No matter how clear you are about what you want to shoot, some images are just difficult to get. For example, I wanted to shoot a spontaneous interaction with him. I could have the whole scene planned out well in advance, but I can’t control his behavior, so sometimes I just couldn’t get what I really wanted to shoot.
I often asked him to improvise, to tell me whatever he wanted to tell, but for things closer to him, as parts of his internal world, I just had to wait until they eventually came out. There’s one scene that he came out of the bathroom at home and fell to the floor. I knew he was acting because he often said he’d die in an unusual way. He kept lying on the ground, and I knew he was waiting for me to say “cut”, so I deliberately didn’t, and eventually he pulled himself back up and walked into the room saying, “Probably something like that.” That scene is quite metaphorical for me, like that his room is where his life is destined for.
Embedding myself with Da-wang turned out to be more appropriate than interviewing him. He would frequently just spit a pearl of wisdom from nowhere, so I did all I could to create situations and wait—until something unpredictable happened. I had a few approaches to this. Maybe I would spend four hours with him, and in the next couple of hours he would be so tired he forgot he was supposed to be putting on a show for me and start responding to things more instinctively. Alternatively, after he’d had a hard night's sleep, the following day's shooting would, I thought, always be pretty good.
A lot of this was just to play mind game with each other. And we in fact knew it very well. Therefore, I kept shooting not only the moments he seemed to play a role consciously but also those he didn’t.
Q: As far as visual aesthetic and cinematography, did you go into the film with any particular ideas?
As for the visual treatment, I guess there were things I’d thought through already. The basic idea is to incorporate a sizable amount of stuff created by Da-wang, so using what he’s produced seemed an appropriate way for rendering his uniqueness. Whether it was his drawings or calligraphy for movie titles, after I’d initially designed several things, I then asked him to work with me on them. As far as shooting, maybe I just went on instinct or on something I wasn’t really conscious of, which may come from the way I get along with him and the way I see him. However, I’ve been shooting video for a while, so I still have my own aesthetic judgments.
For me, art creation is a way of expressing inner thoughts. In this film, Da-wang became an intermediary. He has a wide range of interests and concerns. Through his interpretations, you get to not only see him talk about his own situation, but also about other marginalized people, events, and spaces. I was thus thinking to reach out to other things through the story of Da-wang and the audiences are allowed to have the chances to see these things, too.
Q: There are a lot of clips of his performances in the film, including some with him standing in the dark on one leg. Are these trying to communicate any meaning in particular?
That was the Xining Building, next to Zhongxiao Bridge in Taipei. During those few years after it was built, it seemed like the height of fashion, but today it’s on the margins. The space there was very dark, like a stage, and his performance was just something that came to him without forethought. The atmosphere and environment connected with him in a way.
Really, the film has one core ambition: to see the margins of this city with HUANG Da-wang. Sometimes it’s physical marginalization, like Huaguang Community, which was demolished and put in a powerless position. Sometimes it's people's lifestyles that are more marginalized. I think these all call back to my ideas and his lifestyle, like things we wanted to say and places we wanted to go, but I never directly said as much in the film.
For more in formation about TPE-Tics, please click here.
(Translated by Geof ABERHART)