Growing up, Xueou Yu often moved all around China. Her mother was from the Northern part of the country, and her father the South. She was constantly bouncing back and forth between the regions, which had a huge impact on her life and later her work. Moving around, she was never in one place long enough to pick up any dialect, find her identity, or become one of the regions “people” in the local’s eyes. This was troubling as a child, and she found her solace in films, which would often be exploring the same themes that she was struggling with in her life. She realized the escapism and catharsis that cinematic arts had, and she knew she would spend her life exploring the same themes, creating stories with characters who are trying to find where they belong.
Yu has now done just that, making impactful productions that connect with audiences all over the globe. Films like Asa Nisi Masa, Ka Ka Ka Ka, and Donna all relate to experiences she has somehow gone through in her life or ideas she has always wanted to explore, and this is what makes them so captivating. It is easy to see her passion in her work, and why she is such an in-demand producer and director in China.
“I want my pieces to be sincere and close to the audience. I won’t start if the character does not feel real to me. When making films I try to make it true and close to real life. When doing commercials and music videos I am a little bit different because I focus more on the concept and exploring, experimenting and providing different things each time I direct. But overall my works are very myself, I create them based on what I conceive about this world and I am always honest to my work and myself,” she said.
Yu’s newest project is the film Vincent, an extended version of her 2016 short film of the same name. The initial film was about a boy named Vincent who struggles with accepting himself. This film features a character of the same name dealing with the same struggle, but he is a new character in a new scenario. In the new film, Vincent, 24, lives a life of self-imposed isolation due to a birthmark that covers half his face. Over the years, he's developed a rich inner fantasy world and has even published a hit series of books with a multitude of adoring fans. Despite this, he refuses to meet any of them. Now, afflicted with writer’s block, Vincent retreats to a cabin in a small town, where he meets Lia, a waitress in the town's only restaurant, who harbors secrets of her own.
“I was a person who was insecure and not very confident, always caring about what others thought of me. By doing this film, I want to send out the message that everyone should live for themselves and not care about what others think of them. This message is very important to me,” said Yu. “While I was digging into the character, I was finally able to help myself, so I hope this story will help the other people too. Often when I do music videos and commercials, I have many personal styles and signatures in it. But when I was doing this film, I tried to let it have a natural flow and not be too stylized because I want audiences to truly be immersed in the story.”
Because the story is so heartfelt for Yu, she strived to make the film perfection. The most important aspect to do this was to cast the perfect actor for Vincent. The character is quite three-dimensional, and it wasn’t easy finding someone who could capture his essence. She ended up finding Actor Cameron James Matthews, who she found not only captured Vincent’s insecure side, but also his good heart.
“There’s no one who understands the character Vincent more than me. There’s tons of drafts that I did just to make this character a real person, a character that people can always remember,” she said.
Each day on set as director, Yu emphasized the importance for sincerity to be conveyed in every scene. She pushed the actors to give their best possible performance, not making any compromises when it came to imperfect takes and reshoots. Now, she is extremely happy with what they have made, and is excited for audiences to finally see it.
“During the process of developing this film, I gradually free myself as well. When Vincent steps out to accept himself, it is the moment that I was able to accept myself. It’s a very self-reflective piece to me,” said Yu.
Vincent will release later this Spring. Be sure to keep an eye out for it.
1st photo by Daren You
2nd photo by Wendi Sun