Extraordinary Talent Interview with the Chinese director, actor & writer Zeqian Han – “Observation”

Filmmaker in the Spotlight for the award-winning film  Observation” at The Amsterdam International Film Festival.

Director Biography – Zeqian Han

Zeqian Han is a film director currently based in Beijing, China, co-founder of Great Goose studio. Han studied Filmology in CLCF, Paris, and earned a Bachelor of Arts. Han is also a creative artist, his sculpture work <Music Sound> has been shown and collected by Atlier Hanrmanz Gallery.
Observation is Han’s latest work and is based on his personal experience during this crisis time.

Film Director Zeqian Han

Hi, Zeqian Han! Thank you for granting this interview and sincere congratulations on your Outstanding Journey as a Filmmaker and artist.

1. You directed, wrote, and played “Han” on the feature film ‘Observation’. What should the audience expect to see?

The film, Observation is based on my personal experience during the pandemic outbreak in Peru. As a filmmaker, I restore the actual and significant scenes and events that happened during that period, combine them and create a film more intense and more dramatic than in real life.

As a clue character, my character Han documented this film while portraying the role as a stranded tourist. Some of the hand-held camera shots in the film came directly from Han’s shooting as the character. This dual participation in the creation process has an interesting dynamic and is extremely rare, and it brings the audience a more authentic and vicarious sense.

“Observation” Movie Poster

2. Tell us a bit about your background. When did you decide to become a filmmaker?

When we open our eyes, we can see the physical appearance of the world. Only when we close our eyes, that is when we can see the essence of things. But in literature, readers need to think and understand abstract writings before feeling for the characters.

Cinema, on the other hand, is another form of language. It uses images and sounds like syllables to directly and accurately express and convey feelings to its viewers. Audiovisual language can emotionally impact the audience massively and thus trigger their emotional reactions. Therefore, I prefer the artistic form of film as my first choice for expressing my feelings.

When I studied film in Paris, France, I was using a foreign language (French) to learn an art language. This experience cultivated my sensitivity to the effectiveness of cinema and made me constantly pursue a new evolution form of it.

Of course, there is another reason. When I was in film school, my classmates once played a game of inviting pen fairy to tell the future. The pen fairy indicated that I would become a filmmaker, so I’m on the path now (laughter).

3. What are the directors that inspire you the most?

I really appreciate Alain Resnais’ films. Through his works, one can feel the structural fusion of cinema and literature, and he inspired me on various levels to push the boundaries of creating a film.

I also got the enlightenment of surrealistic consciousness in Buñuel’s films and experienced the profound meaning of music guiding images in the works of Terrence Malik and Bertolucci.

4. Where did you get the inspiration from to create your story? What about the characters?

Because of the sudden pandemic outbreak in South America, I was stuck in Peru for over six months. Callao- where Columbo first landed in South America, is less than 15 kilometers from the house where I lived in Lima. Columbo opened up a whole new continent, and I was locked up in a small room and couldn’t get out. But there is still a similarity between the discovery of the new continent then and the pandemic we faced today- both have had a historical impact on the formation of our human society.

As someone living in this special era, I feel the need to record this tremendous social change that impacts us as ordinary people from a humanitarian perspective. I want to be the voice for an underrepresented group of people- people trapped far away from home and unable to return to their families and loved ones. They are isolated, lonely, and powerless to change their current situations during the pandemic.

After collecting and sorting out the stories of people I met in Peru, I compiled them in this film as four main characters, each representing one specific group of people with different backgrounds. The film vividly tells various troubles and difficulties they encountered.

5. What did you enjoy the most about working on the film? What was the hardest artistic choice you made in the making of “Observation”, at any stage in production?

To ensure skilled performance or design the shooting technique is usually the main task in the preproduction stage of making a film. However, in the final stage of preparations, I decided to break through my shackles and properly give up a certain degree of control of the film as a director. By abandoning the conventional shooting technique and imploring the surveillance and hand-held cameras, I must face the uncertainty and unpredictability of the work. However, I believe that only through these unconventional shooting methods can I fully tell the unusual pandemic story and the sense of powerlessness we ordinary people have.

