Yang Li-chou always thought he would become a painter, mostly because that was what his father had always expected of him. His father had started out as a farmer, but, to make a better life for his children, moved the family to New Taipei City to work as a welder. At the same time, he encouraged his son to study painting.
While the younger Yang studied at Fu-Hsin Trade & Arts School, his father began taking him around looking for a teacher for him to apprentice under, hoping that his son would be able to fulfill his own dream. Eventually, after completing his military service, Yang Li-chou would go back to his alma mater, FJU, to teach painting. At the age of 30, though, he changed directions, heading to Tainan for graduate studies in documentary film-making.
While Yang's move into film-making didn't cause a massive rupture in the family, it did leave his father full of disappointment. In the years afterward, there was an odd distance between father and son. Yang even shot commercials for a telecommunications company about vocalizing one's love for parents, even as that was something he himself was having trouble doing.
Yang was finally able to let go of this sadness during the shooting of his latest, "Father (紅盒子)." While making this documentary, he suddenly understood that the distance between them all this time hadn't been because of a lack of love, but rather a surfeit of it. Even though it was mixed with complaints, helplessness, and a sense of imbalance, the love was still there, and he was finally able to let the rest go.
"Father" premiered in Taiwan in October 2018. The documentary took a decade to make, and is not only an exploration of the conflicted relationship between two aging national treasures, but also a showcase for how master puppeteer Chen Hsi-huang (陳錫煌) has invested his soul into his art in an attempt to bring this unique and charming art back into the everyday lives of Taiwan's people.
Yang was also commissioned to shoot a documentary reflecting the recent development of Taiwanese society for the 50th anniversary of the Golden Horse Awards. The resulting film, "The Moment (那時，此刻)," speaks to a deep understanding of cinema, cinema history, and the tides of Taiwanese history and society, telling a tale that only a narrator with an objective perspective could properly tell.
Yang said that in the process of making the film, he strove to include not only cinema history, but the history of Taiwanese society, giving the film a distinctive look. It also serves as a tribute to all the pioneers of Taiwanese cinema.
Those who choose to make documentaries, Yang believes, often have high hopes for society and aim to pass on their values through their works. For him, however, documentary film-making is more a matter of satisfying inner desires. Over his career, he has made 30 documentaries, which he feels is akin to working in 30 different lines of work, and that is precisely what he loves about documentaries.