Singapore Film News Portal since 2006
CAROUSEL INTERVIEWS

Interview: Ko Chen-Nien 柯貞年, Director of ‘The Silent Forest’ 《無聲》

17 November 2020

author:

Interview: Ko Chen-Nien 柯貞年, Director of ‘The Silent Forest’ 《無聲》

To say that Taiwanese director Ko Chen-Nien 柯貞年 made a splash with her debut feature The Silent Forest《無聲》would be an understatement. 

First debuting at this year’s Taipei Film Festival, the intense drama has gone on to make a definitive statement in Taiwanese cinema, garnering eight nominations for this year’s Golden Horse Awards. More than its awards buzz, the film’s devastating portrait of the struggles sexual assault victims face has instigated societal change while reigniting important conversations surrounding the issues in Taiwan.

The Silent Forest would not be Ko’s first brush with film awards nor with the issue of school violence. In 2010, Ko made her mark on the scene with short film Horse with No Name《無名馬》, which was nominated at the Golden Harvest Awards before snagging the Best Short Feature Film prize at the following year’s Golden Horse Awards. 

Sexual assault is a bold and sensitive topic that even the most seasoned directors may stumble with. Ko not only tackles the subject with grace, but she also does it almost exclusively through sign language.  These, together with moving performances, outstanding cinematography and a bone-chilling soundtrack, make The Silent Forest an exceptional film in an already incredible year for Taiwanese cinema filled with back-to-back hits.

Sinema.SG had the privilege to speak with director Ko to ask about the challenges she faced directing the film, the urgent themes in The Silent Forest, and her future plans.


What compelled you to tackle such a difficult topic for your debut film?

I have always paid attention to films about social issues and I hope that The Silent Forest will be meaningful to society. Films should not just provide entertainment but also give something for everyone to reflect and think about. 

Those heading in to watch films similar to The Silent Forest may initially see them as just a retelling of a news item. However, after watching the film, audiences might feel like they experienced the journey and issues together with the students, where the issues raised feel less fictionalised or edited and more immediate for the audience.

《無聲》是您的處女作。是什麼促使您探討這個困難的議題?

其實對於社會議題的片子有在關注。然後也很希望透過《無聲》這樣的片可以傳達一些社會意義。其實電影除了可以有娛樂價值可以讓人放鬆以外,應該也可以帶給大家都一點的思考的。當大家進戲院看《無聲》這樣的片的時候呢會以前也許對觀衆來說它只是一個新聞事件。但是,現在看了電影后你會覺得坐在電影裏面很像跟那一些孩子一起親身經歷的這些事情,我們無法再把它當作一個是編的事而是真的是有關於我們的事。


Was the story a difficult sell to investors?

In the beginning, I was approached by the Public Television Service to develop a film so it initially didn’t have a theatrical release in mind. However, while developing the script, a lot of my friends and seniors felt that the story is really meaningful and should be made for a theatrical release for a wide audience. 

On the other hand, there were also definitely those who felt that although the story itself is good, they had questions due to the heavy and sensitive nature of the story before deciding whether to invest. Still, I felt that The Silent Forest wasn’t a big-scale production and nevertheless there were a lot of passionate investors for the film.

您的故事題材是否讓您在尋找投資方時有所挑戰?

其實這部片一開始是公共電視找上我想要跟我一起做一個新創的電影所以並不是要往院線髮型的。但後來其實在開發劇本的過程中其實有很多的朋友以及一些前輩都覺得這樣子的片很有意義。不過,有人願意去做這樣的題材的話,其實應該要上院線讓跟多的觀衆看到。但當然也會因爲它是一個比較沉重有比較敏感的題材所以也會有一些人會覺得說,其實這是一個很好的故事但是對於是否要投資也會有一些質疑。不過我覺得,整個成本上它還並不算是一個大型的製作。我也覺得也有很多很熱血的投資者就義不容辭而來一起參與這個案子。

(Photo credit: Ko Chen-Nien)

Most of the film is told through sign language, while it was also clear that there was a lot of care in translating the culture shared amongst the hearing-impaired. What was the research process behind the film like?

