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The price of Beauty

The director of the award-winning documentary film Beyond Beauty: Taiwan From Above, Chi Po-lin, shares his thoughts on quitting his job and spending over 400 hours in a helicopter to shoot the film.

SINGAPORE: His film Beyond Beauty: Taiwan From Above, raked in over NT$200 million (S$8.3 million) since it started its run in Taiwan last November, making it the highest-grossing documentary film ever made there, and had won the Best Documentary Feature Award at the 50th Golden Horse Awards.

While his film has met with a lot of success, Taiwan director Chi Po-lin revealed that this success came at great personal cost, during a publicity event in Singapore for the film.

“When I had the idea of shooting this film (in 2009), I have been a civil servant for 23 years, doing aerial photography for government-related projects. In Taiwan, once you have worked in the public sector for 25 years, you will get a pension.

“But I thought to myself, by that time, my eyesight would be too bad and I may be too old to complete the film, so I quit my job to do it. You have to do what you are passionate about and not harbour any regrets,” said Chi.

“I remember when I quit my job, my son became a little worried and asked me if I still had the money to pay for his university education. Honestly, I had no idea how it would all turn out, but I told him everything would work out if he got into a local university where the fees are cheaper!” added Chi with a laugh.

“In the end, he became more focused and got into a good university with affordable fees.”

At one point, the 50-year-old director even mortgaged his home to help fund the NT$90 million (S$3.7 million) film, which addresses environmental issues in Taiwan by providing stunning aerial views of both the island’s natural beauty, and the devastation wrought upon the island by human economic activity.

Chi was overjoyed when the film, which will be screened here as part of a special showcase at Cathay Cineplex Jem and Cathay Cineplex Cineleisure Orchard from Aug 28, did well at the box office in Taiwan.

“When we started the project, we didn’t think anybody would want to watch it. During my speeches about environmental issues, about 80 per cent of the audience fell asleep,” said Chi with a chuckle, noting that he still had to overcome numerous challenges even after all the footage had been shot.

“We spent about 400 hours (in a helicopter) in the air over the course of three years and came back with about 300 hours of footage. Editing the film was tough. I tried to edit the film according to the prepared script but the visuals just didn’t fit together, so I gave up after three days.”

“I wound up throwing out the script and editing it according to how the visuals flowed. The whole editing process took about six months.”

All these delays meant that Singapore-based music producer Ricky Ho only had about two months to compose the music score for the entire 93-minute film. Fortunately for Chi, Ho managed to deliver, and created a haunting score which served to accentuate the gorgeous visuals in the film and add to the narrative.

It had been a long, painful journey for Chi, but he feels that all the pain, all the sacrifice, has been worth it as it has brought about positive change in Taiwan.

“After the film was released, the government formed a task force to deal with the environmental problems highlighted in the film. Their activities are often reported in the news in Taiwan. Of course, it will take time for them to resolve problems that have been created over the course of many years,” said Chi, adding that he hopes his film will gain the support of audiences around the world.

“The film is not just about the environmental issues in Taiwan. It looks at the environmental problems the world faces. What’s happening in Taiwan is what’s happening in the world, just on a smaller scale. I believe everyone who sees this film, even those who are not environmentally conscious, will start thinking about how to not harm the environment.”

Screenings of Beyond Beauty: Taiwan from Above will be double bill presentations. The award-winning short film Oh Lucy! will be screened before Beyond Beauty: Taiwan from Above.

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