Wang Haonan

This video is no longer available

Haonan Wang, Bubble (still), 2020.

Artist Cinemas presents Bubble
Wang Haonan

14 Minutes

Artist Cinemas
Week #2

March 1–7, 2021

Join us on e-flux Video & Film for an online screening of Haonan Wang’s Bubble (2020), on view from Monday, March 1 through Sunday, March 7, 2021.

Bubble is an urban tale of love and sacrifice set in a mysterious restaurant hidden in an alleyway. On an ordinary night, a man eats a lot of herbal plants in front of a woman, transforming himself into her food.

The video is presented here alongside an interview with Haonan Wang conducted by Lawrence Xiao.

Bubble is the second installment of Crashing into the Future, a program of films and interviews convened by Cao Fei, and comprising the fifth cycle of Artist Cinemas, a long-term, online series of film programs curated by artists for e-flux Video & Film.

Crashing into the Future will run from February 22 through April 5, 2021, screening a new film each week accompanied by an interview with the filmmaker(s) conducted by Cao Fei and invited guests.

Haonan Wang in conversation with Lawrence Xiao
Translated by Coco Ho

Lawrence Xiao (LX):
Is Bubble (2020) your first short film? Would you please briefly introduce the story?

Haonan Wang (HW):
Yes, it is my first officially completed short film. It’s a fantasy narrative about a couple wandering at night, whereby the guy turns into his girlfriend’s dinner.

When I first saw your film, I was reminded of this animation I used to watch as a kid. The story was about a mantis, who says: “My mom ate my dad in order to give birth to me. So darling, if you do love me, please eat me in one bite.”

Yes, my film conveys this feeling exactly. But I also wanted to convey that the guy could have eaten his girlfriend too; it could have gone either way. It’s just that in this particular story, I chose to have the girl be the predator.

So, does that mean if you had the opportunity to reshoot the film, or say, lengthen the piece, you would let the guy eat his girlfriend?

Well, I had a background story in mind while making the film. The couple is actually an estranged species, sort of like vampires, but they must feed on a special kind of fruit if they wanted to live a long and prosperous life. And this fruit only grows on their partner’s body after intercourse. So, in order for one to survive, the other must choose to sacrifice themselves.

This was briefly hinted at in the film. The guy shows his girlfriend a fruit in front of a cabinet, suggesting that he has eaten other girls in the past. The fruit was a memento he kept after eating them, and it was never meant to be a one-way matter. I wanted to express the ever-shifting power balance between the two sexes, and to emphasize that in a parallel world, the guy might have eaten his girlfriend.

So, to answer your question, if I had the opportunity remake this film I would choose to incorporate more of this background story, but still have the guy eaten in the end. I think, at the moment, the film is very experimental and doesn’t necessarily follow the path of traditional storytelling. So, many people might find it quite confusing. Or rather, they might grasp the film’s emotional substance but not quite comprehend the entire storyline. So, I guess if I were to reshoot it, I’ll fill in the blanks and complete the story.

How did you come up with this species? And why did you choose plants as a key element in the film? Did you reference any proverbs or mythologies in order to design this act of consuming plants?

At first, I actually wanted to make a film referencing the ancient Chinese legend Shennong Tastes a Hundred Grasses. It’s about a mythological man named Shennong who ate a lot of herbs, and then went on to write books and advance medicine. He became too proud of himself and thought he had become invincible. But one day, he ate a poisonous herb and died because of it. I found this story very interesting, especially the idea of becoming “consumed” by plants.

The relationship between plants, humans, and life is quite mesmerizing. I am a plant lover to begin with, and I find that the way the roots and leaves of one plant communicate with another are actually not so different from how humans interact with each other. Aesthetically and in many other respects, the use of plants is an element that played well in the film—it added a sort of innate liveliness, and complexity.

How did you come up with the idea of the male character’s transformation? Did you have any particular references, such as mythical creatures or supernatural beings?

I looked at a lot of creatures and monsters from games and anime. One that I can recall off the top of my head is the video game Bloodborne. And the anime series Sailor Moon, which also featured scenes of physical transformation. There is also this famous Japanese film called Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989), where many of the characters become partly metal. In the film, the protagonist’s penis transforms into an electric drill. The details were extremely descriptive and I liked the film a lot.

