Interview with Lee Way Lan (The Hike (Pá shān))

The Hike (Pá shān) was the winner of BEST SOUND & MUSIC at the October 2021 THRILLER/SUSPENSE Festival.

1. What motivated you to make this film?

When COVID-19 hit, going on a hike was recommended by the CDC as a safe out-door physical activity. So during a hike when there was no one on the trails, I just joked to my girlfriend that it’d be crazy if we found a dead body with a bag full of cash. And so, “THE HIKE” was born that afternoon.

I lived in Asia for a good portion of my life, and worked amongst those living on the other side of the planet. I’ve seen first hand the incredible growth of the Chinese economy from within, and while I do believe most of what I saw and experienced was a positive change to China – there are some things that greatly disturbed me.

In the 80s and 90s, China as a whole was one of the most impoverished countries in the world. In just a few decades, China has grown to go toe to toe with the American economy. A true rags to riches story but with an entire nation experiencing this growth. I believe that type of economic growth could have dire consequences.

And if there is one thing that the Chinese wealthy tends to buy, that is American real estate. As a filmmaker, I just thought that the possibility of another economy buying up all of our real estate in the states could potentially be frightening in a thriller – so I incorporated that in background of THE HIKE.

SPOILER ALERT: then there’s the bride buying twist at the end of the film. The idea that the bride-buying industry is still currently thriving in Asia is obviously frightening. But what scares me more is that these victims often stay with their captors willingly. I never understood that concept when I was younger. But as I age – I start to understand their choice. As creepy as it is, I think the more you experience life, get closer to understanding what love is and the incredible emotional attachment it creates – top that with owning properties, having debts, investing interest in assets or trying to rid liabilities – I start to understand why one would stay with their captor – even if it cost them their own life. That concept alone I thought, is frightening. And would be great in a thriller.

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

I was on set in Las Vegas shooting a pilot during the summer of 2020 (the pilot unfortunately did not get picked up), and during my free time I would write in my hotel room (we weren’t exactly allowed to roam freely due to covid). I would then send the script to my acting teachers, or directors I knew who I had worked with in the past and asked for their advice. I even sent it to the other actors I was on set with in Vegas just to get feedback. The whole writing, getting feedback, revising took about 2 months.

I then pitched the finalized story with screenplay to Kev Tai, he was a producer/cinematographer that owned a production company in Los Angeles – mostly shooting athletic events like baseball games, basketball games or workout videos. I thought his work was spectacular. Luckily, he loved the story, and he was in the market to make a narrative. So the stars aligned of us and we got to work.

Production was 5 days on set – 3 days with principle actors and 2 days of B-Roll with just the crew. There was also 2 days of rehearsal, and another 2 days of location scouting. Prior to that we also had 3 meetings with our AD, DP, producer, Acting coach, and actors. In all, it was 12 days of production.

I then edited the film myself, and it took me about 2 months to get the entire film together for a final draft.

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

TRUST NOBODY.

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

We shot the film in the fall of 2020, which was about a few months after COVID hit, and everyone was relatively new to how to handle a film set in this new COVID world we’re living in. Luckily as I mentioned, I had just finished a pilot shot in Vegas so I had some first hand experience as to how a COVID-mandated SAG film set should look. I simply imitated what I learned and used those guidelines to protect my cast & crew. It was COVID protocols that I found most challenging. Our entire production met covid protocol. 6 feet at all times, no more than 2 people at the monitor, everyone was covid tested negative, hand sanitizers everywhere, etc.

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

Just simply humbled. Truthfully, I couldn’t stop smiling. I didn’t start this project expecting any feedback or an audience. I just wanted to practice filmmaking with a few industry professionals that I revered. I’m a first time director with an opportunity to work with an experienced film crew. So to hear positive feedback was just unbelievable. The entire production I was more focused on keeping everyone safe (COVID), give everyone experience to story telling, and something positive to look back on in their lives.

Even if I never get to direct another film again in my career, this has been an absolute joy to hear feedback – any feedback at all.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

6. When did you realize that you wanted to make films?

Truthfully for as long as I can remember. I believe film is a medium that can greatly shape an individuals values, thoughts, outlook on life, etc. I know for me, the way I look at the world is greatly shaped by the films I’ve watched in my life. I feel that it is an incredible amount of responsibility for anyone to hold, and one that is never to be taken lightly.

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

Do you mean which film I’ve seen repeatedly? I suppose all the great films. No Country for Old Men, all of Daniel Day Lewis films, Ang Lee films – Brokeback Mountain would be one of my favorite films of all time, Scorsese’s works, or of course The Godfather. I suppose I can go on and on forever about the American greats that everyone is familiar with.

But while my ancestry is from China, I was born in New York and grew up in Orange County. I grew up with skateboards, pop tarts, homecomings, back-to-the-future reruns on TNT, and worrying about how the Lakers can win another title. I never had much interest in China -until I reached adulthood and understood life a bit more.

I only recently started studying Chinese filmmakers – for me their films greatly shaped the way I write stories now. Specifically works by Chinese filmmakers that grew up in an impoverished Chinese economy. Their works have blown me away in terms of how they see the world – or experienced life. It was DRASTICALLY different than what I experienced. We may look the same, but boy are we different people.

Like Works by Zhang YiMou in particular are my favorite, or Li Yang’s “Blind Mountain”, or Jiang Wen’s “In the heat of the Sun”. In the last few years, I’ve seen countless China’s independent films, and I really believe the American audience can benefit from their point of view. Not only will it lessen the fear of China vs USA talks, but it could help build a bridge between the two cultures. Whether that relationship is positive or negative, I believe movies have a way to communicate across cultural barriers in a positive, non-confrontational way.

8. What other elements of the festival experience can we and other festivals implement to satisfy you and help you further your filmmaking career?

You guys have done fantastic so far. Only thing is I wish we can meet in person, do a Q&A in person, and shake your hands and become friends that love art, love film, love this human experience we’re all experiencing together. But of course this is due to COVID and not you guys, so there’s not much I can say for you guys to improve on.

Thank you for what you do, and appreciate you allowing our film to be seen.

9. What is your favorite meal?

I love everything! My girlfriend and I are students of cuisine and are always watching YouTube clips to try cooking new recipes. Right now we’re roasting pork belly with special Sichuan paste made with bean, red peppers, five spices, garlic, and sugar. It takes about 10 hours of roasting in a high pressure cooker. Can’t say what my favorite food is, but I will say ANYTHING that was cooked with love, passion, PATIENCE, and dedication. To EAT is to LIVE right?

10. What is next for you? A new film?

If I could waive a magic wand, it would be to make films for the rest of my life. But funding and opportunities are always going to be scarce. Hopefully our work on THE HIKE can help network more filmmakers – and together we can make our next project together. Until then!

By matthewtoffolo

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

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