In Marry My Dead Body, Taiwan’s Oscar Entry, directed by Cheng Wei-Hao, one day a police officer finds a red wedding envelope, only to find out that the owner of the red envelope is in fact a ghost from the other side asking for the officer’s hand in marriage before reincarnation. What will happen when a human and a ghost form a special bond? Closing film to the 2022 Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival, the largest and the longest-running film festival in Taiwan, MARRY MY DEAD BODY transcends the boundaries of both death and gender!
Cinema Without Borders: What motivated you to make Marry My Dead Body?
Cheng Wei-Hao: This original concept came from an essay competition for story summaries. This submission won first prize at the time. The initial story was about a street cleaner who picked up a red envelope and had to marry a gay ghost. I thought the idea had great comedic potential. And for the longest time, I had wanted to work on a comedy project. So I found another writer to co-create the official screenplay.
CWB: Does the subject of Marry My Dead Body have a universal base?
CW: No matter Genre or Love is the universal language. And the movie includes both of them.
CWB: Marry My Dead Body has a unique way of storytelling, how did you come up with this style and content?
CW: When writing the script, I started to add mixed genre elements, including changing the main character from a street cleaner to a detective, so that criminal cases could be involved in the story. Also, because the other main character is a ghost, I decided to enlarge some supernatural elements to the script. At first, everyone will worry about mixing too many genres, but my approach is this – if we split all movie stories into foreground and background ones, everyone is usually familiar with “foreground story” – they will say ” “This is a suspenseful crime”, “A supernatural thriller” …est. When people describe a movie, they usually describe it based on the foreground story, because it is easier to define the main atmosphere on the surface of the movie.
But in fact I kept reminding the cast and crew that we should pay more attention on the ” background story” of this movie. This movie actually is a Road Movie and Bromance about two guys. We will follow the move flow via experiencing the mutual help and growth arc of the two guys. The story is driven by the two main characters.So mastering the ” background story” is the key to mixing all genres. And this might be the key reason why the whole movie will not be scattered in different genres.
As a creator, I think this is one way to make the story fresh. Because the audience is watching more and more films, the standard genre films are becoming too predictable such that they become less entertaining. The movie-seeing experience would be boring when watching a standard genre movie.
On some level, I wanted to flip the traditional genre formats to make the movie feel fresh and interesting. So experimenting with more genre-mixing for narrative in my works allows me to interact with my audience, such that they are unable to predict what happens next. But as I mentioned, genre format is the foreground story, but it is most important for the audience to experience the character arc of the background story.
CWB: Is Marry My Dead Body based on a cultural belief about marrying dead?
CW: Yes. According to a Chinese custom, a red envelope is left on the ground by family members who want their female relatives who die young in their marriageable age to marry the living. The person who picks up the envelope usually has to make a ghost marriage with the deceased. Otherwise you will be punished by lots of misfortunes. But this time in our film, it’s with a male ghost – who also happens to be gay.
CWB: How did you go about casting your film and how did you work with your actors?
CW: As a director, I always pay long-term attention to the actors’ drama performances. In addition to their memorable good looks, the key is that their acting skills are very convincing.
I noticed Hsu Kuang Han before he acted in “Someday or One Day,” which became a hit all over Asia. The roles he took on in dramas were all very diverse, even very eccentric ones, such as weird, perverted or creepy characters – the same for Austin. Both of them were able to play all kinds of roles with ease, which means that they both have the courage to take on the challenge and have the acting stability.
And it’s a commercial film in Asia, it needed a famous cast as a box office attraction. so I offered them the roles while the first draft was completed, and they quickly agreed because they liked the characters and the story very much.
What impressed me most at first was that both of them were actually very polite and well-educated people. I was nervous whether they could handle such a crazy comedy. But after they read the script and rehearsed the play, I discovered that they are indeed great actors, because they quickly entered into the roles and demonstrated a different side of them.
We quickly established a tacit understanding between the actors through rehearsals. I requested them to rehearse almost half of the script. This opens up their tolerance of embarrassment, helping to build up more comedic effects.
We also set up the characters of Minghan and Maomao to be emotional and cool, respectively. Minghan is restless, his body language and vocal tones more dramatic. In addition to making the character more distinctive, he also serves to create comedic effect.
Maomao is composed. He mainly expresses himself vocally to interpret his role. Sometimes mean, sometimes witty, and sometimes emotional character. It also helped them have a solid foundation to improvise a lot on set.
CWB: How do you see the chances of Marry My Dead Body receiving a nomination or winning the oscar?
CW: Regarding awards, I always try to manage my expectations. But I also have a certain amount of confidence with this movie. The movie covers many social issues, but it is packaged as a genre film, which uses comedy and light humor to lead people to discuss the more serious topics. The most important thing is the theme that many art films also talk about -“ Love. “ When it comes to love, we’re all the same.
CWB: Marry My Dead Body is on Netflix, how much has that helped your film to reach international audiences?
CW: I think it is the best thing that can happen to a creator, to have their works to travel internationally without geographical barriers. In that case, I become very curious about the responds and feedbacks of the audience from other regions. And I also enjoy gathering all of these feedbacks from international audience.