‘‘Hair Tie, Egg, Homework Books’’ : the silencing effect of violence by Runxiao Luo
On December 22, young Chinese director Runxiao Luo won the "Best International Short Film" award at the last Fabrique du Cinéma Awards with his first short film Hair Tie, Egg, Homework Books, after making its world premiere at the 78th Venice International Film Festival.
The short-film, distributed in Italy by Lights On Film, tells the story of 11-year-old Lin Yuq, a model student at an elementary school who will be tasked with giving a public speech about her family. Someone else will write the speech for her, not Lin Yuq who witnesses her mother's domestic violence perpetuated by her father on a daily basis. We interviewed director Runxiao Luo along with producer Wang Lu Ka who told us about their journey to filmmaking and unveiled new nuances of their work breaking down language barriers.
What originally inspired you to start this career? What are your goals when it comes to making films?
R.L.: I loved watching movies from a very young age. I went to the US for high school when I was fourteen. The very first day I arrived I saw a big film crew shooting a TV series, seeing those cameras made me realize that I wanted to do it too. I later realized that a lot of people were better at making their shoots prettier because of their background and education, while in my case filmmaking was self taught, I was like “what am I gonna do?”, then I figured out that stories and narrative matter more than looks. When I was 19 I went back to China and I had a feature script written that I wanted to get funded by investment companies. Knocking doors didn’t work so I went on a Columbia film set to see what people actually do and Lu Ka was the producer. I was like “that’s how you make movies, you need a producer”!, I asked her to collaborate and it just happened.
Where does the inspiration for your short film come from?
R.L.: The story is based upon my personal experience. In China, they hosted public speaking competitions, and I was the national champion at 14 years old. The school wrote the script for me, I used to go on stage and say words that didn’t represent my feelings, or that I didn’t think were true. Children are still exploring the world, and school is a metaphor for this educational environment. The last thing it’s about female characters, since I grew up with my mom she is a very big influence on me. I had very few, close to none positive male figures while I was growing up, on the other hand I had a lot of powerful female figures and role models and I’d like to tell stories about them.
Your short film tackles the phenomenon of domestic violence perpetuated by men and its repercussions on children. What did you want to bring to light?
R.L.: I wanted to condemn this behavior representing it as truthfully as possible. Eastern Asian cinema tends to hide these extreme moments, our culture thinks that simpleness and not being too straightforward is better cinema. For me it’s different, I like realness. Mine is an unflinching look at domestic violence, all shot in a real and direct way, it’s people dying, people getting hurt, people taking their lives to make a statement. I also wanted to show what violence really does: it silences people. When we are growing up, we have a black and white view of the world, but then you are trained to do things a certain way, and for some aspects that molding comes from violence and power, power that makes you silent, stopping you from expressing your feelings. Some victims don’t even come out, and we only have this glorification of the macho instead.
Walk us through the pre-production process and the shooting days.
W.L.K.: The script was finished around February 2020, we went back to China and from early May we started the pre-production. We stayed in the small town where the film was shot for around 2 months. We wanted to cast someone with acting experience, but they couldn’t represent the realness the director wanted. That’s why we opted for non-professional actors and cast around five hundred kids in schools, and we found the perfect girl for the role. Also, the deserted house was not in the original script, but when I showed it to the director he felt like it was a place where we could show the fears and feelings of the girl. We shot the whole movie with iPhones before the real shoot which took 4 days.
R.L.:: It takes so much time to draw storyboards, so why not use an iPhone instead?
How long did the post-production take?
W.L.K.: We did a long time of post-production, the sound design and the editing were fundamental for this film. We don’t have music in the film because we don’t have music in real life, we did 3 months of sound design and replaced the sound team once because it didn’t meet our expectations.
Wang Lu Ka, can you describe your journey to becoming a producer? What was it like working with the director Runxiao Luo?
W.L.K.: I studied TV production in China and worked there as a reality TV show director, but it wasn’t the life I wanted. I used to write scripts for production companies. I’m a storyteller, but I didn’t want screenwriting to be my career. I’m good at communicating with people, so I went to Columbia to study Creative Producing and I met Runxiao. He was only 19 and he had his first feature film script written. He knows how to tell a story that touches people’s hearts and how to collaborate with the team. He respects everybody’s opinions and listens to advice. This film wasn’t cheap to make but thanks to his personality we got help from a lot of friends who came to work for free.
R.L.: Because I was young, people had doubts, and you have to convince people through your work itself. I felt the pressure, but we did it. I think the root of filmmaking is to get reactions from everybody, but in the end, you have to be sure of what you want.
W.L.K.: We would also like to thank Lights On and Flavio Armone that helped us so much along the way. We are young filmmakers and when Lights On told us they liked the film it boosted our confidence.
What are you working on next, and why is this future project important to you?
R.L.: We are woring on a new feature film together and it’s about a retired female tennis player. The focus of the story is the struggle between professional athleticism and motherhood. There is a stigma in Asia that women have to give birth at a certain age, unlike men, and I think there is also another time limit for professional athletes.