Finish year

When a life hangs by a thread: An interview with Maso CHEN, director of A Decision

  • Taiwan Competition

Please tell us how you came to film A Decision.

I’ve worked on a number of medical-related films, like The Silent Teacher (2017) and The Hospital (2016). Working on them sparked my deep interest in on-scene medical care, as the work touches upon many aspects of the human condition, and forces people to deal with things they would rather not deal with.

Dr WU Yu-cheng, who appeared in The Decision, had previously watched The Hospital online and wanted to create a documentary on this subject, so he reached out to me. Dr WU is an advocate of pulling the plug on futile medical care. Previously, he had seen many comatose patients in the Intensive Care Unit and found that while everyone was hoping to prolong the lives of these patients, no one could actually “save” them i.e let them pass on, and as a result, they have to continue suffering for many more years. He wanted people to have a look at some real-life cases and get them to change their opinions on the topic through this film.


The entire film is in black and white, with a number of long takes, as well as portions where the audio  was set against a black screen. The whole arrangement was quite unique. What were some things that you took into consideration as the film started to take shape?

I originally filmed in color, but removed it during the editing stage, as I did not want the color to get in the way of the content. Towards the end of the editing process, I tried adding the color back in, and all of a sudden, it felt too real, which made me uncomfortable. I did not want the viewers to get the same feeling, so in the end, I decided to do it in black and white in the hopes of providing just that little bit of detachment.

I tested many things out in this film, one of which was to film Chin-yu watching TV, the TV screen and the scenery outside the window with a long take, in order to capture the feeling of time passing. There are so many hours in his day, yet all he can see from where he lies are these. I hope the viewers can empathize, because if we cannot stand looking at these for just a few minutes, can you imagine how Chin-yu, who has been lying there staring at the same scene for so many years, feels? Additionally, I wanted the viewers to use this time to introspect and ponder over the experience, and the removal of the visual aspect enhances the effect of the audio, making it easier to listen to what is being said.


While documenting the interactions between the doctor and patient, were there any turning points that left a deep impression on you?

Dr WU’s stand when we first started was, “Look, this is how it is like to be a patient. Why would you force them to continue living?” Later on however, he had a change of heart and hoped Chin-yu would find the will to live again. This is the doctor-patient relationship that I often explore; When all you see is a stranger who lies in bed all day, unable to move, you would feel that this person would be better off passing on. However, once you get to know them, will you think the same way? This is especially the case if the patient is young. When you consider the road they have ahead of them, the feeling is very different, I believe. Dr WU inadvertently helped me prove this point.


How did the name A Decision come about?

This film was named A Decision because I wanted to highlight something. We are always changing our minds, trying to make decisions on things. The decisions we make often change over time, and are not cast in stone. As the saying goes, the best laid plans of mice and men go awry, and often when that happens, a snap decision has to be made.

For the family of patient in long-term care, they have to deal with situations that the average person is unprepared to deal with or is unable to understand. For example, Wei-wei, who appeared in the film, had to make a decision on whether or not to allow her mother to undergo surgery and prolong her life. However, is prolonging her mother’s life beneficial or detrimental to her mother? Or is Wei-wei doing it for her own sake? When new complications suddenly arise in a patient’s condition, their family has to deal with them once again, and the possibility of making a wrong decision is quite real. However, there’s no two ways about it. You have to experience making decisions on the spot many times before you will learn to trust that the decision you made was the best decision.


When dealing with the issue of futile medical care and the discussions surrounding it, how did you determine how much time to devote to it?

I tend to bring the story to the forefront when filming, with the topic of discussion taking a back seat. I feel that if we focus solely on the issue, the viewers will find it difficult to relate. However, by telling a story, they will be able to see that things are not simply right or wrong, and that more often than not, things exist in a gray area. They will be able to understand what causes these people to make such decisions, and through this, better understand life.

Making films on the subject of life, it seems that I often find myself in these kinds of situations. Actually, I would already have a position on the topic, but after wrapping up filming and moving into editing and post-production, I would try not to let my opinion get in the way. When it comes to the subject of life, we cannot really offer a correct answer, nor can we define anything in absolute terms. In any case, I just want to provide the viewers with some food for thought.


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