TAIPEI, Taiwan - Attending a full day of school then spending hours more in tutoring is a must in Taiwan, where students start 'cram schools' as early as elementary school so that they can better their exam results and get into a prestigious high school or college.
Director Hou Chi Jan knows it all too well.
He said he spent a copious amount of his adolescence on "Nanyang Street" - the Taipei street home to many cram schools. He has such vivid memories and imagination about the place, it became the backdrop to his new film, "When a Wolf Falls in Love with a Sheep."
"I think that (Nanyang) street is a place where dreams are lost. In reality, there's some sadness to it," Hou explained. "I want to make a film about it, to give it some warmth. The story is about sweet young love and tells you whatever you lose, you'll get it back in other ways."
Kai Ko plays "Tung," who goes to Nanyang Street to search for an ex-girlfriend who dumped him to go to cram school. He meets a quirky girl who loves drawing pictures of sheep of the test papers. He draws a picture of a wolf to begin a dialogue and later explores his feelings for the girl.
Coming off his successful first film, Ko said this character is someone who's closer to his heart. "In private, he's not stable, insecure, don't want to face whatever he needs to face, or he wants to get something done, but he's unsure of himself. I think the inner self is more similar in this film," he said.
Actress Jian Man Shu is playing her first lead film role. In preparation, she took her time to warm up to Ko, just as the script required. Jian said, "I tried to remain curious about this person. So I didn't want to immediately get to the bottom of it. So I wanted to get to know him slowly during filming."
To tell his whimsical puppy-love story, Hou used editing techniques such as jump cuts and stop-motion animation. The stop-motion sequences, which show movement through a series of photos, were a challenge for the actors.
"It's not that it was hard to express emotions but it was a torture mentally," Ko said. "I was tired. You don't feel like you've accomplished anything because you don't know what you're doing. Also everything was on a track, so everyone was really nervous, because if anything was misplaced by one centimetre, then maybe you need to retake the photo."
"When a Wolf Falls in Love with a Sheep" will be released in Taiwan on Friday and Hong Kong next week. It is set to be released in Singapore at year's end.