Although the film is based on real-life incidents, I first looked to understand the lives of the deaf and hearing-impaired. These included the composition of their families, deaf education, sign language, the assistive listening devices they use, and any other resources that are available to them. I found that their family compositions and backgrounds all influenced the way they approached learning. It was only after I understood their situations then I looked to approach the incidents depicted in The Silent Forest

As most of the film is told through sign language, the actors spent about three months learning the language. On set, we also had both sign language and deaf person consultants to ensure the authenticity of the performances and dialogue. 

Shooting the film was an interesting experience for me. In the past, we tend to rely on dialogue for performances but for The Silent Forest, we had to rely on the actors’ movements to bring across the emotions. I feel like it is a lot like dance. The actors had to rely on their entire body to bring across the emotions of the scenes. The entire experience was a big challenge for both the actors and me, but I think all of us gave our best for the film. 

《無聲》大部分的內容是通過手語講述。同時也看得出製作團隊在呈現聽覺障礙者社羣的特徵所下的功夫。您能分享這部電影的研究過程是怎樣的?

雖然這是一個取材於就是真實事件的一個電影。然後但其實我們一開始做填調的時候,我其實是先去了解所謂的聾人然後以及這些聽障朋友。包含其實聾人家庭的組成,聾人教育以及他們的手語口語。包含他們持帶助聽器裝電子耳,或是其實有沒有輔助的設備。我覺得不同的家庭組成,不同的背景,其實也會讓他們就是造就與他們的處境跟他們的學習的方式都會有所不同。等到我真正的瞭解了這些狀況以後,才真正的接觸那件事件的核心。因爲整部片大部分都是用手語,演員們大概有學了三個月的手語。我們在現場也有一個手語的指導和一個聾人指導在現場隨時隨地確認手語的手行手式然後肢體表情以及所有的一些對話的情景設否有問題。

然後我覺得這是一個蠻有趣的一個體驗。因爲過去我們比較依賴透過臺詞去表演。那這一次當我們要把所有的聲音抽掉只能透過你的肢體,只能透過你的手語。我覺得它有點像在跳舞。它透過你的整個肢體,整個人,去進入那一個情景當中。我覺得對演員或是對導演來說都是一個很大的挑戰。然後我們也覺得盡力做到最好這樣子。


While the story is approached through a wide variety of genres, the film’s horror elements were what stood out to me the most. Talk us through why you decided to use horror to tell this story.

I have done a lot of experimentation and research on several genre elements due to my interest in them. I grew up watching horror films and loved mystery thrillers when I was young. I looked to approach The Silent Forest much like how films from other countries, such as in Korea, Japan and the Western world, approach their films about social issues. They too include a lot of genre elements looking to resonate with more audiences. Some audiences might head to the movies wanting a particular type of film before coming to understand the issues tackled that they might not have paid attention to beforehand. 

That is why I approached The Silent Forest in a similar manner. I hope that the film will appeal to those interested in the issues raised, and also perhaps even for the younger crowd who may be looking to watch a thriller in the theatres.

雖然《無聲》的故事是通過多種電影類型元素呈現的,但其中的恐怖元素讓我留下深刻印象。《無聲》為什麼刻意想要以恐怖元素來講述這個故事?

我其實過去一直就對於這一些類型片的元素蠻有興趣,也做了蠻多研究的。其實我從小就很喜歡看推理驚悚的小說,而且也是看鬼片長大的。當初要做《無聲》的時候,因爲它其實是議題電影,但我覺得其實這些社會議題的電影在國外已經發展的蠻完整的。譬如說在韓國,日本或是在歐美,它們會透過一些類型元素的包裝讓這一樣子的片子更接近觀衆。甚至是可能沒有注意到這樣子議題,或是不知道有這一樣事件的觀衆,透過我們想要去看一個有一些類型元素的片而進戲院看這一個,而進而瞭解這件事情。所以一開始在做《無聲》的時候就想要有一些類型元素包含驚悚恐怖甚至做了一些在情結,做了一些懸面。其實是希望可以讓觀看的觀衆不只只是對這一個議題有興趣的,而是甚至一些年輕朋友也會因爲想要看驚悚片來戲院看。

(Image credit: MM2 Entertainment)

What are the impacts you hope to make with The Silent Forest?

