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U.S. dark comedy set in Taiwan probes topic of death

2012/04/21 21:35:38

Taipei, April 21 (CNA) "The Taiwan Oyster," a dark comedy by American director Mark Jarrett, presents an unusual mix of West and East as it portrays an existential quest by two Americans along the coastlines of Taiwan.

Recently screened at the Urban Nomad film festival in Taipei, the road movie is about the quixotic journey of two expat kindergarten teachers, Simon and Darin, down the east coast of Taiwan to bury a recently deceased fellow countryman they hardly know after stealing his corpse from a mortuary.

During their trip, they encounter welcoming families, violent gangsters, other expats and a Taiwanese woman, Nikita, who joins their quest after accidentally helping them steal the corpse, while contemplating their own feelings about death.

Jarrett, 36, who works as a location manager and producer in the film industry in Texas, told CNA in a recent interview that the idea of shooting a road movie came to mind when his film team tried to think about a story they could do on a low budget.

"Then we thought: Why not a road movie in Taiwan, because the mixing of cultures could be an interesting theme," said Jarret, who was a kindergarten English teacher in Taiwan from 1999 until 2001.

He said the idea of carrying a body around was inspired by American author William Faulkner's novel "As I Lay Dying," but also based on his own experience.

"One thing that interested me when I lived over here (Taiwan) is how foreigners come here and you don't know their families or anything about them," he said.

"And what would happen if somebody were to pass away, and you had to get their bodies back to their families? Or if they didn't have a family, what happens? That was something that was intriguing to me."

He said he also drew inspiration for the movie from the experiences of other expats.

In the film, Simon and Darin carry their countryman's body in a refrigerator in the back of their car while searching for an ideal burial place.

"The refrigerator came from one of our producers whose dad lived here in the 1970s and an American died upstairs in his apartment and they didn't know what to do with the body, so they just put it in a refrigerator," said Jarrett.

However, the idea of focusing on death as a central theme came from his own experience of losing two cousins, who died at the ages of 15 and 25, respectively, which he said had a big impact on his family.

"Tragedy happens and people die before their time. We want a lot of those feelings to be a part of this film," he said. "Having a body in the back of a truck. It's there all the time. Death is there all the time."

Besides the death of his cousin, an earthquake that killed over 2,400 people in Taiwan when Jarrett was in the country also shaped his view of death.

"Since experiencing the 7.8-magnitude earthquake there early in the morning on Sept. 21, 1999, Taiwan has been tattooed on my psyche. For years it served as my band camp, boot camp and romantic Neverland," Jarrett said in a statement on the film's official website.

However, even though it was a tragedy, the earthquake also pulled him closer to the local people.

"Because everybody was scared and was living in the park, friendships were formed. Time was almost intensified because you couldn't do anything," he said.

Regarding the main theme of the film, the director said that"it's a contemplation on place and understanding yourself a little bit. Like where is your place. Is it with your family, or maybe it's on the other side of the world."

The film will receive an extra screening at the Urban Nomad Film Festival the following day at the Huashan 1914 Creative Park.

(By Christie Chen)