In an interview with FilmHounds sister site, SteelChair Magazine, late last year, acclaimed filmmaker Yung Chang broke down his professional wrestling documentary Omega Man: A Wrestling Love Story. However, during the course of that conversation, Chang shared details on his upcoming documentary, a very current and relatable tale titled Wuhan Wuhan.
Wuhan Wuhan explores the human stories of the Chinese city, showcasing to the world that this is more than just the birthplace of COVID-19, but a giant population that has tragically suffered the same unfortunate circumstances as people around the world. In this brief chat, Chang explains how the COVID-19 related documentary came to be, the unique COVID protocols in which they had to follow to piece this project together, and the ultimate objective of explaining to the world that “We are from different lands and are separated by mountains and waters. Yet above us, we share the same sky and the same feelings.”
How is the new project [Wuhan Wuhan] going?
“Great. Things have been very intense, as if the filmmaking process because usually, I go out there, I'm travelling, I'm working in the field, and you know, I'm following the story as it's unfolding. For the last project, I just completed a feature doc called Wuhan Wuhan, which is about the outbreak at the epicentre in China, about the city essentially. This was material that was handed to me. 300 hours of footage, so I was working remotely in my home office in Toronto, around the clock basically. To put it in scale, 300 hours of footage is a lot, and it usually takes like a year plus to edit that into a cohesive movie, and in this instance, I had to finish it by the – I started in May 2020 and finished in September. So I had a huge team of editors in Los Angeles working with me around the clock to finish it, but it was intense. It felt like, it did feel like a year squished into five months.”
From Omega Man, a wrestling documentary, we go to a very current story with Wuhan Wuhan. Omega Man affected everybody in a way because it's important to a lot of people, but this is, of course, relatable to everybody in the world. So how did this come about?
“In the lockdown, I was quite nervous because my film about Robert Fisk was put on hold in terms of its release, and it eventually became just a virtual release. And I was stuck at home, where usually I would be travelling, promoting the film release, and preparing the next project. Well, in this instance, at the lockdown in March , I didn't have anything else. So what happened was, my wife and I, Annie, who is American from Minnesota, locked onto a story through her friend, who is a doctor in America, and we started a short film called Pandemic19, about three front line U.S doctors – two of them are from Boston, one a pulmonary specialist in an ICU hospital in Boston, and the other, ER doctor, and then my cousin, doctor Bryan Chang from California, who decides to volunteer and go to New York at the peak of the pandemic. So the unique part of that story was the way that they reveal their story through confessional video journals, and so we tell a story about the surge, post-surge, pre-surge through their voices and their stories. It's quite emotional, and it's kind of damnifying of the problems with the way the pandemic and coronavirus is treated by Americans, especially the White House.
“Then on the flipside to that [Pandemic19], the opposite to that was a feature documentary that I made called Wuhan Wuhan, which is about the city of Wuhan, which was the epicentre of the pandemic. I was handed 300 hours of footage, and it's footage that follows nine different characters from all different walks of life. I also realised very quickly that the theme of the film was about the humanistic side of Wuhan, and not to do the kung-flu, the salacious headlines version of the story of Wuhan. The objective was to humanise the place, and as much as I think the role of what documentary can do. Like what we did with [Kenny] Omega for example, is you give a character a lot more depth and emotion, and hopefully that speaks to an audience, so when they watch it they're moved, and they can see a reflection of themselves within the characters and the story that we convey. So Wuhan Wuhan is essentially, it opens with a quote, you know, ‘We are from different lands and are separated by mountains and waters. Yet above us, we share the same sky and the same feelings'.”
Is it essentially giving, because from an outside perspective, people can just look at it [Wuhan] as the birthplace of coronavirus, so it's humanizing it and reminding everyone there are people there that are affected just like us?
“Exactly, yeah, and the birthplace of COVID is not a wet market in a small village. It's a city of 11 million people with a thriving punk art culture, music scene – the music in our film was composed by a band called HUALUN, and they're awesome. An amazing band. You can find their music on Bandcamp, and I highly recommend it. There was a responsibility on my part to not make it political, to just show the human experience. The characters in the film include a young couple. The husband is a volunteer driver for medical workers, much against his wife's wishes, as she is nine months pregnant, and we follow over the course of the peak of the pandemic, their relationship and that story, and it culminates in an excellent climax.
“We follow a heartfelt doctor, who's the chief of the emergency department at one of the major COVID hospitals. We follow a nurse who is in quarantine because all the medical workers were put in quarantine as they went to work, and so she is away from her daughter who hates her because she can't be there with her. It's very humanising and very emotional and very real and very relatable, I think. We can all relate to the emotions…”
I don't think there is anyone in the world that currently could not relate to this.
“Exactly, and I'm hoping that there is an optimistic, hopeful note to the film. When it comes out, I hope people get a chance to see it and compare it to those other necessary films that look at Wuhan more politically or governments more politically. But I found that this was what I had to do with this movie and to put a human face behind the city of Wuhan.”
It sounds very powerful, especially considering the current climate.
“Yeah, I find it very emotional (laughs). I get moved because, you know, this was the first time I wasn't actually there directing the footage, so when I had eyes on it, it was very fresh for me.”
That must have been a very unique experience for you?
“To be the director that wasn't there, but then has to create the story out of the material was actually really refreshing for me and something that I would love to do in the future. Usually, you let the editors work on the film because you're too close to it. You gotta sort of step back for a bit, but in this instance, it was like, oh, two feet in. Also, really live with the footage to find the story. It's pretty intense.”
I think it's also amazing that it's a very COVID production.
“Oh my god, yeah, by necessity, it was COVID safety protocol.”
Wuhan Wuhan premieres at the 2021 Hot Docs Film Festival on April 29th. For information on Wuhan Wuhan screenings, check their site.