The Silent Forest looks to highlight several topics such as campus violence, abuse of authority, the lives of the deaf, and sexual assault. While working on the film, I think it’s easy to be angry and heartbroken after learning about these issues, while hoping that the movie will be able to give a voice to the children and be a form of revenge to those that have harmed them.

However, after collecting myself, I felt that anger should not be what this film looks to channel, especially when those children do not have any hatred for their schools or to the incidents itself. Being able to stay in the school with their friends is really important for them. Those are moments that they treasure a lot. As someone who isn’t hearing-impaired telling their stories, I feel that I shouldn’t be self-righteous and be the one to decide what is right or wrong.

As such, I looked to tell the story from a different perspective. For me, the film’s story isn’t about good and evil. The movie does not have an antagonist that has to be punished. Instead, everyone has each committed their own mistakes. Even those sitting in the theatres have a part in the situation as well.

That is why I hope that after watching the film, audiences would not feel that the issue has resolved. Instead, it should be the beginning. I hope the film will be a different kind of wake up call, and that it will contribute to making the world more empathetic.

您能和我們分享您在製作《無聲》的一些關鍵影響嗎?

我覺得其實《無聲》因爲它牽扯到很多面相包含所謂的校園霸凌或權力關係不對的,聾人的處境以及性犯罪。所以當時在做填調的時候呢,我覺得很容易其實你聽到這一些事件的時候其實你心裏可能從滿憤怒,很覺得心疼,很心痛。甚至你會希望可以透過這個電影去爲這一些孩子發聲,甚至是去對那一些傷害他們的人有所報復。

可是後來當自己沈澱下來的時候,我會覺得憤怒並不是這部片所應該傳達的目的。因爲那一些孩子他們並沒有仇視那一些所謂的學校或者是仇視這個事件。對他們來說,留在那個地方,或者是跟他們喜歡的同學相處在一起是非常重要的。他們也很珍惜那一個時光。今天我是一個聽人要來做一個聾人片子,我覺得我沒辦法拿着一把自以爲真意的刀然後去撲殺所謂的對錯。

所以後來我反而是試著去站在不同的立場去看待整件事情。我覺得它並不是一個善惡對決的片。所以其實跟一般的商業電影不一樣。我們沒有一個需要去懲罰的壞人因爲其實可能在在這件事情當中每個人都做錯了一些事情。那回歸到源頭,有可能連坐在電影演裏面的觀衆都可能是共犯裏面的一分子。

我希望離開戲院之後不會覺得這一件事結束,而是離開戲院之後我們能做些什麼纔是這件事情的開始。然後也希望帶給觀衆一些不一樣的醒資,也希望可以透過電影讓這個世界更有同理心可以在稍微美好一些。


The Silent Forest mainly stars fresh new actors. Was the casting of newcomers intentional?

At the beginning of casting for The Silent Forest, we decided that the film’s leads must be around the age of their characters while looking the part. Most films would cast actors in their twenties to play high school students or children. However, due to the sensitive issue of sexual assault, and with how the film looks to explore the boundaries between that and play, I felt that we had to bring across the characters’ age more with our casting choices.

I also tried to avoid casting actors who were more well-known to make the film’s story more immersive for the audience. If the actors were recognisable, it might be easier for the audience to feel that what is depicted is just a film. I was quite gratified that after the film’s premiere in Taiwan, a lot of people approached me to ask if hearing-impaired actors were cast for the film. I felt that is an affirmation that the actors really brought across their characters well.

《無聲》的主要演員多數是新面孔(新生代演員)。請問決定挑選新手演員是刻意的嗎?

