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Female director tackles sex in new production

Teng Congcong, director of “Send Me to the Clouds” talks to China.org.cn for an exclusive interview in Beijing, Aug. 15, 2019. [Photo courtesy of Wishart]

A newbie female director talks to China.org.cn about women, men and sex as her new film “Send Me to the Clouds” finds itself in a taboo area.

Her directorial debut focuses on a 29-year-old female journalist who longs for true love but remains single, then is diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The tough-minded woman ends up writing the biography of an entrepreneur’s father to pay for her cancer treatments.

According to the film synopsis, this leads her to embark on a journey seeking sexual freedom and finding her true self.

One of the eye-catching lines of dialogue from the female protagonist, played by China’s stellar actress Yao Chen, is “I want to make love to you” — a shocking public statement in China’s relatively conservative society. There’s also a stunning scene of female masturbation.

“The parts about sex and lust in my film do not serve an erotic purpose,” Teng insists. “It’s about life and desire. I have never thought of sexual desire as something shameful.”

She continues: “Men never feel their lust is shameful, and women shouldn’t feel that way, either. There are not just good women without sex life or whores having so much sex in the world. We have more and more independent women, as well as celibate women now. They have their own life options and we have to respect them and the choices they make.”

The director admitted some scenes of her film were deleted for being inappropriate to screen, which she regarded as tolerable and in no way affecting what she wanted to convey to the audience. The film is more of a story about struggling women facing a real predicament, fighting for her life and seeking to reconcile herself with the world. 

She believes the Chinese market has narrow definitions about women‘s roles, and that one-sided labeling should be broken. Many Chinese female-dominated films are about struggled rural women suffering from abduction and domestic violence, or about urban romance between young lovers, or the stories between wives and mothers-in-law, which Teng thought were also tending to stick stereotypical labels on women

Teng Congcong holds a bachelor and master’s degree in directing from the Beijing Film Academy with China’s legendary director Xie Fei as her tutor. Her short films have won the Grand Prix at the 5th Asian Film Festival, the Filmmaker Award from the Up-and-Coming International Film Festival Hanover, and was selected to be screened at the Chinese Youth Film Forum and College Student Film Festival. 

A still from the film “Send Me to the Clouds” [Photo courtesy of Wishart]

Since 2009, she has been editing films such as “Reign of Assassins” and “Wangdrak’s Rain Boots,” and completed two scripts. “Send Me to the Clouds” is her first feature, which was selected for support in the 2014 FIRST Financing Forum.

She worked on the script for four years between 2013-2017, encouraged by the examples of such works as Stephen Daldry’s “The Hours,” Federico Fellini’s story of a prostitute in Rome seeking true love — “Nights of Cabiria,” and Pedro Almodovar’s “All About My Mother,” which deals with such controversial issues as AIDS, homosexuality and transsexualism. 

“I think these are great female films as, though made by male directors, they all show great care for women,” Teng explained, adding that the Chinese film market doesn’t lack films viewing life from a male perspective.

Teng found juicy material from investigative journalists with whom she came into close contact. “I interviewed many journalists about their experiences, stories and worries. I also went with a woman reporter to carry out interviews. I have collected so many great materials, much more interesting than my own life, because the journalists can reach so many people and such a wide scope.”

After she finished the script, she handed it to the producer Dun He, a good friend of actress Yao Chen. Yao quickly moved into the project and took the job as both leading actress and executive producer. Teng praised Yao for her courage in trusting a newbie director like herself, and for her hard efforts to produce and promote the film.

In exchanges with audiences after advanced screenings in early August, Yao said that, after a first read of the script, she immediately loved the kind of woman such as the protagonist who has her own independent vision, world view and standards, and dares to love and hate. 

She joked it was her first time to participate in creation with “her body,” stating “In the current era, we should face our own lust. Women should have sovereignty on their own bodies. They are free to seek love, sex and beautiful things.”

Yao also added that the film is not just targeting a female audience, but is about every individual. “It’s not just about issues concerning sex, it’s more about human nature.”

A poster of the film “Send Me to the Clouds” [Photo courtesy of Wishart]

This echoed the director‘s own sentiments. “Send Me to the Clouds” takes on many social subjects and agendas, as well as portrayals about the opposite sex. The men in the film are very typical, and they are more or less caricatures to move the film from being a drama to a dark humor comedy.

“Send Me to the Clouds” started its national release on Aug. 16 and grossed more than 11 million yuan ($1.56 million) by Monday based on a very low showing arrangement proportion in theaters across the nation. This led Teng to immediately write an open letter on Monday to beg cinema managers for more showtimes.

“I hope my film can offer another perspective for the audience to see the world,” she said. “I accept the outside will define my work as a female film, but it is about many kinds of people we care about. I also want all the male friends to have a peek at what a man could be like in a woman‘s eyes, through this film. And I felt the market ne more perspectives and diversity to present more colorful life of people.”