For Xinhao Violet Lu, filmmaking has always been about communication. His artistic side makes him inclined to do so through less than direct means; leaving the audience to question themselves more in terms of what they have learned from his films rather than solely what the action was on the screen. That’s gratifying for Xinhao who found his way to filmmaking in a very non-direct manner. Hailing from a small town in southern China [Zhongshan], he experienced many obstacles to achieving his dream. His most recent offering, Red Man, is a comedy also imbued with the anxiety and struggle encountered by this director/writer. Difficult times makes for great art, and Red Man certainly adheres to that definition but remarkably, it doesn’t prohibit the humor that so often accompanies life’s difficulties. Red Man is a metaphor; an abstract depiction of what it feels like to be unusual and a stranger whom others don’t understand. It is also fascinating filmmaking of the highest and most creative degree. Xinhao sees his work as a type of therapy stating, “I’m a person who loves to write and direct drama. I heard a philosopher once said that the nature of mankind is tragedy. The reason for this is because every human life culminates in a painful and meaningless cycle. I don’t think life is meaningless but I do agree that it is painful because we live most of our lives in a constant process of self-fighting. The reason I like to make films is because I want to extract that abstract meaning from a painful life, communicate it to the people around me who follow my movies, and help them perceive that meaning hidden in their lives. This may be a bit abstract, but that’s why I love it.”
Red Man’s reception of Best Experimental film from the Oscar-qualifying LA Shorts Film Festival says quite a bit about the respect and admiration directed towards Xinhao. In an era when “safe” and formulaic filmmaking seems the status quo, he is pursuing a direction that redirects audiences to think about their ideals rather than simply watch. If the industry is to survive, it must rethink and reinvent; a path Xinhao is already pursuing with films such as Red Man. From the very beginning moments of this film, it is starkly apparent that it doesn’t feel like a typical film. The entirety of it is one long take with no other camera movements other than zooming in and out. This creates the sensation that the audience is within the story as a passive participant. The audience is observing the character while the character is observing himself. From the very inception of this story, Xinhao had committed to this style stating, “I really, really like long takes because I think there’s something between the real and the surreal about them, something that allows the audience to subconsciously interact with the characters and the scenes in the film. I also like surreal elements, especially when they are realistic but so absurd that they seem surreal.” That statement aptly describes the main characters of the film, Red Man and Blue Man, with the action centered upon the attempt to execute an acrobatic feat. A description of the events that occur in the story cannot do it justice because Red Man is about eliciting a feeling; the potential for anxiety that exists within each of us. Xinhao is masterful in his cultivation of a feeling that is unspoken and rarely universally depicted. Far more than most, the direction of this film is what allows it to attain such an emotional impact. The performances are certainly graceful and the cinematography bolsters this but the design of the entire film rests on the directing skills of a professional who seems inclined to the universality of this human experience. Xinhao confides, “I was inspired to create this by my first year experiences in America. During my first year in the U.S., as a Chinese student, I was surrounded by foreign students who were only curious about the Chinese cultural symbols I represented; no one really wanted to know more about me. I felt myself like the acrobat in the red leotard without a voice. Performing for an audience who had no real interest in understanding me as an individual. The red man is like a symbol, not having emotion, not even showing his face from the beginning to the end.”
While Red Man has garnered numerous recognitions from his peers at various festival appearances, Xinhao affectionately refers to it as, “imperfectly beautiful.” This statement reveals much about the filmmaker himself. Creating any film is a high pressure situation which exacts much out of those involved, directors more than most. Xinhao’s decisions to allow Red Man to exist in a state of imperfect beauty makes it even more accessible to a public who relates to this very concept. It also infers that Xinhao Lu’s next production will be an evolution from the incredible work he has already created.