當初《無聲》在選角的時候,我一開始的設定就是這一些主要的演員他們一定要就是在視覺上或是在年齡上希望都是符合像孩子般的年紀。因爲其實很多電影我們可能會找二十幾歲的年輕人來演高中生或是演小孩。但這裏面牽着到比較敏感的性犯罪,以及對孩子們來說所謂玩跟玩過頭的這一個界線。所以我覺得他們必須在外形上看起來就是孩子。

我也試着不要去找一些線上很知名度的明星演員因爲我想要讓觀衆在看的時候可以有帶入感。如果對觀衆來說是很熟悉的面孔,也許他們就會比較容易齣戲。我也覺得蠻欣慰的是臺灣上映的時候很多觀衆看完都會問我:”那一些男女主角那一些聾人孩子,他們真的是聾人嗎?” 我就覺得那代表他們做的其實真的蠻好的。

(Image credit: MM2 Entertainment)

Were there any difficulties directing the performances for The Silent Forest since most of it is through sign language?

Like I previously mentioned, making a film with performances in sign language was a very interesting experience, not just for the actors but for the crew as well. I feel that the crew was very bold in their approach to the film. The cinematographer had to account for the movement in sign language and how it must work together with the rhythm of the film. 

For the editing team, performances in sign language also presented specific challenges in pacing and cuts. If we approached the edits as we would with traditional films with dialogue, the film might feel too dragged out. So for the edits to be able to bring across the culture of sign language without sacrificing the enjoyability and pace of the film was something that had to be experimented with.

For the actors, I feel that once they were familiar with the language, they were even more in tune with their characters. It forced the actors to internalise and express their characters’ emotions and thoughts, and to find ways to express them without outwardly voicing them out. Overall, I thought it was a wonderful experience for everyone.

《無聲》中,多數的對話是通過手語進行。請問這是否在指導表演中,帶來任何困難?

我覺得其實透過手語來拍攝整部戲就像前面說過,它其實是一個非常有趣的體驗。其實不只對導演跟演員,我覺得對技術人員來說也是非常大膽的嘗試。因爲攝影師其實必須在拍攝的時候要考慮到手語的手行手式。而且可能譬如說它的攝影律動必須跟着手語的樣態一起來流動。

在剪輯的時候呢因爲我們其實是沒有辦法透過所謂的話外音來切對話的。所以它就要考慮到銜接是更大的那一種能耐。因爲要怎麼樣如果我們就是照着這樣子把這個手語打完然後來剪輯的話其實是會很冗長又很悶。所以要怎麼樣可以把剪輯又可以表現出手語的這一個人文化又可以不要太至於緩慢冗長的也是蠻大的嘗試的。

其實演員我覺得當他們把那一些手語都練熟的時候,對他們來說反而是更自在因爲你是真的要想這個角色的內在而不是說你透過那一些聲音,把聲音放大或是把那些對白向喊出來。而是你內心真的是要更站在角色的立場去想這些歷程。所以我覺得這是一個很美好的嘗試。


What is next for you?

For now, I am looking to film two television series. One of them is based on an international IP, while the other is an original story. Both of which will similarly look to incorporate different genre elements. I feel that making a film and a television series each present completely different challenges so it is something that I am very looking forward to.

Looking towards the future, I am still interested in creating films that are based on societal issues or real-life cases so it will be an area that I will be continuing to explore.

您能分享完成《無聲》後,您接下來的計畫是什麼?

目前可能明年會做兩部影集。一個是就是跨國的一個IP,另外一個是原創的故事。其實都是有類型元素。我覺得其實做電影跟做影集其實是兩個完全不同的挑戰。所以我也是覺得蠻期待的。

對於要做這種社會議題或從真實事件改編的故事我覺的我還是很有興趣。我希望可以有這樣更多關於這樣的故事可以被拍攝出來。


The Silent Forest has garnered eight nominations at this year’s Golden Horse Awards, including for Best New Director and Best Original Screenplay. Catch the awards ceremony this Saturday, 21 November, at 7pm.

Read more: 
Film Review: ‘The Silent Forest’ Is a Terrifyingly Brilliant Masterclass in Storytelling
Film Review: ‘My Missing Valentine’ Delights With Its Hearty Sentimentalism
On The Next Generation of Taiwanese Filmmakers – An Interview With Golden Harvest Awards Jury Member Huang Hao-Jie

There's nothing Matt loves more than "so bad, they're good" movies. Except browsing through crates of vinyl records. And Mexican food.