Peering into the VR headset, viewers are whisked away into a darkly lit sauna. Despite its hazy confines, some secrets are hard to keep hidden. While the faces of the sauna-goers are difficult to fully make out in the steam, their curious touches and carnal desires are unambivalent. In tune with their sexuality, the men kiss, embrace, and caress one another. The audience member, though playing the role of a welcomed observer, isn’t only here to watch but is also meant to be watched—as the men touch and fondle one another, some turn back to the viewer with longing gazes.
In the real world, these fringe territories of desire aren’t always within reach, but in Taiwanese director Chou Tung-Yen’s 14-minute-long VR film, In the Mist, the forbidden corners of his queer fantasies are brought to life.
戴上 VR 装置的那一刻，观众脱离现实世界中的肉体，随视觉进入了《雾中》的温暖暗室，这里没有秘密，但也全是秘密，人们个个面目模糊、肉体氤氲，慾望蔓延流窜，所有人抛下了长日沉重的假面，你在这里旁观拥抱、亲吻甚至交缠，你可以随意走动，环顾四周，你既在窥伺，也同时被人觊觎⋯⋯许多人可能一辈子都不会有机会走进这样禁忌的领地，导演周东彦就用 VR 虚拟实境电影引领你，体验十四分钟原汁原味属于男同志的春色无边。
Chou is an acclaimed director and playwright in Taiwan, so it wasn’t surprising when his film In the Mist was selected for special screening at the 2021 Venice Film Festival. It also isn’t surprising to see him pushing boundaries with his bold explorations of queer eroticism. What was surprising was the medium with which he chose to do it in—how did a playwright settle on working in VR, a filmmaking technology that many other established directors have been hesitant to experiment with?
The fact is, Chou frequently works outside the bounds of traditional theatre and has long been interested in experimental filmmaking. His film Self-accusation (2003) was shortlisted in Taiwan Film Festival’s Avant-Garde category, and his documentaries Voyage in Time (2012) and Looking For? (2018) were shortlisted in the Best Documentary category in the prestigious Golden Horse Film Festival. “While I have a foundation in traditional theater, I’m obsessed with filmmaking,” he says. “So I wanted to bring the best of both worlds together. When I first started experimenting with cinematography, I loved the ambiguity that happens when moving images are shown alongside a live performance—the original scene seemed to take on new contexts. This technique adds dimensionality and is now something I frequently incorporate in my theatre work.”
事实上，周东彦除了剧作为人所知，多年来也不断在影像作品中创作并探索。他曾以《自我控诉》（Self-accusation，2003）入围台北电影奖 “实验类” 竞赛，并以纪录片《你找什麽？》（Looking For?，2018）二度入围金马奖最佳纪录片，他这样介绍自己：“我最早做剧场，但又对摄影景框画面着迷，因此时常企图把影像和剧场揉在一起的一个创作者。刚开始创作的时候，我最喜欢重叠影像，创作出朦胧感和多种可能性。原本的影像突然有了另外一层意义。然后我把这样的手法转译到剧场空间中让表演者和影像／空间交叠。”
This proclivity for experimentation naturally steered Chou to explore new technologies in his filmmaking ventures. Technology, as he saw it, provided ways for him to consolidate his love of cinematography and theater. With this creative trajectory, taking the leap into VR was simply a matter of time.
In 2012, he released A Memory of Emptied Memories—an ambitious project that combined theater, filmmaking, and contemporary dance. A panoramic video played as a choreographed dance unfolded on stage; at certain parts of the performance, the screens would move, engulfing the dancer as the line between virtual and reality was blurred. Shooting with a 360-degree camera for this project became a stepping stone for his later VR experiments. “We used a panoramic camera, but VR headsets weren’t as accessible at the time, so we used multiple projectors to show the video,” he recalls. “Two or three years ago, as VR technology became consumer grade, we had the opportunity to revisit this old project in a new light.”
This embrace of technology is a recurring theme throughout his oeuvre. In 2018, Chou produced Chronicle of Light Years, a joint project with a Danish theater company. Using 3-D mapping technology, they created hologram projections that surrounded the actors and formed varying backgrounds. This project caught the attention of Kaohsiung VR Film Lab, who reached out to Chou, asking him if he’d be interested in working on a VR short film. “I started binging VR content because of this,” he recalls. “I even went down to Kaohsiung and took part in a global workshop hosted by VR Film Lab earlier on. As time went by and I saw more VR films, I started to consider how the medium could be used to tell a unique story. I proposed two different stories to them, one revolving around choreographed dance, and the other was In the Mist. They were tremendously supportive of both ideas.”
