top of page

May 3, 2023

STONEWALLING won a NETPAC Award at Jeonju International Film Festival. Interview article "Husband-and-wife directors bring attention to overlooked women's stories in China" | The Korea Times


NETPAC Juries: Aygun ASLANLI, KIM Hyung-Seok, CHOI Yoon

The Korea Times | By Kwak Yeon-soo

Husband-and-wife directors Ryuji Otsuka and Huang Ji are renowned for making films about often-overlooked women's stories that generate empathy.

"Stonewalling" is the finale of a trilogy that centers on young women's sexual and reproductive rights in contemporary China. The two previous films were "Egg and Stone" (2012), about a 14-year-old girl who experiences family sexual abuse, and "The Foolish Bird" (2017), about a 16-year-old girl experiencing pregnancy resulting from rape.

Their latest film follows Lynn (Honggui Yao), a college student aspiring to become a flight attendant. Her plans are plunged into doubt when she discovers she is pregnant. Not wanting an abortion, Lynn decides to carry the baby to term and give it away to another family to settle her mother's debts.

Japanese director Otsuka, who recently visited Korea to screen "Stonewalling" at the 24th Jeonju International Film Festival (JIFF), said he decided to make the film around 2016 when China ended its one-child policy.

The policy was introduced in 1979 in an attempt to control its rapidly expanding population. In between, there were high numbers of abortions without consent and female infanticide.

"When our daughter was five years old, she often asked us a question, 'why did you give birth to me?' My wife and I didn't know how to answer that question. We then decided to make a film and show it to her instead," he said during a recent interview with The Korea Times.

They began filming "Stonewalling" in 2019 for 10 months ― an average pregnancy term ― but the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic changed many parts of the film including its ending.

"The critical element of the story is the 10-month-long pregnancy. We wanted to depict how pregnancy changes Lynn, played by Honggui, both physically and mentally. We decided to put the camera at a distance to observe our lead actress for 10 months," he said.

Otsuka talked about the extensive research process while preparing for the film. "Because we wanted the protagonist to be in her early 20s, we interviewed many college students and asked them questions like 'How do you earn your money? And 'where do you spend your money?'" he said.

"By chance, we discovered ads posted inside women's restrooms in a college that read 'become an egg donor and get paid.' We asked our lead actress Honggui to call the egg donor agency pretending that she is an egg donor. The agent whom we contacted actually appears in the film because he takes pride in what he does. During the research process, we also found out that many ethnic Uyghur women donate their eggs as a way to make an extra income."

The husband-and-wife directors discovered Honggui, the lead actress of the trilogy when she was 14 years old.

"We discovered her in a middle school in Hunan Province, my wife's home village, back when we were about to make 'Egg and Stone.' Honggui was living with her grandparents because her parents were working elsewhere. Her upbringing matched well with the concept of our film," he said.

All three films were acted by Honggui. "She had no acting experience but had a unique aura. She doesn't talk much, but she has her own world. She is not easily influenced by her surroundings, which was exactly what we were looking for," he said.

Asking the two of them how they divided the co-directing work on set, the 51-year-old director said: "Because our films are about women, director Ji is the one who communicates with actors on set. Meanwhile, I think about how to film them ― the compositions and how the cinematography will work," he said.

He broke down the film's ending, in which the baby cries in the backseat of a car waiting to be picked up.

"In the film, we see how Lynn goes through emotional changes as she has to choose between giving birth to the baby and getting an abortion. But the actual protagonist of the film is the baby, who has appeared in the film all along," he said.

He also mentioned the meaning of the film title. "The stone wall can be translated into a social barrier. Only brave ones who push through the stone wall can move onto the next step," he explained.

Otsuka said they wanted to depict how people living in the modern era are becoming more insensitive to the value of human life. "Co-director Ji's mother, who appears in the film as Lynn's mother, was a gynecologist in real life. She talked about how people have lost their moral duties over the years," he said. "I hope we become more socially conscious and engage in human interaction."

"Stonewalling" won the NETPAC Award presented by the Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema to one of the 10 Asian films screened during the JIFF. It also bagged three prizes at this year's Hong Kong International Film Festival, including the best film and best actress awards.

bottom of page