TRANSLATION | Eugenia Yang
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, although people are aware of the hard work medical workers put in to keep our community safe, we often forget about the firefighters. According to Director Yin-Chuan Tsai, since we are short on medical supplies, a lot of firemen have been forced to reuse their protective gowns and N95 masks. She is urging the people of Taiwan to turn their heads: this is what is happening in our society.
Stand Your Ground
As soon as the alarm goes off, the firefighters rush to the scene without any hesitation to save lives and extinguish fires. At the season finale of Tears On Fire, we see Zhi-Yuan return to his station’s rooftop and light an extra cigarette to honor his best friend Yi-Yang who had just died on duty. It is a touching expression that captures the never-ending reminiscing. Used to capturing reality, Director Tsai chose to convey a bit of hopefulness in the finale. In a deliberate matter, she wanted to send the message that there will always be light in life, even when we are in despair. Through the lens, she tells us time will mark its traces in life and support us to keep going, the same way these heroes will forever reside in the hearts of the audience.
It took Director Tsai three years of brainstorming and breakthroughs to finish filming Tears On Fire. She saw first-hand the bravery and courage of the firemen, but also their exhaustion and frustration. From field research to writing the script, it took her over a year of preparation. As the director and screenwriter of the show, she said the duality of her roles actually helped a lot with shooting. In the earlier stages, she visited different fire stations to do her field studies. It allowed her to understand how they interact with one another and the reality of their work culture, which she was able to integrate into her script and the scene she was building. During filming, whenever actors had their own desired way of expressing certain ideas, Director Tsai was able to decide whether or not it fit with the image of an actual firefighter. When it comes to the challenges of making the show, she said it was mainly the variety of difficult explosions and fire fighting shoots. To her, even though she was shooting a TV series, her filming method was actually more cinematic with a relatively fast-paced storytelling.
In Conversation with the Self
Maintaining a realistic perspective, Director Tsai holds onto the value of literary creativity when tackling an issue-oriented script. In the show, she repeatedly included shots that seemed controversial, in the hopes of inspiring discussion among her audience and the online community. For instance, in one of the episodes where the secretary of the city council points out that, instead of putting their budget on renewing the firemen’s walkie-talkies, spending money on the New Year’s Eve fireworks is what satisfies the public. Although it may seem like a judgment on whether politicians care more about the polls or actual change, the episode is actually a discussion about where exactly does the public’s interest lie—on the celebrities who will be attending the NYE show or on these firemen who are risking their lives? It opens up a question: are we giving the fire department enough resources to work with? These are the kind of discussions that trouble Director Tsai because they seem to be more important and yet, are being ignored and put aside.
Having graduated from National Taiwanese University with a major in social work, Director Tsai had always been following what’s happening in our society. Looking back on her past experiences working in the fields of social work and art, she realized that she is still passionate about the film and television industry. She had recently just turned in the proposal for the second season of Tears On Fire to Public Television Service and is now working on a new project on social workers and shelter services. Director Tsai also wishes that there will be more time for her to work on season two, so that she will be able to create scripts that are more in-depth and capable of inspiring necessary discussions.
Chasing the Lights
As we talk about the social media impact of Tears On Fire, we’ll realize that a lot of fans are hoping that actor Kuan-Ting Liu’s character Yi-Yang can return for season two. Obviously, the actor himself is alive and well in the real world, but the firefighters who lost their lives when they were on duty will never come back. Perhaps the way we define a good show or movie is by noticing how it changes the way we perceive the world. As our perspective becomes clearer and the scale of our viewpoint expands, we begin to realize the limitations to all judgments and standards. It will unsettle every belief and change all the things we once known as static, including the very concrete land we are now standing upon.
Necessary change does not happen within the snap of the fingers. Towards the end of our interview, Director Yin-Chuan Tsai believes that there is no rush as she points out, “Tears On Fire is the first step to letting the rights of all firefighters be noticed.” This is her aspiration and how she understands the true power of time.