大稻埕 (Da Dao Cheng), or Time Traveler, is a romantic comedy with a rich historical backstory set in Taipei during the 1920s, when Taiwan was becoming more international and seeing some steady economic development. The film will premiere in theaters across Taiwan beginning January 30. Recently, we had a chance to meet with the female lead, Jian Man Shu, to talk about the meaning of the film and going after your dreams.
Name: 簡嫚書 Jian Man Shu
Last film watched: The Hobbit
If I could have any superpower, it would be: Invisibility
Can you explain what the movie title means to someone who is not familiar with Taiwan and how it ties into the movie?
Da Dao Cheng was the most important place in Taipei in the ’20s. Originally, it was used as a shipping harbor and later, the area evolved into a popular place that everyone visited in order to purchase goods for the biggest holiday of the year, Chinese New Year.
In the movie, the male protagonist is a student living in 2014 who is transported into the past, arriving at Da Dao Cheng during the 1920s. There, he meets the youth of that time period, including my character. Through his time travel, the protagonist learns from each of these characters and realizes what he needs to change in the present.
When did you become involved in acting? Is this your childhood dream?
Actually, I never dreamed of becoming an actress, it was more of an “accident”. Originally I was studying to be a director in college, but when I was in my third year in college, I was lucky enough to be recommended by a director for a lead role in a TV drama “那年，雨不停國”, which resulted in my acting career afterwards. Before that, my friends and I shot short films for student-run contests, and for fun. I’ve actually received a “Best Director” award in 48 Hour Film Project Taipei 2013. See HERE for the film 《Gift》.
Which do you like filming the most: commercials, dramas, short films, or movies?
I would have to say movies, because compared to other media, movies are much more intricate and requires specialized skills. In the film industry, I was able to meet and network with professionals as well as converse with them on many different levels.
Tell us about the role you play in Da Dao Cheng.
My character is a “藝旦” (yi dan), historically known as “sing-song girls”, of the 1920s, whose role is similar to the Japanese geisha. The yi dan of the ’20s were special because they had to be able to entertain all types of guests. Since during that era, Da Dao Cheng was a very open and international area, therefore the Yi Dan must be able to speak in many languages, including Japanese, English, German, and Taiwanese (aka Taiwanese Hokkien) was the major language spoken there. Yi Dan were considered beautiful and admirable women capable of interacting with different people displaying their elegance and intellect.
When the male protagonist goes back in time, he and I have an interesting dating experience.
Wow, you play a very interesting character. How did you prepare for this role and what were some of the challenges you faced?
Since Taiwanese was mostly spoken throughout the movie, I had to practice and refine my Taiwanese. To train myself to become a yi dan, before we started filming, I had to learn some traditional Chinese instruments, such as the pi pa, and perform some traditional dances. I also had to practice some Japanese and even learn how to sing a German song. Compared to other roles I have had in the past, this one definitely came with the most challenges.
Another difficulty I faced was learning how to act like someone from that time period. I watched and studied some movies that were filmed in Taiwan during the 20s to help me prepare for this role, including Great Gatsby that, coincidentally, was filmed at that time too. Another very helpful film I watched was titled 最好的時光 or Three Times; one part of the film is set in 1911 and discusses the yi dan in Taiwan.
What do you think the key message viewers will take away from this movie is?
Part of the message of the movie is to show people know how modern-day Taiwan came about to remind people of some of the forgotten history of Taiwan. The other part of the message is to teach the youth what people of their age were doing in the past, since the discrepancy is actually quite large. Nowadays, an increasing amount of the Taiwanese youth are uncertain about what career they would like to have. When asked about what they want for their future, they just say, “I don’t know.” What’s even more questionable is Taiwan’s future. I think this is one of the most important issues that the movie is trying to bring out.
And how do you hope the audience will feel after watching Da Dao Cheng?
Much like the takeaway messages that our director created with this film, I hope the audience will understand how Taiwan began. Also, in the movie trailer, Zhu Ge Liang says, “年輕人到底醒了沒？ (Have the youth awakened yet?).“ I think this is a very important issue to think about.
What advice do you have for those trying to pursue their dreams?
First off, don’t think of your “dreams” as merely dreams, but just do the things you feel you have to or if you don’t, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life. I believe that whenever you’re doing things that feel right to you, you’ll realize that you have been putting together your dream all along, piece by piece.
