In the Taiwanese drum-beating flick, ‘Din Tao: Leader of the Parade’, Alan Kuo and Alien Huang play two young rival hotshots descended from a long-line of traditional Din Tao drummers. Their fathers are sworn enemies and the enmity continues into the next generation. Huang and his gang continually bully Kuo and his bunch of misfits. When Kuo takes over the troupe from his father before an important showdown, he leads them on an arduous trip around the Taiwanese coast. They travel on foot with drums on their backs to demonstrate the undying spirit of Din Tao as they plod on.
Din Tao is a traditional ritual performed to express Taiwanese people’s gratitude towards gods and goddesses at religious festivals. Din Tao troupes, beating large drums, act as bodyguards when the deities go on a parade. The tradition has become both popular entertainment for the masses in Taiwan as well as transformed into a hip street art.
Since its opening in Taiwan in January this year, ‘Din Tao: Leader of the Parade’ has grossed $13 million at the box-office, making it Taiwan’s No. 1 local film this year so far.
inSing spoke on the phone recently with ‘Din Tao’ director, Fung Kai, and its star, Alan Kuo.
What inspired you to make a film about drumming?
FK: When you’re talking about the purpose or spirit of things, audiences will not grasp or understand immediately what you are saying until you show it to them visually. Even our local Taiwanese audiences who are familiar with the tradition of Din Tao need to see it to know what it’s about. The story is about the relationship between people and the gods they worship. By making this film, I hope to help audiences understand our culture better.
How much of it is true? For instance, did the drum troupe really carry their drums on foot all over Taiwan?
FK: The story about two rival groups competing against each other isn’t real. But the situations and the things they did were real. The troupe really carried the drums along the whole coast. They even climbed up hills with them. You can see that in the outtakes. Of course, we embellished a fair bit, but the spirit of the effort was true.
Were you influenced by Hollywood dance film like ‘Step Up’ and other American dance movies where groups challenge each other?
FK: Yes. Hollywood dance movies and musical shows influenced me a lot. Not just from the competition angle but the storytelling aspect too. They tell stories very simply.
How difficult was it to, firstly, play the drums and, secondly, to carry them along the road?
AK: At first, I thought it was going to be easy, but when I held the Din Tao drumsticks, they were so much bigger and thicker than normal drumsticks. To play with them, you have to use full power. And you have to use your heart to play so people feel the Din Tao spirit. After that comes the hardest part—playing with other people. In the finale, we had about 10 drums. Everybody had to combine with the same beat. As for the road trip, when we were walking and carrying the drums around Taiwan, we had to shoot at the same time. That’s tough, man.
Alan, you were in charge of one troupe and Alien Huang was leading the other. Was there rivalry between you guys?
AK: Actually, we’re really close friends. So it was really hard to play enemies in the movie. In one scene, Xiao Gui (Alien’s nickname) had to kick me in the chest but he couldn’t do it. We tried so many times until the action choreographer said: “You have to kick him for real or else we can’t shoot the movie.” So he kicked me really hard in my chest and I got hurt. And he got hurt too, because he just kicked his really good friend. But it’s okay cos it was fun. (laughs)
What is ‘Din Tao’s’ message?
Firstly, this isn’t a very special story. Yes, the drum competition is special, but the story of the relationship between father and son is inside every person. You know, father and son not getting along, as portrayed in the film, is not just a Chinese story. It’s universal. Everybody has that connection. The biggest thing is respect. Respect God, respect Buddha, respect father, respect son, respect everybody, especially yourself.
Is ‘Din Tao’ about the relationship between Taiwan and China, in that both rival sides are not exactly the same but deep down, they are still brotherly after all?
FK: Absolutely not. I never saw it in that way. There are no political connections. This movie is just a very touching and moving story. That’s all.
Director Fung, you are known in Taiwan as a TV director of popular series. This is your big screen debut. Why do so many Taiwanese film directors come from TV?
FK: TV is great training ground. During production, you spend a lot of time learning how actors interact with each other. And after making TV series for a long time like me, making a two-hour film is easy.
Which is harder to do? TV or movies?
Oh, cinema is harder, of course. With TV, whatever you do, you don’t lose much. But with cinema, you gamble big. And you win or lose much bigger. If you’re not careful and you screw up, you’ll need to jump into the river. (laughs)