I use a non-professional actor – a real IT engineer to play the main character. He was like a ticking time bomb that exploded at an unknown time during the shooting, bringing tension and intense emotions to the entire set. With no well-written dialogue but only providing the necessary plot, I leave enough room for the actors to better integrate themselves with the character.

I also hid all the shooting equipment onset to restore the actual setting. The cameras captured every impromptu moment and unexpected situation. No one knows what to expect next moment, which is similar to real-life- no one knows what life will bring you next.

6. Do you have any on-set stories you would like to share?

There was a scene that required Shaotian to let out a different laugh. But no matter how hard I tried, the actor couldn’t laugh the way I wanted. It was a weird situation that a film director may encounter. The actor suddenly failed to do something basic, and yet there was nothing you could do. It puzzled me for a few months until I heard the same actor couldn’t stutter in another film- he was often tongue-tied in mine.

About ten days into filming, I stumbled upon Tomas smirking at a video of his son on his phone during lunch break. It suddenly dawned on me that the actors and crew members were confined, eating and living on the set and not allowed to step out for quite some time. They missed their families just like the characters did. I turned on the camera and started filming, and this clip became part of the film.

7. How did you choose your cast? Was this your first time working with them?

I was fortunate enough to meet three great actors for this film since I almost had to call off the project due to casting issues.

As mentioned earlier, Tomas is an IT engineer who also is my ace in the game. Being a nonprofessional actor, he often thinks out of the box and can turn any boring routine dialogue and performance into an unexpected turning point.

Finding an actor like Shaotian who is adaptable under any circumstance is also a challenge. His Broadway training and performing background gave him such ability to make immediate responses. He caught my attention right away during the audition, and I even changed the character according to Shaotian’s unique features.

I have worked with Sisisi Han, the actor who played Zhang, many times before, and he is the final piece of the puzzle. He provided an in-depth emotional change in the film, which perfectly balanced the conflicts between the characters.

8. If you were to shoot the film again, what would you do differently?

OBSERVATION is a film without many made-up designs and contrived expressions. Most of the performance is improvised and thus unpredictable. As the shooting progressed, I knew that this is a work would never be redone. It is not replicable, not be done in any other way.

I said to our cast before we started shooting on day one: “no matter what happens, no matter what you think you said, do not stop and the camera will keep rolling” because life doesn’t stop and wait for you to prepare, and it doesn’t allow you do it all over again.

9. What is the universal message that ‘Observation conveys?

When we encounter unexpected disasters, advanced technology, institutional measures, and overflown information cannot restore people’s inner sense of security. True inter-personal care and humanitarian spirit are the fundamentals to get us out of our predicaments.

When the pandemic brought everything to a standstill, we can see that our future depends on the choices we made before and the path we choose now. I hope that through OBSERVATION, a light comedy film that is very close to life, the audience will know that no matter what they have experienced in life, they are not alone. Each of us has lost something valuable in the pandemic era, but life goes on, and we will be fine.

10. What’s next for you as a Filmmaker and Artist? What are you working on at the moment?

There is no doubt that OBSERVATION brings something new to the cinematic language. This new method is certainly not suitable for all films, but its creative principles will continue to inspire my next project – I Recorded Your Voice on Both Sides of Tape. It is a psychological thriller discussing troubles and secrecies in intimate married life that leads to madness. I am at the stage of finishing up the script and looking forward to sublime my form of film with this new project.

In addition, there is still a lot of material that is not included in the final version of OBSERVATION. I plan to use this footage to create a web series with a more relaxed rhythm.

Observation – Overview

Zhang, Tomas and Shaotian are three of many expatriate workers from a giant Chinese oil company. They stationed in Peru and share a four-bedroom apartment together. Due to this unforeseen outbreak of COVID-19 in South America, they are confined in the apartment and have to follow strict quarantine protocols ordered by their company, and live under constant monitoring by the company through CCTV surveillance.
Meanwhile, Han, a cousin of Tomas, comes to Lima as a tourist just before Peru’s pandemic lockdown. Han is stranded in the apartment and has witnessed a series of incidents that happened during this seemingly endless confinement that eventually leads to a tragic yet inevitable ending.

Official Trailer of “Observatioin”, directed by Zeqian Han.

Connecting to “Observation” film






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