Secondly, if you plan on creating a goal for yourself, you should “think big” and set an unrealistically high goal. That way, you will achieve more than setting a low goal. Basically, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”
Since you mentioned that you hope to become a director one day, what kind of film would you want to create?
I’m a big fan of Quentin Tarantino’s and Woody Allen’s work, so I would like to create a film that is a combination of these two styles, though both are quite different from each other. Many of Tarantino’s movies are about revenge and have a lot of depth. On the other hand, Allen’s work takes a closer look at destiny and he’s someone who enjoys to go at his own pace.
If you can act alongside anyone in the world, who would you choose?
If Johnny Depp were to visit Taiwan, where would you bring him?
Well, I would first bring him to a night market to eat stinky tofu and then make him sing KTV. We would have to go shrimping—can you imagine him shrimping?—and lastly we would go to the arcade to play basketball and use the claw machines. I would get him to help me snatch a 老皮/Jake (from Adventure Time) plush doll, haha.
See Strolling Through “Old” Taipei in Dadaocheng (大稻埕) for things to do in the area.
Photography by angel beat & Green film
《大稻埕》是一部以1920年代的台北為歷史背景的浪漫喜劇, 當時也正是台灣走向國際化跟經濟穩定起飛的時代. 這部電影將於2014年1月30日在全台灣各大電影院上映. 我們最近很榮幸可以跟此部電影的第一女主角-簡嫚書聊聊這部電影的意義跟追求夢想的心路歷程.
如果我可以有超能力, 我希望會是: 隱形
大稻埕在20年代是台北最重要的地區. 起初那裡只是船運業常用的港口, 之後則演變成一個大家購買年貨的熱門場所.
在電影裡, 男主角從2014年不小心穿越時空到1920年的大稻埕. 在那裡他遇見了那個時代的年輕人們, 其中也包含了我飾演的角色. 在這趟時光旅行, 主角從各個人物的身上學到了許多讓他漸漸發現他在現代應該做出的改變有哪些.
這一切其實比較像是個意外, 當一個女演員從來不是我的夢想. 我在大學讀的是導演系. 在大學三年級時，因為一個導演的推薦參與了一個電視節目的演出《那年，雨不停國》，從此開始了演員這條路. 在那之前, 我有跟朋友自己拍過一個學生電影短片. 我最近其實也剛獲得2013年台北48小時電影比賽計畫的 “最佳導演獎”的殊榮. 得獎影片《Gift》按此連結.
我的角色是一個在1920年代當紅的藝旦, 藝旦有點像是日本的藝妓. 在那個年代很特別的是, 藝旦她們的教育程度其實是蠻高的. 因為她們負責接待來自各種背景重要的客人. 由於當時大稻埕是一個很國際化和很開放的地方, 藝旦也需要熟悉不同的語言, 像是日文, 英文, 德文, 和當時主要的語言-台語. 藝旦是公認為才貌兼備可以和高知識份子對答如流的女性.
另一個我遇到的困難是如何揣摩那個年代的人. 我去看了一些1920年代台灣的電影, 還有外國片 《大亨小傳》 的背景也剛好是1920年代. 另外幫助我很大的是侯孝賢導演的 《最好的時光》 , 這部電影裡也有一段是在講1911年的台灣跟當時的藝旦.
主要是希望可以提醒現代人那些被遺忘的歷史是如何造就今天的台灣. 另外一部份想要呈現的是現在的年輕人跟過去那個年代的年輕人在同樣的年紀時是在做些什麼不一樣的事. 因為差別其實蠻大的. 過去物資或是科技雖然不是很發達, 但人們是很清楚知道自己要的是什麼. 而現代的年輕人在如此優渥的環境反而常常不清楚自己的未來該往哪走. 我認為這是 “大稻埕” 期望觀眾去反思跟探討的社會現象.
就像導演想傳達的訊息那樣吧. 讓觀眾瞭解台灣是如何開始的. 在預告片裡, 豬哥亮說 “ 年輕人到底醒了沒？” 我認為這是一個很值得思考的事情.
我會先帶他去夜市吃臭豆腐然後唱KTV. 我還會帶他去釣蝦–你可以想像他釣蝦的樣子嗎? 最後我會跟他一起去玩籃球機跟夾娃娃機. 我要他幫我夾個老皮的娃娃. 哈哈.
點這裡看我們的老台北-大稻埕遊記: Strolling Through “Old” Taipei in Dadaocheng (大稻埕).
照片由 angel beat 黃俊團 & 青睞提供