Green Night is about a Chinese immigrant in Seoul who is abused by her husband but cannot legally leave him for fear of losing her residency. At her job at the airport, she meets an unnamed “green-haired woman” (played by Lee Joo-Young) who is smuggling drugs. Instead of reporting her, the women embark on a journey together and redefine their fate.
It’s a thrilling and fun adventure package, with a lot of substance underneath. Blockbuster star Fan Bingbing (Iron Man, X-Men: Days of Future Past) makes a transition into a film that’s small by budget but big by ambition.
We sat down with Fan Bingbing and director Han Shuai to talk about their new film, which premiered at this year’s Berlinale.
Projektor: There is so much chemistry between the two main characters. How did you achieve this?
Fan Bingbing: I actually attribute this to the director choosing the right people. After I was cast, she did a lot of work to find the girl who would pair really well with me. And so in the end, we didn’t have to force it in any way.
The two roles also match our personalities in real life, so we are quite different. Lee Joo-Young is a sporty, energetic, and outgoing girl. And the role that I was in was a bit more reserved, of someone lost who is then looking for a way out.
Han Shuai: The chemistry is super important in this film, but I didn’t use any methodologies or approaches to create it. I consider myself lucky because the actresses themselves have built up this kind of mutual trust and reliability and emotion between themselves. This made their performance feel very natural.
Your role was complex because you were almost a different person in every act of the film. It’s almost unpredictable what you’re going to do next. What was the challenge of playing a character that has to do so much?
Fan Bingbing: The most challenging part about the role was actually the language aspect of it, because I did not know any Korean before this. So I actually used Chinese spelling and pronunciation to work out how to pronounce the Korean words.
Lee Joo Young doesn’t speak Chinese and I don’t speak Korean, so we were using our very limited English to try to communicate. But perhaps because we had such a big obstacle with our language, our natural chemistry was allowed to sort of take over.
There is a rape scene in the film that is very brutal and very long. How does one prepare for a scene like that?
Fan Bingbing: I tried to sort of put myself in the position of that character and think, actually, maybe for this person, this is not the first time that something like this has happened. Maybe her life has come to a point where she’s almost just in a state of avoidance and just dealing with it, you know?
So maybe because she’s been hurt so much in her life, when this other girl comes into her life, it’s almost like a door opening where she can receive light and warmth from that, from another person.
Han Shuai: This is one of the most difficult parts of the shoot. Of course, I discussed with the three actors and actresses in advance to deal with consent beforehand, but, once on set, I was silent. I let them decide what was best.
After the shoot, they were of course all very exhausted. There was a lot of body language and reaction used in that scene, and so much of it felt real. Because of this, I think they felt a lot of the pain themselves in a real way.
How was working with the director?
Fan Bingbing: I want to first say that I find her to be a very powerful woman. She might look reserved but, actually, she is very brave. When I first received the screenplay, I was struck by how often we women talk about feminism and liberation and all that [but still find] a lot of control and limits placed on us. The script has a good insight into how many problems modern women face.
There seems to be shared themes between your last film and this film, namely: the power dynamic between men and women, the exploitation of the latter, and feelings of guilt. Especially guilt. What interests you about these subjects?
Han Shuai: I think it may be related to my own personality. I usually always look at myself and wonder about what I’ve done, regardless if it was right or wrong. I’m sensitive to how people look at me, how they reflect on my reactions, so maybe I was born with a sense of guilt. This is the case for many women in our society today.
The girl with green hair, she’s like my ideal image in this film. She wasn’t born with this sense of guilt. Sadly, because of cultural context, background, and education, most women, to some degree, have been taught to have this sense of guilt. But it’s not something we’re born with. Like religion, social rituals, or education, we can do without it.
There’s also another dimension of the character being an immigrant. Immigrants always take the hits quietly, but in your film, she fights back. What is the significance of the immigrant element?
Han Shuai: The theme of immigrants has always been related to female identity. Immigrant men are often seen as people who act on purpose, especially when they are portrayed as committing crimes. But women immigrants are portrayed as people who are “forced” into every situation.
I don’t want to do this anymore. I want them to be portrayed with some initiative so they can do the fighting back themselves. But of course, in this film, they’re still often forced to do some things. I really want them to fight against society themselves. Especially when they feel insulted, they have to take the initiative to do something.
I think my favorite scene in the entire Berlinale is your intro sequence. Can you talk about it?
Han Shuai: It’s the trip from Incheon (the airport) to the city. It’s the start of their new life. The intro is also shot from dusk to night, and represents the start of the story. Their story.
I attribute the success of the scene to my longtime partner and music composer (Hank Lee). Because of his designs and his creation, he puts something futuristic and modern into this film. He’s my longtime working partner.
This film has more action than your last film, but they’re both great films. What is next for you?
Han Shuai: The crossover from my debut (Summer Blur) to Green Night is something big and beyond my imagination. I don’t like anything that’s very safe and I don’t want to try the same old thing. I want to do something brave or new for my next one. And try something new and varied.