James Mudge recently sat down for an interview with Chinese documentary filmmaker Pan Zhiqi, director of “Private Detective” and “Lost Wall”, while he was appearing at the 2013 Chinese Visual Festival.
James Mudge: How did you come up with the idea for “Private Detective”? Were you planning to specifically make a film about private detectives in China?
Pan Zhiqi: In 2005, I returned from Beijing to a small city in the south of Zhejiang Province. I found a lot of advertisement notices for private detectives. I realised this profession which was only seen in foreign films before was beginning to appear around me. I was very curious about what was behind this business and therefore planned to film.
JM: Lao Fang is a fascinating character and a great subject for the film – how did you meet him?
PZ: I contacted the detectives from the advertisement notices. Some refused, some asked for hourly charges. Lao Fang was one of the detectives who were willing to be filmed. He asked to meet me when I made my first call. I could see when I was talking to him he hoped the camera could promote his business.
JM: He seems to have been very comfortable being filmed – did you spend a lot of time following him around on his daily business and did this cause any trouble for him with his clients or work?
PZ: I went to film him whenever I had time. He often would begin to act when I raised my camera. I tried more to make him to just be himself. The filming did not make any influence on his clients or his business.
JM: How is Lao Fang doing now? I believe that “Private Detective” is the first part of two films about him?
PZ: A few years ago, Lao Fang’s private detective business began its downturn. He then went back to his old business and started his private clinic. He also invested in registering famous people’s names as business brands then selling the brands to make money. He then began a multi-career life, he was a private detective, Chinese medicine doctor and patent brand stocker. His was exposed in his celebrity brands patent business on a television. All these were covered in “Private Detective Part Two”.
JM: Congratulations on “Lost Wall” winning the 2nd place price at the Chinese Visual Festival – it feels like a darker film, with Xiao Zhang constantly suspecting his girlfriend of cheating on him and trying to catch her out – what was the main aim of the film?
PZ: My thanks to the Jury of Chinese Visual Festival. In “Lost Wall”, I tried to explore the inner world of the character. I tried to illustrate vitality of lives through the changing psychology of Zhang.
JM: Although at the start it feels like the film is going to focus on Xiao Zhang’s experiences as a disabled or marginalised man in Chinese society, this seems to become less important as it goes on, and I felt ultimately it was a picture of a troubled young man and his personal and relationship difficulties – was this deliberate?
PZ: Yes, I mainly tried to capture how Zhang came out his own confusing relationship.
JM: Do you think the kind of suspicion he feels and his relationship with his girlfriend are common in China these days, or was this a unique case?
PZ: I don’t this is a common case and more of a unique one. This was mainly because Zhang was blind and therefore was characteristically suspicious.
JM: Did Xiao Zhang and his girlfriend end up together?
PZ: No, Xiao Zhang went to his girlfriend’s home with her, but because he was too young, they were not able to get married. He then called to claim lottery with a fake ID and the amount he tried to claim was huge. He was sentenced to prison for three years, his girlfriend then left him.
JM: Though the two films have different subjects, they seem to both share a similar theme of exploring relationships in modern China, which often seem to be characterised by distrust – was this your aim, and what were you trying to say about Chinese society with the films?
PZ: It was not done on purpose, but more of an accident. “Private Detective Part One” was mainly addressing the dilemma in relationships face by a lot of Chinese with the dramatic economic development. “Lost Wall” was more about a particular case of insecurity.
JM: Your film making style feels both intimate and observational – what have been your main influences in your career?
PZ: Maybe because my day job is teaching, I do advertisements occasionally. Independent filmmaking is just my hobby and my way of filming does not need a lot of budget, therefore I don’t have too much pressure. I therefore focused more on communicating with my subjects than filming them.
JM: Apart from more about Lao Fang, what else are you working on or planning at the moment?
PZ: I have finished my “Private Detective” project. I am currently working on a film about urbanisation called 24th Street.
JM: Congratulations again on Lost Wall, many thanks, and good luck with all your future projects.
PZ: Thanks again to Chinese Visual Festival and the jury!