Your previous works were mainly focused on grassroots characters in Taiwan. What made you change your focus this time to Tibetan beliefs?
To be honest, it was because I got a little tired of filming Taiwan. I was burdened by the culture of Taiwan, and I had to deal with people. So, I wanted to go back to pure cinematic creation. The second reason was a personal one. I made the film for my cat.
Were there interpreters around? How did you take control of the situation when shooting on location, if faced with such a huge language barrier?
Since they don’t speak Chinese, we actually needed relay interpreting. Unfortunately, we were met with some self-immolation incidents, no one wanted to have anything to do with us. Even the interpreter who had promised to help refused to come. There was a scene where you can hear someone interpreting in the background. That was the Boiling Water Lama himself. Those were the few words he could express in Chinese. When linguistic communication failed to attain its goal, we counted on sincerity. We shot five scenes each day, mainly by intuition; each one of them had to be precise enough and to cover enough elements that usually five to ten ordinary scenes contain. The scenes are slow-paced and sometimes in real time. I believe it tallies better with the life there.
They do carry special meanings. The pigs were set free roaming about the streets because people there don’t kill. Pigs are the ones that are genuinely free. The scenes with cows are beautiful. We captured the image with the help of god. I loved the composition already, feeling it’s “abstract” and full of allusions. Yet later on, two cows that had passed by even turned their heads to look at us. How blessed we were!
At that time, I still had some doubts of my own. I had not yet fully accepted Tibetan beliefs or Buddhism. I had had the feeling that the animals lived a much freer life than us. All they needed was being fed, giving birth to offspring, and after they die, everything’s over for them. That was my idea back then. But later on, I still found that being human is something wonderful. There are, after all, all those entangled emotions that we have to experience.
Are you a religious person?
I didn’t set out to film some kind of a religion. I was trying to film something called “faith,” and how one starts to believe in something. Why Tibetans are so easy to believe? How they come to have such faith in the world? We were pursuing the answers; we wanted to capture such thing as “faith”.
After shooting the film, did you change your perspective in things?
Sure, I did. That’s why I’m struggling now. Once you’ve captured something that is so deep and soulful, it makes it harder to film anything else afterwards. It was such a magical journey now that I recall. There must’ve been some predestined connection between me and the Boiling Water Lama in our past lives. That explains why we ended up there, and he seemed to be waiting for us, too.
I think the change this process brought about is that I stopped seeing things as they appear to be. I began to wonder the true nature of everything. You will see that the power of mind is without limits. As their saying goes, “learning” itself is “like a snake in the bamboo tube; it either falls and dies or keeps climbing.” Learning is dangerous, in a way, because it opens up a whole lot of new perspectives that you’ve never thought that you would understand. And after that, you tend to raise the bar. And you measure the films you watch and those you make against that standard. Our whole film endeavors to show what “faith” is about. Faith requires unparalleled courage.
I used to work so hard to be close with the subjects of my film, and I wanted to show our relationship in the film, and to let my audience know how I felt. But in Tibet, I’ve learned that sometimes you can see much more when you step back a little and keep a distance.
More information about The Boiling Water Lama.