回顾周东彦的创作轨迹，观众可以挖掘很多新的创作技术和理念，他不断在自己的创作中实践并试验影像和剧场结合的各种可能。可以说，不是他选择了 VR，而是 VR 选择了他， 是他总有一天必然会踏进的领域。
2012年，他杂揉剧场、影像和舞蹈完成多媒体剧作《空的记忆》（A Memory of Emptied Memories），以全景大银幕无限复制并重复展示影像，舞台上创造出虚实交错的空间和特殊体验，仿佛 VR 的前沿尝试。多年后的现在，他有机会以 VR 形式再次呈现《空的记忆》，他说：“创作时运用了全景摄影机，但当时并没有家用型的 VR 设备。我们是以投影的方式做了许多不同的实验。直到两三年前终于有了自己的 VR 头显装置，再度放入 10 年前拍摄的影像，才见到这位‘老情人’它另外的模样。”
2018年周东彦制作了《光年纪事》（Chronicle of Light Years），由台湾与丹麦国际合作，运用人体与空间扫瞄科技、以及 4D Box 浮空投影技术（hologram projection），再次证明周东彦勇于尝试新科技的胆识。正是因为这部作品，成功吸引了高雄电影节的 VR Film Lab 团队的眼球，并在随后获得该团队 VR 制作的邀约。周东彦说：“我因此开始更大量地观赏 VR 作品，并参与到高雄参与 VR Film Lab 所举办的国际工作坊。几年过去，看到许多更成熟的VR作品，我也在剧场创作之余，思索我到底如何用 VR 讲述一个完整的故事？最后我提了两个非常不一样的企划，一个是关于群体舞动的作品，另外一个就是《雾中》。两个竟然都得到了高雄电影节的肯定与支持。”
Creating a VR film is drastically different from traditional filmmaking, in both technique and how a scene is intended to be shown. One of the most difficult parts of the shoot was the eight “blind spots” that crew members had to stand clear of. If anything was captured by the cameras in those areas, it would be much harder to stitch the frames together in post-production. Considering the limited size of the set, this was a tough hurdle to overcome, and so, working with a videographer crew from Funique VR, Chou staged a test shoot.
Chou originally wanted a film with a lot of transitions and scenes, but as his story took shape, he realized the movement of the actors’ bodies alone was enough to convey the narrative in its entirety. He sought to create something more abstract and poetic, something that feels like it was conjured from the depths of a dream.
Aside from the test shoot, a large number of rehearsals were planned out in advance. Working with a cast of stage actors, he outlined the range of emotions he wanted, how certain gesticulations would play out, where each character would be positioned, and even the speed of certain movements. A normal script would prove to be useless in such a production, and so, with only a shot list in hand and the tone and manner in mind, they got to work.
VR 创作技术、方法与影像思维皆和一般电影不同。周东彦透露，VR 360 度的实景拍摄过程中有着诸多限制，譬如镜头间缝合之处有一个称为 “盲线” 的区块，当演员或物件太接近或经过这条线时，就会造成后期画面缝合上的困难。而以本片（《雾中》）的拍摄设备来说，这样的线总共有八条。这对于要拍摄一个相对狭小拥挤的空间来说，是一个非常大的限制。因此周东彦团队在正式拍摄前三个月，进行了三番五次的试拍。随着 Funique VR 影像团队的加入，他们协助在试拍排练场中针对每个镜位画出盲线，以便排练。有了试拍的经验，以及影像团队后期的加持，才得以完成《雾中》。
“Our test shoot helped finalize the set staging, lighting, and camera positions—and editing the test shots, I began planning the full narrative, which had to be communicated clearly with the entire production and design team,” Chou says. “Since the production costs of VR films are so expensive, I had to make sure everything was flawless, especially with framing shots and not going into overtime. During the test shoot, I considered how the cameras would be placed, what I wanted viewers to see, and how I want them to feel.”
His background in theatre proved to play a major role in this VR venture. Prior to the shoot, all of the actors were asked to take part in a theater workshop—but rather than train their acting chops, the session focused on movement and gesture. Even more important though, the workshop was designed to build their chemistry on set, so that the three-day shoot would be much easier to navigate once the cameras started rolling.
“My approach to directing theater was essential for this VR film,” he says. “For example, the opening shot, a flesh flower made of human bodies, was completely improvised. During a break, I had the idea to shoot a scene without any kissing or sexual touches, and the chemistry that the actors developed in the workshop proved invaluable. The result was a complete surprise; it’s a scene that’d be impossible if it were scripted.”
他表示：“因为 VR 影片拍摄与后制成本相当高，一切都需要讲求精准。尤其是镜位确认和拍摄时间。因此我透过试拍的画面去设定和安排了每个镜位，为每个镜位先预想观众可能的感受和主要可见的范围。”
他将曾在剧场创作的经验应用在 VR 作品拍摄中。在拍摄场景装台的第一天，所有演员先在排练场进行两小时的肢体与默契互动，建立起这拍摄时程三天中，所有人一起工作一个非常亲密作品的基础。
周东彦表示：“我在非常精密昂贵的 VR 制作过程中，还是引入了剧场中的工作方式，如即兴演出，观众看到的第一个画面 ‘身体组成的花朵’（上方剧照的画面），即是在某次休息放饭后，我企图拍摄触碰、亲吻、性交之外的画面时，应用了第一天的肢体工作坊的默契，与这么多的素人演员，一同创造了一个极为惊喜，剧本无法事先写好的画面。”
In his 2015 documentaries My Leftover Ladies and What Are You Searching For?, Chou meditated on contemporary relationships. To him, the definition of love, sexuality, and devotion are fluid—changing with the times. In the Mist is a deeper probe into these topics. The question he was particularly interested in posing is a cryptic one: can love exist in the absence of love?
