Q&A with B.T.S.: Better than Sex director Su Chao-pin


[For the next two weeks, Alec will be covering select films from the New York Asian Film Festival. For complete coverage of the festival, make sure to check out the page for the tag “NYAFF11.” Keep watching throughout the week as we bring you more reviews!]

One of the more exciting aspects of the NYAFF is that a number of the screenings are attended by people from all aspects of the creative teams. Such was the case with B.T.S: Better than Sex. Director/writer Su Chao-pin was there and did a short Q&A with the audience following the screening. Although I was halfway back in the theater and recording it on my phone, I was able to hear it pretty well, and this transcription is, on the whole, quite faithful to how it actually was. There are parts I could not hear, he had an accent so much of it is not quite grammatically sound, and I’m sure some of this was paraphrased, but it was a really interesting session nonetheless. Su Chao-pin is a really nice guy (the header is a picture of an autograph that he gave me), and he’s quite funny. Also, this is essentially free of spoilers, so do not worry about that. To see what he had to say (and you should!), check down below!

Q: Before we start taking questions I just want to ask you… This movie was shot in 2001. Can you tell me a little bit about what the Taiwan film industry was like in 2001?

A: Can I first say my feeling about re-watching the movie? Actually I feel so embarrassed. Ten years ago I was young and and I was so brave… and Reign of Assassin’s [another film screened at the festival, from 2010 and this was the film that I was most passionate about . and most creative about.  at this time the movie industry in Taiwan was really really badin 2001 I think the largest box office was US$30,000 really really bad this movie the budget is pretty low about US$300,000.

Q: Were your investors worried about the content of the movie. Did it seem like a surefire bet or you thought it was pretty risky?

A: I think we were very lucky, because we got subsidized by the Taiwanese government. I showed them the screenplay, and they said’ “So your screenplay is very creative and so we will subsidize your movie,” and then I finish it, and they give me a call, “We are very very concerned about your movie because of the contents,” because this is a restricted movie, which at that time it was very rare for a Taiwanese movie but I think that’s my choice but I thank the Taiwanese government for being so kind to me.

Q: So looking at it again now, are you embarrassed by the contents or by the technical side of things?

A: I think it’s both, because this is the first time I’d been a director. I’ve been a writer, but I didn’t know anything about how to direct.

Q: So about the content: is there something in there that you would never put in a movie now?

A: No! Although, I think if I’d do it in proper way, you know if I want to show the men doing the masturbation, I won’t do a close-up of his face, because it’s ugly! I think I’d put a different framing or different composition.

Q: How’d this movie perform when it came out?

A: I think it did quite. I think the box office in the whole Taiwan island was over 4 million, so it’s not bad.

Q: I feel like with Taiwanese directors there is an invisible pressure to move towards a slower movies… do you feel that pressure as a filmmaker in Taiwan to make anr own art-house film rather than a popular one? 

A: I think I don’t have this kind of pressure because I started my career as an engineer when I was 29, so I don’t know anyone. I don’t have any connections in this business, so I don’t feel any pressure. I get to make the movie I want to make.

Q: What was your favorite porn?

A: Well we had someone collect all of the porn from that time, and I think my favorite is a bit of an antique, like from 40 or 50 years ago. The picture of the lady in this film was stolen from that, because it’s so precious.

Q: Why does everyone pee when they orgasm?

A: I think it’s because they can’t hold it anymore.

Q: How long did it take to make the movie, from start to finish?

A: I think I finished the script quite quick, in about three months. Then we had 50 days for preproduction, 45 days for shooting, and another three months for postproduction.

Q: Were MC hotdog and Michael Wong as big back then as they are now?

A: I think they were bigger. It is very difficult to get people into the theaters for a local film, but we have a very strong music industry. Before this movie I had a good relationship with MTV and music television, so I know a lot of the people in that industry. I showed the project of them, and they were very interested and then volunteered almost. I did not have to pay them!

Q: Where did you get the original idea?

A: It’s very difficult to say, but I think it’s from my childhood and it’s just the sex and desire that accumulated from my childhood it’s like a release of the pressure of 20 years.

Q: What do you mean in the movie when you say that “life is like eating tofu jelly.  You have to eat it while it’s hot”?

A: Because it tastes better while it’s hot. Tofu jelly tastes better, so when it gets cold it does not taste as good as it does when hot. It’s a gift in the moment.

Q: There are two languages spoken to in the film, did you make a conscious decision at some point in the film to have two languages or was it written originally that everyone would speak Taiwanese or Japanese?

A: It was originally written with two, because at that time that Japanese popular culture was very influential as a teenager. I wanted to emphasize that it’s just kind of a phenomenon. Also the movie was a success when it was shown to Japan, because it was easier for the Japanese to relate to this kind of movie. 

Q: The whole thing was the Japanese camera crew coming to try and save Taiwan… was that kind of did that come out of a larger idea of he relationship between Japan and Taiwan and the entertainment industry?

A: At this time there were many many TV shows that were like this in Japan, and we Taiwanese people can watch it on a Japanese variety show on our TV 24 hours a day, so I think the idea is just from that. I didn’t have any cultural influence.

Q: Have you ever thought about going back and having another sex film?

A: Yes. I want to make a sequel to [B.T.S.: Better than Sex] to see this boy Ling when he grows up, and what happens in his life. I want to make it

Q: So, the movie doesn’t seem like a Taiwanese movie…. Pretty much the whole movie seems like one of those Japanese movies from the 90s. I was wondering what kinds of Japanese movies you saw?

A: Actually I don’t see many of the modern Japanese movies. I see all of the Kurosawa movies and the ninja movies, but… I am becoming a fan [of manga]. I have a collection of over 6000 volumes of Japanese comic books. Maybe the influence is from the Japanese comic books

Q: The Cabbie [Another film shown at the festival and the first film written by Su Chao-pin] is about you being a cab driver, but I thought you were a computer scientist?

A: It was because of my father. My father owned a small cabbie company. So when I was in university, the tuition fee per semester was like US$200. I could make around US$1500 in a month by driving a cab, so during summer vacation and winter vacation when it was nice out I would drive to cab for my father. I was making money for like eight years, so that movie is from real experience.

Q: Why are you drawn towards more like exploitation films, sex films and revenge films? What’s wrong with you? [This was a tongue in cheek question.]

A: I have no idea, but my mother wants to know too. I think the movie, especially the movie theater… I think you get into another world, and if you ask me you what kind of movie impresses me the most… I would say it’s King Kong I saw when I was a kid, and Jaws that I watched when I was a kid. It’s a spectacle, so maybe I always wanted to make some spectacle movies. I don’t know.