You used a lot of special effects in post-production in order to achieve the boyfriend’s fantastical transformation. Can you please tell us more about this process? And also, how you managed to create this sense of extreme hunger in the film?

I wanted to build a sort of shared emotion through sex, resulting in a film that was filled with desire, hunger, and lust. In this sense, the two scenes in the film of eating plants and later eating the boyfriend are actually sex scenes.

As for the transformation scene, at first I created a lot of conceptual designs. At the time, I had watched Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain (2006), where some of the stop-motion animation incorporated images of humans and trees joining together. I think there’s always an element of humor in stop-motion animation. Watching a man turning into a plant is in fact a kind of black humor in itself. So, at first, I actually wanted to use stop-motion animation instead of full-on 3D effects. But after a lot of experimentation, we found that it wasn’t going to work. And the costs were way overbudget. So I decided to try out 3D effects, and found that this route was also rather interesting. We combined the use of physical effects and CGI effects. Initially, we had the actor put on a vest in order to make a mold of his body; eventually it became a superhero-like vest that mixed fresh and fake flowers. Then we mailed the vest to the 3D artist, so he could work on the effects while referencing the details. Not to exaggerate, but we probably tweaked the 3D effects at least a hundred times.

Wow, that must’ve been a very meticulous process. Besides the references you mentioned, were there any other works that inspired you in the filmmaking process?

Literature-wise, I was partly inspired by Kafka, William Gibson’s cyberpunk writings, and also Haruki Murakami. I was also very much inspired by Japanese cult films from the 1980s and ‘90s, as well as more recent films like Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water (2017) and Pans Labyrinth (2006). I wanted to somehow create a more localized version of these influences in my short—that incorporated Chinese elements.

Another interesting point is that your story takes place in the alleyways of a city. In this age of rapid development, as denizens of a city, we sometimes wonder why we have to live and gather in the city at all, and not in the countryside. What are your thoughts on this?:

I think living in the city does give me a lot of interesting ideas to express via film. But actually I don’t particularly like city life, and if I had the chance, I would probably leave.

That sounds rather contradictory. Why is that? Also, where did you grow up?

Yes, I guess it’s quite contradictory. I mean, I’m also interested in exploring how people can develop such a dependency on a particular city. The people in cities are quite fascinating to me. I’ve lived in Los Angeles for four years and in Miami for four or five years. I’ve been to a few other cities here and there. They all have completely different vibes. One thing I find particularly interesting is that you can easily find similarities and differences between cities by riding the local subway. Obviously it’s the same type of public transport, so there’s this similarity, but each ride reflects that city’s characteristics and its denizens’ style. For example, Japan’s and New York’s subways have completely different vibes. When I observe people on the subway, reading their faces and noting their clothes, I can quickly come up with some interesting stories.

So perhaps your next film will take place in a subway? Like the Ninja Turtles?

Haha, I probably won’t have the budget to cover that.

For more information, contact program@e-flux.com.

Film, Sexuality & Eroticism, Gender
Experimental Film, Plants & Forests, Food & Cooking, Science Fiction
Return to Crashing into the Future
Return to Artist Cinemas

e-flux announcements are emailed press releases for art exhibitions from all over the world.

Agenda delivers news from galleries, art spaces, and publications, while Criticism publishes reviews of exhibitions and books.

Architecture announcements cover current architecture and design projects, symposia, exhibitions, and publications from all over the world.

Film announcements are newsletters about screenings, film festivals, and exhibitions of moving image.

Education announces academic employment opportunities, calls for applications, symposia, publications, exhibitions, and educational programs.

Sign up to receive information about events organized by e-flux at e-flux Screening Room, Bar Laika, or elsewhere.

I have read e-flux’s privacy policy and agree that e-flux may send me announcements to the email address entered above and that my data will be processed for this purpose in accordance with e-flux’s privacy policy*

Thank you for your interest in e-flux. Check your inbox to confirm your subscription.