“‘Love’ is always held on a high pedestal; in movies and stories, it’s always depicted as this eternal and complex force,” he notes. “But I realized that the contact of flesh against flesh is in itself something profound, even when it’s between two strangers. In that short and fleeting moment, they’re offering their entire beings to one another. Their lust and desire doesn’t even matter—being present together in the moment is all that matters. How many times have we bared our souls to a stranger, revealing parts of ourselves that we don’t dare share with our supposed loved ones? In the sauna, the characters’ kisses, touches, and caresses are the farthest thing from love, but yet they’re also the closest. To me, this aptly captures the idea of ‘love in the absence of love.’”
Chou believes that a viewer’s experience in the VR world is subjective. It’s a realm that they’re experiencing alone by themselves, and in it, they’re allowed to wander, get lost, and make discoveries that have intrinsic meaning to them. Speaking with people who’ve watched his film, he’s received a broad range of interpretations. “Even though I’m shooting a specific group of people in a specific setting, people of different genders and sexuality have different takeaways,” he says. “People have told me that they can see a glimpse of themselves or that they resonated with the emotions of a certain character. To me, this is the most meaningful part of expressing my creativity.”
周东彦曾经在过往的纪录片《剩女，真的？》（My Leftover Ladies，2015）、《你找什么？》中，对于当代情感关系提出质问和辩证，对他来说爱、性与承诺有着非传统的定义，而且随着时代不断地变异，先前在关于《雾中》的访谈中，周东彦认为他透过作品想要提出一种 “无爱之爱” 的概念，而究竟什么是无爱之爱？他解释：“‘爱’ 常被高高在上的摆在殿堂中。在电影和故事的刻画中，总要被描述的隽永深刻、不可思议或妙不可言。但我发现当陌生的躯体相互依偎时，他们提供给彼此的纵然短暂、倏忽即逝，却也是交出那一刻全部的自我。渴望与被渴望的完成或许都不重要，重要的只是此刻，‘我们’ 在这里，一起。我们多少有过经验跟陌生的人讲了最多的心事，跟 ‘爱’ 的人却无法坦白。或许这样的场域中的亲吻、触碰、撞击与宣泄，都离爱好远，也好近。这可能就是我希望描绘的 ‘无爱之爱’ 吧。”
周东彦认为观赏 VR 作品的感受是非常直接的。因为观众独自在空间中探索、发现或是迷失。他听到了许多人对这个作品的肯定，也发现了对于相同的片段，每个人都有不同的理解。他说：“我觉得虽然我拍摄的是一个特殊的群体、一种特殊的境遇，但我的确听到不同性别、性向的人跟我分享，他们仿若可以看到自己，或认同片中角色的情绪。这对我来说，就是创作最珍贵之处。”
With the advancement of VR technology, the metaverse no longer seems far out of reach. Not too long from now, the digital universe will likely be the new stomping ground for creative types of all varieties. Chou believes that, as more artists understand VR’s capabilities and become more eager in experimenting with it, the medium will flourish. “Watching more VR works is key,” he says. “In a lot of exhibitions, there’s now a dedicated VR section. They’re good opportunities to see what the medium has to offer outside of a video-game context. Find what touches you, see how the medium can open new possibilities, and appreciate the new creative territories opened up by the technology.”
As for what’s next, Chou reveals that he’s working on an accompanying film to In the Mist titled Kiss. The new work is inspired by the pandemic and the sense of isolation that’s come as a result of it. It revolves around longing—the longing to touch and embrace another human body in a world where it was no longer possible to do so. Aside from the new film, In the Mist will also be taking part in the Taipei Art Festival and be made into a live show that merges VR with theatre. Other projects that’ll blend the two mediums are also in the works, and Chou will be revealing more information about those in the coming months on his studio‘s official website.
前阵子脸书（Facebook）改名为 Meta，并宣布打造 “元宇宙”（Metaverse）的宏大愿景，VR 作品想见势必会成为未来影像创作的重要媒介。作为刚踏入 VR 领域的创作者，周东彦建议说：“现在许多重要影展都有 VR 专区，是创作的绝佳时机。找寻触动你的故事，找到作品中 VR 的必要性，以及不可取代性，然后开始你的创作。”
聊起未来的计划和展望，周东彦表示刚受高雄电影节之邀，拍摄了《雾中》的姊妹篇《吻》，这部影片是受疫情隔离封锁的状态下启发并完成的作品，呈现了当人们必须完全与世隔绝但渴望触碰与拥抱的某种心情。有点像是 “后雾中” 的奇想吧！《雾中》还受到台北艺术节的邀约，明年将呈现 VR、展演，取名为《雾中・凝视》。他表示，明后年应该还会发展不少 VR 与剧场的计划呢！