Rain Li’s film, ‘Us’, released on May 8th, has been a sensation, receiving over one million views in the first hour, and more than sixty million clicks on hashtag #ShortFilmUs (#我们微电影). The film has since been screened on CCTV 6 and several TV channels nationwide. Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, with praise reserved for both the emotive subject matter and the exceptional quality of the filmmaking.
左起：梁丹妮，李晓雨，杨澜在《我们》北京观影会上｜L to R: Liang Danni, Rain Li and Yang Lan at the premiere of the film in Beijing
The Beijing-based director and cinematographer explains that the project was borne out of a conversation in March this year with her friend, the media mogul, journalist and talk show hostess, Yang Lan. Yang was seeking to take her first steps into filmmaking, to create public service content that would feature on the website of her organisation, Women Village Community, aimed at promoting women’s interests worldwide. The pair hatched an idea to make a short film for the approaching Mother’s Day.
Rain explains her idea for ‘Us’, “I’ve watched a lot of Mother’s Day films, most of which are talking about the devotion of a mother toward her children. However, the biggest issue for parent-child relationships is the huge emotional and communication disconnect between generations. Children are told to respect and obey their parents, but do not regard them as friends or confidants. Most films don’t mention this and thus fail to connect emotionally with audiences. I’m trying to show the overcoming of this generational gap in my film.”
李晓雨与制作人员在拍摄现场｜Rain and Crew at the scene
Best known for her feature film, ‘Beijing, New York’ and shooting commercials, Us would represent Rain’s first foray into commissioned filmmaking in the service of the common good. She spent a week writing the story of Xiao Min, a single parent who visits her elderly, Alzheimer’s suffering mother for the first time in fifteen years, after a rift over her illegitimate child forced her to flee the family home.
The production had only a matter of days to secure well-known actors. Remarkably, the lead roles were cast just one day before the shoot was set to begin. The seasoned television actresses Liang Danni (grandmother) and Zhao Ziqi (daughter) were faced with one of the most challenging roles of their careers. Rain admits the time pressure put her usual composure to the test, “To be honest, I was worried when the shoot began. The schedule was extremely tight and the roles were not certain until we started shooting. This never happened in my whole career.”
赵子琪与梁丹妮在拍摄现场｜Zhao Ziqi and Liang Danni at the scene
The director elaborates, “Usually I have the actors listen to some music before shooting to try to loosen them up. This time there was no time to lose. We began shooting as soon as the actresses arrived.” To draw out a natural performance, Rain was demanding of her actors, shooting take after take, asking Zhao Ziqi to cry before each, explaining, “The take after she had cried, when the teardrops were still on her face, that is the one I was looking for.”
赵子琪与梁丹妮准备拍摄｜Zhao Ziqi and Liang Danni ready to shoot
The film needed a backdrop to reflect the grandmother’s inner beauty, to help characterise her as an elegant woman, rather than a mere Alzheimer’s patient. As such, the stunning Moganshan in Zhejiang province was selected as the location. “It’s too dry and shabby in the north, with all the smog,” says Rain, “I like the south. The layers of the mountain have an elegant, artistic feeling.”
Adverse weather conditions applied yet further pressure. On the day before the shoot, the clear skies darkened with heavy rain clouds and a lashing storm rendered the approaching roads unpassable, stranding the power generators, lights, tracks and cranes at the foot of the mountain. As a result, night scenes would need to be shot at dawn and, without cranes, only fixed shots would be possible.
莫干山下起了雨｜Raining in Mogan Shan
Rain stepped in as DoP on the last day of shoot after a scheduling conflict ruled out long-time friend and collaborator, Montague Fendt. Though her preference would have been to focus on directing, Rain explains that in taking on the dual role, she was forced to relinquish control and keep the camera movement and technical work to a minimum. This gave the actors freedom to express themselves, engendering a more organic performance that brought about some unexpected, positive results.
李晓雨亲自掌镜｜Rain Li Operating the Camera
Rain is pleased that the first collaboration with Yang Lan has proven succesful. She describes the proponent of womens’ rights as an ‘icon’, adding, “I think she’s an outstanding person. While so many people these days are doing reality shows, trying to make themselves a celebrity, she sticks to her journalistic views, caring for women and society. I think that’s very impressive.” They make a formidable partnership.
- 摄影执导：Montague Fendt／李晓雨
- Mother: Liang Danni
- Xiao Ming: Zhao Ziqi
- Nurse: Tang Yuting
- Daughter: Wu Tiantian
- Director: Rain Li
- First Assistant Director: Han Jinjiang
- Executive Producer：Xing Jing／Ma Jingjun／Rain Li
- Producer：Zheng Jing／Huang Peihong／Zhang Tao
- D.o.P：Montague Fendt／Rain Li
- Art Director：Wang Diandian
- Production company：北京蓝星轨视觉艺术有限公司
- Editor：Wang Yuye／Yuan Ze
- Digital Intermediate Company：Beijing Phenom Films
- Colorist：Liu Yuxin
- Music Studio：Beijing Passion Studio
- VFX studio：北京时间轴文化传播有限公司