INTERVIEW: "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" Screenwriter-producer, James Schamus
by Anthony Kaufman/indieWIRE
Question: So how do you see this film different from all the other Chinese action films we’ve seen before?
James Schamus: Who follows the way — the path of the Tao? It’s the woman. There’s two approaches to bridging the gender divide in these kinds of film. One is to put a woman into the same roles of men and call it a feminist film; they kick butt and they shoot ’em up, another one is to say, no, no, no, this is a film that there’s something at stake when woman achieve that place in the story, and it changes the story and it changes the genre. There’s 3000 of these movies and it’s never happened before.
Q: So how did you write this film?
Schamus: I really felt like an idiot. Unlike co-writing “Eat, Drink, Man, Woman” and “The Wedding Banquet,” which were contemporary scripts, this was like going into another world. So it wasn’t like translating from my script to the Chinese was like translating from Portuguese to Spanish; it was like translating from Martian to someone from Saturn; it was completely different worlds. So my first draft was very much about plot and character. There’s more plot in this film than in a year of a soap opera. It’s dizzying, so structure and plot were incredibly important.
What was not important to me at the time was the texture, the feeling, the aroma of the Chinese culture that could only come with the struggle of bringing the film to life — which honestly I had very little to do with, except that I was there to learn. So they would translate into Chinese and I would sneakily translate that back into English and when there were things that were different, half the time, I would say that’s a problem and the other half of the time, I would say, oh, that’s what I meant. . . . The hardest thing I did was writing the lyrics for the song. The other writing I did on the film was for the subtitles.
Q: Don’t you lose the poetry of the Chinese in the subtitled translation?
Schamus: That’s what I did. There are so many layers and echoes and meaning and poetry that are simply nonexistent for westerners, and it was really important to avoid that to keep the flow of the movie going.
Q: Did you actually write the action scenes?
Schamus: When I wrote the action, it was very simple. It was like, “They fight.” I knew with Yuen Wo-Ping and Ang, there was no way I was going to write it.
Q: So what are you and Ang going to do next?
Schamus: I have no idea what we’re going to do. We have a couple projects obviously next.
Q: After all the genres you’ve tackled, what’s left?
Schamus: Pornography. [laughs]
THREE CONVERSATIONS about “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”