King of Peking (2017) is a new comedic drama set in 1990s Beijing that follows a down-and-out movie projectionist and his son as they try to make it big by starting their own pirated movie company. Written and directed by Australian filmmaker Sam Voutas, the film was inspired by his experience of growing up in Beijing in the 1980s and 1990s and the bootleg film industry that blossomed around that period. Funded in part by crowdfunding campaigns, King of Peking is a heartwarming exploration of father-and-son relationships, morality, and what it means to be an example to others. Neocha had the opportunity for an exclusive interview with Voutas to learn more about the film, his thoughts on the filmmaking process, and his memories of China.
《京城之王》（King of Peking）(2017)是一部以20世纪90年代北京为背景的喜剧片。影片讲述了一名穷困潦倒电影放映员和他的儿子想通过开盗版片加工厂来致富的故事。这部电影由澳大利亚导演司马优（Sam Voutas）担任编剧和导演，灵感来源于司马优20世纪80年代和90年代在北京成长的经历，以及在这段时期内蓬勃发展的盗版电影业。这部电影依靠众筹获得了部分的拍摄资金，是一部探讨父子关系、道德及作为他人榜样的意义的暖心之作。Neocha独家专访了司马优（Sam Voutas），了解更多关于这部电影、他在电影片拍摄过程的一些想法，以及他对中国的回忆。
Neocha: You have a history of working with the same actors and crew on some of your previous films. How did your team first come together?
Voutas: Yes, there’s quite a few of us who’ve worked together before, such as producers Jane Zheng and Melanie Ansley, as well as our sound engineer Jules Ambroisine. The first time we all worked together as a team was on Red Light Revolution, a sex shop comedy we filmed in Beijing at the end of 2009. Even though several years had passed, we approached the crew from Red Light Revolution first for King of Peking. Obviously, due to people’s schedules we couldn’t get all the same people, but Melanie, Jane, and Jules were all on board super early. And also very important for me was getting Zhao Jun, who also starred in Red Light Revolution, back for the lead role. In terms of how we met him, Melanie found him in Beijing’s Penghao Theatre years ago when we were doing auditions. He was in their café, patting a dog, and Melanie just walked up to him and asked if he was an actor. He said no. But luckily the friends who were with him told him to come clean! He went upstairs, auditioned, and nailed it. He’s such a natural, fun actor.
Voutas: 是的，我们中有不少人曾经一起工作过，比如制片人Jane Zheng和Melanie Ansley，还有我们的音响工程师Jules Ambroisine。我们团队第一次一起工作，是在2009年底拍摄《红灯梦》（Red Light Revolution）的时候，我们在北京拍摄的一部有关成人用品商店的喜剧片。过了几年，当我们要拍《京城之王》时还是先找了拍《红灯梦》的团队。Melanie、Jane和Jules很早就确认要参与拍摄，但其余的大家各自有自己的工作安排，我们也不能找到全部的原班人马。另外非常重要的是本次饰演电影主角的演员赵骏回归荧幕，他也曾出演过《红灯梦》。我们结缘就是在几年前北京的蓬蒿剧场，我们正在试镜时，Melanie看到了他。他当时正在咖啡馆里，逗着狗玩，Melanie就走到他面前，问他是不是演员。他否认了。还好他旁边的朋友叫他老实坦白！他后来就上楼试镜去了，拿下了那个角色。他是个很真实、很有趣的演员。
Neocha: You started out as a documentary filmmaker before you got into narrative films. What was it like to make that transition?
Voutas: Documentaries are wonderful but I always found them very difficult regarding developing story. You’d have to wait and wait for something interesting to happen to the characters, often waiting weeks, or months even. And sometimes when that wonderful moment arrived, that scene or story turn you’d been waiting for, you weren’t there! Your phone would ring and the character would tell you what just happened to them! The frustration! With fiction, while it still takes a long time, at least from the script stage you can devise a path that the characters will take. You can plot the course more. So I’ve found that fiction film is, for me anyway, a better way to go. At least when something interesting happens to a character, I can be there to film it.
Neocha: What was it like to grow up as a foreigner in China during the 1980s? Looking back, how has that experience played a role in defining your filmmaking career?
Voutas: When I first lived in Beijing in the 80s, there were hardly any cars on the road. The bike lanes were packed with bicycles, but the main roads themselves were mostly empty but for the old buses. If someone in a car drove by, you knew they were a big deal. And if you wanted a burger, there was one hotel in town that could make one. As foreigners, we weren’t able to use the main currency of renminbi. We had to use something called FEC, and that had a different exchange rate even! So very different times. I reckon my perspective has changed primarily because I’m thirty years older. Back then I wanted to just play in the dirt, and now I guess the major change is that I’m playing in the same way, but on film sets. The make-believe element is still there. I’m just playing with different toys and with new friends.
Neocha: Can you tell us about some of the challenges you faced in creating a period piece set in 1990s Beijing?
Voutas: Our film is set in the late 1990s, and what I hadn’t predicted was that so little of 1990s Beijing is left in the city today. We scouted Beijing for a few weeks before we realized the locations simply weren’t there anymore. The old neighborhoods had turned into high rises, so we ended up filming the majority of the movie in Hebei Province. The old cinemas, buildings, amusement parks, we found them out there. It was a very stressful time because without the locations we didn’t have a movie.
Neocha: What advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers, in China or otherwise?
Voutas: Be persistent. It’s a long game. It’s okay to make mistakes, to fail even; that’s just called learning. Often it’s two steps forward, one step back, and sometimes you just fall on your face. It’s just the way it is. Just try and tell stories any way you can. Even if you’re shooting on your phone, that’s fine. The important part is to keep on trying, to not take no for an answer.
King of Peking will have an upcoming screening in Beijing, along with a Q&A session with the director. See below or click here for details.
Event: King of Peking: Film Screening and Director Q&A
Time: Wednesday, December 13th, 2017, 7 ~ 9:30 pm
Cost: 50 RMB
1 Jiudaowan Zhongxiang
Beixinqiao, Dongcheng District
Beijing, People’s Republic of China