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Producer Xiaoyuan Xiao: Fear and Sorrow of The Five Minutes

Hesitantly, full of trepidation, the husband speaks to his wife. “How can you be so selfish?” “Am I the one who is selfish?” she replies. “It’s been five years. Is this your home or a hotel?” With tearful eyes he declares, “I just want you to be okay.” “I just want this to be over.” is her response; one which is guaranteed. The Five Minutes is a unique Science Fiction film which tells of a mournful man’s attempt to understand his marital tragedy. “Ivy” Xiaoyuan Xiao is the producer behind this internationally lauded film. Recognitions such as an Official Selection at the Calgary International Film Festival and Florida Film Festival (both of which are Oscar Qualifying), winner of Best Sci-fi at this year’s Los Angeles Film Awards and Asian on Film Festival, are just some of the numerous accolades received by The Five Minutes. Falling within the same wheelhouse as the iconic Twilight Zone series, the film takes a minor leap of faith in technology to achieve a massive emotional payoff. Xiao confirms that this subtlety was an intended part of making the story connect with audiences. Working closely with director Shange Zhang, Ivy’s talent behind the scenes helped steer the production into the international popularity it has received thus far.

Some may perceive The Five Minutes as a cautionary tale to those who become so caught up in the world’s definition of success that they lose sight of life’s true rewards. This eerie and slightly technologically influenced story features an all Asian cast with Zhan Wang (of the FX Primetime Emmy nominated series Legion) as Yu Cheng, a workaholic husband in denial of his wife’s progressing unhappiness and depression. When his wife Lu Li (Eon Song) commits suicide, he is devastated. Visiting her body at the morgue, a medical professional informs him of a new device, a phone which will allow him to communicate with her prior to her death. The stipulations are that he may not try to alter her actions and that the call is limited to five minutes. During the call, Yu Cheng struggles to restrict himself to the boundaries and only exacerbates the tension. Even though he is afforded this one-time communication, he cannot give his doomed spouse that which she most desires, communication and companionship.

Xiao stipulates that the light touch of Sci-Fi and Horror is a dominant factor in the approach to making the film so relatable. She notes, “I discussed this approach with the director and cinematographer [Emre Okten]. We were of one mind that we wanted to make the feelings of horror and technology very subtle. The relationship was the center of the story, not any trickery. It was also very calculated to visually separate Yu Cheng and Luli throughout the entire movie to enhance the isolation between these two characters. This helps us understand her depression in this relationship. This phone call would never be a quick solution to all the problems that have existed for years in their marriage.” This minimalist approach is vetted by the surreal horror which envelopes Yu Cheng as he walks away from his wife’s cold body in the morgue and proceeds directly to the phone for a conversation with her. It’s masterful filmmaking at its curt core.

While the incredibly positive response to the film is no surprise, Ivy reveals that sometimes too much of a good thing can complicate her job. She recalls, “It’s a good problem to have but, sometimes the artists are deeply immersed in their work. During the shoot, Zhang told Zhan Wang not to cry during the wide shots and save his energy for the close ups. Zhan was so invested in the character and deeply immersed that he cried during every take. This created a puzzle to piece together in the editing room, but I’ll take a committed artist anytime in the filmmaking process.”

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