Note: In early July 2016, a long awaited animated film “Big Fish & Begonia” hit theatres and eventually became a success. This article is adapted from interviews with Liang Xuan who acts as the screenwriter and one of the directors of the film “Big Fish & Begonia”. Through Liang’s own recount, what the article wish to present to the reader is one about love, dedication and persistence. Just like what Liang said “Faith and love was behind the completion of the film which will encourage everyone to pursue what they always wanted to do.”
Liang Xuan said, “Our dream is to do an animated film one which deeply touches people’s hearts, one which brings love and faith for the young audience.” In September of 2003, scoring 3 points in Calculus and 23 points in Linear Algebra, Liang Xuan dropped out from the Department of Thermal Engineering at Tsinghua University. “I’ll probably never use the Math that I’ve learnt.”
This young man was more interested with his own passions. He was prepared to do what he loves. After just a week of dropping out from Tsinghua, Liang Xuan wanted to try to get into the Directing Department at Beijing Film Academy. However, he failed and after failing for the second time at the end of 2004, he entered into many short film competitions with his friend Zhang Chun who graduated from the Academy of Arts and Design at Tsinghua University. They always took home the Gold Medal and the bonus they needed. In May 2004, in a Flash Ad competition, the idea for Big Fish & Begonia was born. Its origin came from Liang Xuan’s dream, “In my dream, a fish grew until it realized that it doesn’t belong in the sea but up in the sky.”
Liang Xuan drew upon this inspiration and caused a sensation on the Internet with his Big Fish & Begonia. Then, after the creation-oriented tours to Fujian province, Liang decided to use the Hakka Earth Building Complex (the old residence of the Hakkas lived in Fujian) as an iconic setting. He also gave his male character the same persimmon that he was given by an old grandmother whilst travelling in Fujian. In November 2008, after overcoming many huddles, Liang Xuan and Zhang Chun decided to transform Big Fish & Begonia into a film. Thus in March 2005, the two established B&T (Breath & Tidus: named after Liang and Zhang).
The problem that faced B&T like every start-up is financial support. In order to keep the company going, Liang took on other projects. It wasn’t until the end of 2007 that after obtaining support from investors did Liang Xuan and Zhang Chun really began to dive into the production of their Big Fish & Begonia.
From the start of 2004 to the completion of the script, Liang spent three years on it. Liang said: “Write it to the point that I’m happy with it and that even I feel touched is a very hard and painful thing to do.” He wrote in his blog, “I didn’t use a pen to write this story but my tears. I was lost in my own memories and I can’t find a way back.” He spent all his time reading and watching movies. What he wanted was to find that spirit. Liang wanted to find like-minded people who are also willing and interested to join into the Big Fish & Begonia team.
Since then, the demos of the film took most awards in the domestic animation arena and also participated in Mipcom at the Cannes Film Festival. It was selected as a special exhibition as part of the “50 Outstanding Asian Animes” French Pompidou Center for Contemporary Art. Liang, who failed twice to get into the Beijing Film Academy, was awarded the “Best New Director Award” at the Fourth Beijing Film Academy Award Ceremony. At the same time, Liang united with the PNA founders in France and became a co-producer, which helped to make his film to become available in French, English, Japanese and many others. B&T also founded BOBO & TOTO cartoon merchandise, which was authorized in June 2010 and has since been popular and successful.
Due to the popularity of its Anime Demo, a film version of Big Fish & Begonia was always on hold. On June 4th of 2013, Liang Xuan announced on his Weibo that the reason behind the delay is due to a lack of funds. Within a month, they received 1.58 million RMB through crowd funding. These came from the support of some 4,000 netizens. In the end, all of their names appeared in the movie credit.
Finally in 2016, with the official release of Big Fish & Begonia, the film drew great attention from the media circle and audience. Despite the controversy surrounding the film, Liang’s view is this – “ Now that our film is in theatres, the birth of it is really a story of being guarded and a story of guardianship. So we are also the guardians of Big Fish & Begonia…..for me, whether it is the film itself or the story behind it, as long as it can inspire the audience and allow them to see faith and courage, then that is all we want to see.”