Director Cheng Wei-Hao: “Genre films must be rooted in local reality to strike a chord with audience.”

WHO KILLED COCK ROBIN director Cheng Wei-Hao, now on VOD and in Theaters

“Following Hollywood’s formulas won’t help Asian genre films break through.”

“I don’t tell Hollywood stories with Asian faces,” said Cheng Wei-Hao, the 34-year old filmmaker behind Taiwan’s highest grossing horror franchise of recent decade Tag-Along and acclaimed suspense thriller Who Killed Cock Robin. In his opinion, genre films must be rooted in local reality to strike a chord with audience. He executed this vision in Who Killed Cock Robin, a polished thriller that stands out for cultural specificity in its social critiques.

In the film, an entry level journalist born in a tea farmer’s humble home spares no efforts to climb up the food chain in capital Taipei, while media executives, police, councilors and culture minister jointly decide behind the scene on how to control news that’ll potentially hurt their interests, often in casual meetings over luxurious tea. From interviews with insiders on the ecosystem around newsroom, Cheng Wei-Hao discovers how Taiwan’s tea customs are taken advantage as bribery opportunities by individuals attempting to bypass rules. “In Taiwanese, the term for “luxurious tea” ironically also means “bullshit”. When politicians and business leaders get involved in muting voices in media, they contribute to social injustice.” As a student majored in Public Relations in college, Cheng was determined to make the story about media corruption into his feature debut.

With no proven box office success for crime thrillers in Taiwan, the script of Who Killed Cock Robin sat on movie studios’ desks for years without getting sufficient fund. Cheng Wei-Hao, like many first-time filmmakers in export-oriented film economies, was given an opportunity to direct a high concept horror film with a lower budget, Tag Along.

“In the US, horror films started with demonizing oppressed groups, such as women, black people and Jewish. Later the trauma brought by World War II and Vietnam War fueled the genre. Nowadays, a variety of psychopaths, zombies and monsters are developed as horror leads. Whereas here in Asia, horror often comes from supernatural spirits associated with influential religious concepts such as karma and reincarnation. The majority of people in the west live in standalone houses, which lays the foundation for popularity of Hollywood’s sub-genre that features long shots into haunted houses with outbursts of shocking visuals and sounds. But people in Asia don’t share the same living condition, so blindly following Hollywood formulas will be pointless. Only source materials from local reality will bring life to our genre films.”

Cheng Wei-Hao took on the challenge with the mindset and the rest is history. The ghost folklore-based Tag Along brought genre cinema back to life in Taiwan by becoming the island’s highest grossing horror film of the decade and developed into a successful franchise. The director not only gained himself an entry pass to the industry, but also secured funding for his passion project Who Killed Cock Robin, which later became a box office hit and got nominated at Shanghai International Film Festival, Taipei International Film Festival and Taiwan Golden Horse Film Awards.

“95% of the directors in the world spend 95% of their time waiting for their projects to start.” In spare time, Cheng Wei-Hao makes commercials, music videos and shorts to keep himself prepared and familiarize with the latest techniques. Already committed to three fully funded upcoming projects, he is now one of the most sought-after talents in Taiwan.

ET Today
BIOS Monthly

Written by Michael Therkelsen

(Senior Editor)