Interview With Director Of ‘My Wedding And Other Secrets’

My Wedding and Other Secrets (opens Thursday 17 March) is described as a Romeo and Juliet story with a Kiwi-Asian twist, based on the real-life cross cultural romance of first-time feature film writer/director Roseanne Liang (who made the documentary Banana in a Nutshell, which covered the real events that inspired this film). We spoke to Roseanne about her film.


FLICKS: How did the opportunity to make this feature adaptation arise?

ROSEANNE LIANG: I studied directing and screenwriting at Auckland uni. I made a documentary Banana in a Nutshell a few years after graduating and it got into the NZ International Film festival, to great audiences. John Barnett [Head of South Pacific Pictures] was at one of the first screenings and approached me afterwards.
John: Congratulations. Would you like to make a feature film out of this?
Me: “YES! I mean yes please. OK. Yes.” (as far as I can remember).

Was it easier scripting the film with the documentary as a source material?

I’m not sure it was. Documentary is a really different form, so a lot of work went into getting the structure right to suit a dramatic feature film. There was also the difficulty of things being too close to my heart. Angeline Loo, the co-writer and a good friend, had to carefully navigate through my sensitive attachment to real-life events and people that we were incorporating into our story. The feature film had to be able to stand alone from the documentary, so we made the decision to take some creative freedoms to craft a better yarn.

How did you get the overseas actors involved?

On my ultimate wish list, I wanted actors who could speak both Cantonese and English with a Hong Kong accent. I asked my cousin who grew up in Hong Kong, and he knew someone in New York who knew someone in Vancouver who represented Asian actors in America – and they suggested Kenneth Tsang and Cheng Pei Pei. When I saw their showreels, I suddenly got a pang of nervous terror mixed in with a kernel of utter excitement. These actors are stars. They are screen legends, with decades of experience, hundreds of films between them. Would actors of their calibre really consider an independent film by a first-time filmmaker? Amazingly, both the agent and the actors felt a strong sense of community with diasporic Asian communities abroad, and they ‘got’ the script. I had to pinch myself. You prepare yourself for disappointment when it comes to your dream cast, but when it happens, suddenly you’re momentarily stunned!

Was it strange directing scenes and characters based on your own real life events?

Most of the time it was fine – I’d had a few years developing the script and the characters of the film, so I’d mostly reconciled their differences with real life. I say mostly because there were a couple of occasions on set when I got this uncanny feeling of deja vu. The actors Michelle Ang and Matt Whelan had done a great deal of preparation and research on their characters, and combined with all the crew’s work, managed to create an atmosphere that felt scarily close to past events. There was one particular scene I remember when it was as if the actors and wardrobe department had somehow conspired with the cinematographer and the windy weather to blow Matt’s tie askew at a particular moment, and the hand-held camera wobbled just so, and suddenly I was transported to a moment years ago, and all the urgency and nervousness and anticipation of that time flooded through me. It didn’t last long, but it was definitely strange.

What do your husband and family think of the film?

I was super nervous showing the film to my husband – I wasn’t in the room when he watched it for the first time in the sound suite. When I ventured in, he gave me a big hug, and maybe I imagined a hint of (good) redness around his eyes. When my sister saw it for the first time, she came out nursing a sad, worked-over napkin, and said “why didn’t you tell me to bring tissues?” I think it is a bit strange for family to watch something where characters have clearly been based on them, but at the same time, they also appreciate the differences more keenly. James is not my husband Stephen, and Susan is not my sister Renee, and no-one knows that better than them. My other sister and parents opted to watch the film at the premiere. Obviously, I really, really hope they like it!

Are you working on any future projects right now?

I have a bunch of ideas. I had such an intense and rewarding time making this film that my energies are focused into making another – but we’ll see what happens. Like the cheese, I don’t mind if good things take time.