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Competition “Beautiful Boy” Interview with Shawn Ku (Director) (10/30)

Competition “Beautiful Boy” Interview with Shawn Ku (Director) (10/30)

The Virginia Tech massacre in 2007 attracted the world attention for its high number of victims. Inspired by this incident, Shawn Ku produced “Beautiful Boy.” The film focuses on the parents of the boy who committed the crime and realistically portrays their anguish and conflict. This is Shawn Ku’s first feature film.
©2010 TIFF

---What impact did the massacre have on you, and what were you thinking while you were making the film?

I was personally shocked by the incident because the Virginia Tech is where my parents graduated from and my sister was born in that town. It was doubly shocking that the killer was Asian, and this gave me the initial inspiration. In addition, a good friend of mine died at my house, and I witnessed the distress of his family. The grief in this film was inspired by my experience of this family that is why I have dedicated the film to this friend.
I also wondered how my parents would react if I had caused a similar incident like random murder. The parents in the film are based on my parents in some parts.

---The killer in the real incident is Asian, but it is changed to a Caucasian. Why did you make the change?

One is to protect myself from being sued. Another is, regrettably, I needed to make him a Caucasian so that the viewers in America can feel the protagonist represents everyone. If he is Asian or black, the film will be regarded as a film aimed at that particular race. Only when he is a Caucasian does it become applicable to everyone. Having said that, I was conscious of other races, so I indicated the incident is not peculiar to Caucasian society by making his wife and child Asian.
©2010 TIFF

---The film has cut out explanation and information about the incident, and instead, it focuses on the parent’s viewpoint and the world, which created the tense feeling.

Sadly, a shooting incident like this happens frequently in the U.S, flooding TV and internet with information about it. However, we tend not to hear much about the killer’s parents. Take the Virginia Tech case. They also lost their child, too, but they are panned by the media without the time to mourn their loss.
We tend to blame someone for an incident, and the blame tends to be on the parents when the killer commits suicide, which is often the case. But it is not so simple. Looking back on when I was 17 or 18, my parents did not have full control over me, and yet people tend to come to a simple answer. I made this film from the parents’ viewpoint for these reasons.

---Why did you choose the British actor, Michael Sheen, for the father? His English sounded American, and he looked plumper than in his other films.

He is a great actor, and I am his fan. It’s a small film, but since he plays a lot of actual persons with social status, I thought he might want to play an ordinary father, and he did.
We didn’t discuss about the accent in the initial meeting. If he comes up with American accent, that’s fine, but if it doesn’t work out, I was happy to set the father as British, but he came prepared with an American accent. I noticed he may have gained some weight, but I could not possibly ask him that (laugh). I think he suited the part even better with the slight weight gain anyway.
He wanted his costumes loosely fitted because he wanted his character to look natural rather than to look good. So I suspect the weight gain may have been intentional.

---The parents looked happy in suburbia, but they are affluent materially, while the family tie has become a mere façade. The film seems to have incorporated that, too.

Indeed. Many photos are displayed in that house. They may have been happy for real in the past, but they are only trying to convince themselves of their happiness. Beautiful house, good job, the family looks perfect on the outside, but the couple have separate bedrooms. They are maintaining appearances, but their relationship has broken down. I wanted to show that, too.

---Apart from the shooting incident, this film also seems to have a universal story about a family, who loose everything, then reconfirm each other as individuals.

I am glad you viewed it that way. I wanted the audience to empathize with the characters. Viewers tend to empathize with either of the couple, but not both. Someone went home after the film and hugged his/her child – that was the best compliment for me. If this film influences your relationship with other people, I would be really pleased.

The subprime loan crisis and the Lehman collapse, which sent a shock wave throughout the U.S., go back to the American dream to own a house. Owing a house is not a bad thing in itself, but that alone does not realise your dream or bring happiness. This film provokes thoughts like that, too. This is the emergence of another talented director in the U.S.

(Interviewed by Masaaki Oba)

Beautiful Boy
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KEIRIN.JPThe 23rd Tokyo International Film Festival will be held with funds provided by Japan Keirin Association.TIFF History
22nd Tokyo International Film Festival(2009)