Exclusive Interview with Silent Witness Director Fei Xing and Actress Zishuo Ding

Article by Joy Chiang Ling
Photo credit Xue Liang

On July 6th, 2014, director and actress Fei Xing and Zishuo Ding held an interview with AsianInNY at the Walter Reade Theater. Fei Xing is an up and coming Chinese director whose first feature, The Man Behind the Courtyard House, helped him break into the film industry. His second project, Silent Witness, is a courtroom crime thriller that showcases Fei Xing’s growth as a director and has been screened at the 2014 New York Asian Film Festival. His fellow actress, Zishuo Ding was cast as a lawyer named Meizi in Silent Witness, and is also making her name known in the world of cinema.

We asked the Silent Witness stars a few questions regarding their experiences, work and travel. The first few questions were aimed at the director:

AsianInNY: “When and why did you start directing film?”

Fei Xing: “I started directing TV series since 2004. And then I started directing film in 2010.”

AsianInNY: “Was there anything in particular that inspired the story of Silent Witness?”

Fei Xing: “There are two inspirations. Originally, I was inspired by a popular microblog in China that promotes national discussions, especially about entertainment. But as I shot the film, I wanted to express the unique love that Chinese parents give to their children.”

AsianInNY: “What are the main differences between the Hong Kong and Mainland China film industries?”

Fei Xing: “Hong Kong has a long history of making professional films, maybe even more professional than the Mainland Chinese. Hong Kong used to be considered the Hollywood of Asia. They have a very long history of making commercial (‘genre’) films while China has only started making these films for about ten years.”

AsianInNY: “Now I have a question for Zishuo. My first question is, what motivated you to pursue an acting career?”

Zishuo Ding: “I grew up loving acting, so I went to college to study it. After I graduated, it didn’t become a problem – I became passionate about it.”

AsianInNY: “That’s great. So which character in Silent Witness were you able to relate to the most, besides your own?”

Zishuo Ding: “In regards to acting, I really admired Sun Honglei, who played Lin Tai in the film. When it comes to the characters in the screenplay, I loved Lin Tai’s daughter – Lin Mengmeng. I thought it was a really good role.”

AsianInNY: “What was your experience like working with Aaron Kwok and Sun Honglei?”

Zishuo Ding: “When I started acting, I was in TV series a lot. This was actually my first time working in a film set. It was also my first time working with such well-known actors like Aaron Kwok and Sun Honglei. On the set they are very professional and hard-working. For example, Kwok, who is Cantonese, did not speak Mandarin perfectly, so he had to spend a lot of time memorizing the script. I look forward to collaborating them in the future.”

AsianInNY: “Now I have questions for both of you. How does it feel to have a western/American audience react to your work?”

Fei Xing: “Before NYAFF, the film was well received in Europe. Not only was it showed in festivals, it was also filmed in commercial movie theaters. The European audience felt that the movie was very comprehensible because the themes of the film were internationally understandable. I feel that the American audience would also have the same reaction.”

Zishuo Ding: “As an actress I also look forward to the director making films for both a domestic and international audience.”

AsianInNY: “Did you two have to research the inner workings of a courtroom trial to help come up with the film’s story? If so, how did you do the research?”

Fei Xing: “I actually went to a lot of courts to listen to how they used their language, what the procedures were like and how decisions were made. I also talked to lawyers and discussed a lot of different cases. But I believe that this is not what makes the film. The film is not only about the fact of the courts, but also about how you connect the facts to the story. I feel that the connection was well made.”

AsianInNY: “Zishuo, did you have to do any research to help fit into your role?”

Zishuo Ding: “In the film, you cannot see my character’s family or background in order to make her feel more human. I keep a journal of this role and make up things like where she went to school, how she was brought up, what her family was like, in order to make my character more vivid.”

AsianInNY: “Do you have any plans for upcoming projects?”

Fei Xing: “My next project is being shot. It is going to be an action drama that has a lot of action but will also focus on the plot.”

Zishuo Ding: “I got a new understanding of the film industry after starring in Silent Witness, so I hope to be featured in more films in the future.”

AsianInNY: “Final question: have you ever visited New York before? Do you have any plans here besides attending the New York Asian Film Festival?”

Fei Xing: “This is my first time in New York. Two months ago, Miami offered me the best director in a film festival, but I wasn’t able to make it because of my busy schedule. But this time , I was very pleased to come to NYAFF because I always looked forward to coming to New York. I believe that New York is the commercial center of the world. There are also a lot of other cities in America that I am interested in, and I hope to attend more American festivals.”

Zishuo Ding: “This is my first time in New York. I am going to visit LA and Vegas after this. I am looking forward to travelling around before I go back to China. I am looking forward to more opportunities to come here!”

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