Award-winning ‘iWeirDO’ a sign of the times

Debut director Liao Ming-yi films first feature with iPhone, breaks new ground for Taiwanese cinema

(Far East Film Festival photo)

(Far East Film Festival photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — First-time director Liao Ming-yi (廖明毅) did not foresee the global outbreak of COVID-19 when he first conceived the plot for his debut film, "iWeirDO," but the fact that his germophobic lead couple wear masks at all times and distance themselves socially seems more relevant, and realistic, now than Liao ever could have imagined.

“It has become, quite unexpectedly, a documentation of our times,” explained Liao.

"iWeirDO" looks at what happens when two self-confessed “weirdos” with extremely rare types of obsessive-compulsive disorder miraculously find each other.

Unusual, candy-colored, and captivating, it's a small-budget film centered on this strangely matched yet deeply connected pair of lovers, and it is also the first Taiwanese film to be shot entirely on an iPhone.

The film won critical acclaim and the Far East Film Festival’s third-place Crystal Mulberry award after its world premiere on June 29 at this year’s online version of the event, which is usually staged in Udine, Italy.

An experimental brush with the iPhone — when he tried to shoot a three-minute music video back in 2016 — led Liao to discover that the device was capable of creating immersive cinematic experiences. He then spent three years preparing for the production of "iWeirDO."

Speaking via video link during this year’s online FEFF, the filmmaker said he found experimenting with the iPhone camera not only budget-friendly and less manpower-intensive but also very handy in that it allows more room for creative composition.

“Professional video cameras are large and thus difficult to move around. But with a small iPhone, you can shoot the scenes from whatever angles you want, say, from inside a refrigerator or a closet,” explained Liao.

“Usually, if you want to shoot from inside a refrigerator, you have to remove the back so the camera will fit. But now, with a small iPhone, you can just put it in the refrigerator and remotely control it with an iPad.”

(Far East Film Festival photo)

Liao first ventured into filmmaking in 2005 and has won recognition both in Taiwan and worldwide.

He worked as a film editor for "You Are the Apple of My Eye" (2011), Giddens Ko’s (柯景騰) multiple award-winning high school romance that topped the local box office that year. "iWeirDo" sees the filmmaker expanding his talent further into directing, scriptwriting, and editing.

Having discovered the merits of the iPhone's camera, Liao is now encouraging young aspiring filmmakers to consider it an accessible alternative to more traditional — but expensive and clumsy — professional video cameras.

“I have seen some really good films shot with unsophisticated, simple equipment,” he said. “I hope that the iPhone is democratizing filmmaking and making filmmakers reflect on what constitutes a good film."

“The most challenging part of making "iWeirDO" was to ensure the photography was as professional as that shot on a traditional camera, despite the acknowledged shortcomings of an iPhone camera. Because you cannot create out-of-focus or other effects specific to professional cameras, I had to put extra effort into the composition and lighting.”

The ultimate goal, according to Liao, was to have the audience forget the fact that it was even shot on an iPhone.

The masterful photography and engaging storyline surely help to achieve his goal. The color scheme subtly changes as the couple’s relationship progresses, with bright, starkly contrasted colors giving way to darker shades as their feelings abate and their mutual attraction is put to the test.

The story might seem light-hearted and humorous at first, as Chen Po-ching (Austin Lin) and Chen Ching (Nikki Hsieh) meet and fall in love. But Liao expands the narrative with the deeper questions every relationship might pose — aren’t we all “weirdos” bound by society’s constraints and anxiously searching for a significant other who shares our eccentricities?

Liao also said he tried to explore distinctive Taiwanese flavors through his film by showcasing everyday streets and shops that natives of the country should find most familiar.

“If you ask people what visually represents Taiwan, they usually think of touristy places like Taipei 101, Jiufen, or Ximending,” he said. “Sure, these have become scenic icons, but can you still identify a Taiwan-based film if you subtract them from the picture? I set the story amidst back alleys and run-down stores in Taipei so as to create a unique, nostalgic atmosphere that is immediately striking for its ‘Taiwaneseness.’”

Fan Hong was part of the 2020 FEFF Campus program.