A sweet and bittersweet romantic comedy-drama, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? features a handful of gay and straight characters in modern Taipei who are unhappy in their lives and relationships. Writer/director Arvin Chen displays a real sensitivity towards his hopeless and hapless romantics. In a recent email exchange and Skype interview, Chen spoke with Windy City Times about his fabulous new film.
Windy City Times: What prompted you to make a melancholic film about love and happiness with gay characters?
Arvin Chen: I'm not gay, though am often mistaken for gay. I don't think making this film helps. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and have had pretty close gay friends most of life. It's probably one of the reasons why I choose to make this movie in the first place. I haven't been married yet. I've been dumped, and been on the other side. It's identifiable.
WCT: Your film has an old-time "classic movie" feel to itfrom the lush romantic score to the colorful art direction to the poignant Karaoke musical number that becomes magical-realist. Can you discuss your approach to the material?
ARVIN CHEN: We were trying to make old '50s melodramas/musicals set in modern Taipei. [The Todd Haynes movie] Far From Heaven is more melodrama; ours is goofy comedy, but that aesthetic works in this story. The colors, the music, the cinematography is much more of this older era. I found different tonal things to play with. Probably my favorite scenes in the movie are those where it's visually funny or magical-realist on the surface, but the actual underlying emotion is very melancholy, like in the Karaoke scene.
WCT: What can you say about how you depict the film's queer characters?
ARVIN CHEN: I tried to be sensitive in the portrayal of the gay characters. Several of the gay characters are directly modeled after friends of minedown to their dialogue. That being said, I think there are definitely moments in the movie that could certainly fall into the category of stereotype. Stephen's more "flamboyant" but I wanted him to be a contrast to Weichung, who is obviously much more conservative. I always thought of Weichung as being 100-percent gay. His role as a heterosexual husband was completely a by-product of filial piety and societal pressure, which is sadly still quite prevalent in Asian societies.
WCT: Stephen's gay friends are practically indistinguishable. They function as a kind of Greek chorus. Likewise, Weichung's love interest, Thomas, seems slightly underdeveloped. Can you discuss these gay characters?
ARVIN CHEN: I think of Thomas as a fantasy character; he represents escape. I did want a Shakespearean chorus. Like Stephen, [his gay friends] are above the story, and happy with whom they are, dispensing advance rather than struggling with their own problems. Stephen is happiest in filmhe knows exactly who he is, and he is completely realized as a person. He has no conflicts.
WCT: The characters all cope with change and instability when they find themselves at a crossroads. They all say they need to know their partners better, but they really need to find themselves. Why did this idea appeal for your story?
ARVIN CHEN: I didn't think if it thematically, but rather how three characters in a story struggle in this point in their lives. Weichung thinks he moved on from being gay, but that affects his wife's story: Does he love her? And what will she do when he can't love her? His sister is also struggling with commitment and her romance being compromised. The stories crisscrossed naturally. They are dealing with themes people can relate to, so they become thematically tied.
WCT: Did you cast queer actors in any of the gay roles?
ARVIN CHEN: There are not many openly gay actors in Asia. We had to worry about straight actors who wouldn't want to do the film. All the main characters playing gay are straight, with the exception of one or two supporting roles.
WCT: Can you talk about how you developed the film's wistful humor? You create comedy by playing with the characters' and audiences' expectations.
ARVIN CHEN: I guess it's just a principle of comedy in general. I try to find humor in situations that are not inherently funny, but I also try to find sadness in scenes that are not inherently sad. The way I approached it was just looking at individual scenes and trying not to intentionally make them funny or sad, but instead just thinking of how the characters would behave in that situation.
These characters live in a boring world, and have mundane jobs, but this film says that fantastical things could happen. I subvert the tropes of rom-coms by finding a fantasy in a scene that wouldn't be fantasy. I tried not to ever have it as [pure] comedy.
© 2014 Gary M. Kramer