‘Borrowed Time' filmmakers talk challenges for first-time filmmakers in China

The film plays in the main competition of Busan International Film Festival.

By Gabriella Geisinger 7 Oct 2023

‘Borrowed Time' filmmakers talk challenges for first-time filmmakers in China
Borrowed Time; Cr: BIFF

Chinese director Choy Ji’s feature debut Borrowed Time received its world premiere in the main New Currents competition of Busan International Film Festival (BIFF).

A tale of two Cantonese cities, the story follows a young woman who travels from Guangzhou to Hong Kong in search of her missing father, only to become involved in a secret love affair similar to that of her parents three decades before.

KFTV spoke to the filmmaker and producer Jinjin Mo about the challenges of securing finances in China and securing international distribution.

When packaging this film for international distribution, on what hook are you hanging the film?
CJ: The issue of Hong Kong [being colonised by the UK and returned to China] is something known all over the world. That’s why the film is called Borrowed Time because Hong Kong is a borrowed place and it’s borrowed time. So the emotion, even though it’s very Chinese in style, is what will bring in Western distributors.

I think it might be difficult for Western audiences to connect with, but this is the only way I can make films. We had test screenings and in one scene where is [the main character] is crying and her fiancé responds. Our Eastern audience said: “He is so gentle’, but an American audience member thought “He’s horrible’. Maybe it’s a different kind of reaction from Western audiences.

JM: We care about the relationship between mainland China and Hong Kong, we feel that everything is always changing. Maybe we can find someone in the US who is interested in this part [of the story], and we can work together to discuss how to make it a selling point.

Was there any difficulty getting your film approved by the China Film Bureau? And how much of a challenge was it to secure funding?
JM: We sent [the Film Bureau] a treatment, and after they reviewed it they said ‘It’s good and we’re giving you a permit to shoot your film.’ We spent five years working on it and then once we finished editing and post-production, we sent it to them again for review. They didn’t require us to cut anything, so we had an easy time.

However, it is very hard for first-time directors to get funding. Investors look for experienced filmmakers to make a much greater profit. The whole film industry is developing fast in China, but young directors still need to work hard to get financing. We spent almost two years on pre-production, and during that time, we only got half of the money for the production. We had to borrow money from our friends to finish this project. It’s tough but we believed we could make a good film.

What do you think it will take for the Chinese financiers to begin to invest more in first-time filmmakers?
JM: I think they can consider investing a small amount, then the risk isn’t so high for them. Also, it’s much easier to get soft money in Europe, like from the CNC in France, for example. But in China, the amount of soft money we have isn’t as much. It can make your whole industry develop much better. If you only invest in experienced directors, what happens when they get old? The young generation need the chance to grow, and that will make the Chinese film industry become much healthier.

What are you working on next?
JM: I hope [Choy Ji and I] can work together again. In the meantime, I’ve been working on a project with Malaysian director Nova Goh titled When We Were Young. I’m looking forward to making it into international co-production, [maybe a] Chinese-Malaysia co-production. But we are still securing financing.

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