Interview with Filmmaker Qiyu Mary Zhou (THE KOI)

THE KOI played to rave reviews at the Action/Crime/Thriller Festival in May 2020.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film? How did you come up with the idea for this short film?

Qiyu Mary Zhou: “The Koi” is a romantic crime drama that is about a juvenile delinquent who falls deeply into a tabooed unrequited love with her teacher who happens to be an ex-gang member. I always wanted to tell a coming-of-age story that sheds blood in a school hallway. Growing up on cult films made by Japanese director, TAKASHI MIIKI, truly helps me with my creative choices.

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this short?

It took less than a year. The biggest portion of the time was spent on writing the script and revising it. The physical prep-production, like casting and location scouting, started two months before filming. The story is always the key and the heart of a film to me. I wanted to give myself space, to be honest with myself in the writing. It required a lot of courage and honesty.

3. How would you describe your short film in two words!?

Sweet and bloody. The movie is an exercise of my obsession with exploring controversial content in a harmonious way. Even the use of color in the film, like one audience mentioned in the feedback, the pink, and the blue stands for a contradictory world between the gangster and the teenage girl. I’m very pleased that the audience heard the voice I wanted to convey.

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

Our biggest difficulty was casting our male Asian lead. The age of consent has been a universal concernment, a high school teacher-student relationships are considered taboo by most social standards. Some of the actors we liked shied away from Micheal’s role (Played by Allen Rowe).

In the early stage of the script development, there was a kissing scene between the pair. Back in Asia, there’s a sense of voyeuristic pleasure rooted in the film appreciating culture. But here in the States, the audience would frown on a student-teacher romance, even if we all know it’s staged. Our production eventually decided to cut out the kiss.

The societal exception of Asian American males being a model minority on screen has made the casting process even harder, we were extremely blessed to have found Allen in the end.

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

It was absolutely nerve-racking before reading the feedback. Our audience enjoyed it, especially the action part of the film. I was happy to have brought happiness to my audience, and I felt more connected with the world when I heard the comments voiced out, I feel like some people would know, as a storyteller we are never lonely. .

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

6. What film have you seen the most in your life?

One of my friends back in China gave me a great tip on film watching. “First, start with the dead ones, then go to the ones that are still alive.” I watched the Criterion Collection a lot. When talking about the films that shaped me into the type of storyteller I am today, I can’t mention all the amazing Japanese cult films I was obsessed with in high school.

7. What is next for you?

I am currently producing a feature film called “Baby Don’t Cry”. We shot it in Seattle last winter. It’s in post-production now and will be completed around the end of 2020. I am also working on my next feature film as a writer, and director. A physiological thriller, which will also happen in a snowy place. You can find more information about me and my work at

Qiyu Zhou Headshot

By matthewtoffolo

Filmmaker and sports fan. CEO of the WILDsound Film and Writing Festival

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