#1324 Beginning of Tung-Yen Chou’s Gay Sauna Trilogy with “In the Mist”

Tung-Yen CHOU’s In the Mist is a 360 video that premiered at Venice during the pandemic in 2021. The synopsis of the piece is “In a dim-lighted room filled with mist, blurred figures of men are sipping the desire and loneliness from each other. You seem to have entered a forbidden zone and fallen into a state between dreaming and being awake, gazing at someone and also being gazed at by them. Theatre and new media director Chou Tung-Yen once again touches on the unspeakable life experience of the gay community culture, exploring a male sauna through poetic lenses to take a peek into something that’s hidden under the desire—the love without love.”

I had a chance to speak with Yen remotely in 2021 about his piece that actually kicked off what ended up being a trilogy series followed by a mixed reality performance called Gazing, in the Mist, and then Traversing the Mist which premiered at IDFA DocLab 2023 and is featured in the next episode. In the Mist faced some censorship from distribution platforms of Viveport and Oculus as it featured male nudity and adult themes, which made it difficult to watch alongside the other pieces that were showing during the virtual exhibition of Venice VR Expanded in 2021. We talk about the challenges of distribution, but also the process and journey of creating what ended up being the first chapter of a longer journey and poetic trilogy exploring the gay sauna culture in Taiwan.

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Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.412] Tung-Yen CHOU: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to the Voices of VR podcast. It's a podcast that looks at the future of spatial computing. You can support the podcast at patreon.com slash Voices of VR. So continuing on my series of looking at different artists over time, this is going to be a two-part series where I'm looking at Tongyin Cho and this trilogy that was starting with In the Mist, which was a 360 video that was about a gay sauna in Taiwan, premiering at the Venice VR Expanded back in 2021 when it was happening virtually. Then there was the gazing the mist which was the second version which was much more of a mixed reality version of this for 20 people at a time and then the third version was called traversing the mist which was a three-person experience where you're in this CGI realm going into a Kind of the back rooms of the gay sauna where there was more explicit sexual acts that were happening So and the first interview that I did with the end was happening back in september of 2021 during the pandemic We had this virtual conversation and he actually faced some difficulties in having this piece distributed because it was featuring male nudity in a way that neither viveport or oculus were willing to distribute it. So the main distribution channels for how Venice was distributing their content was not available for this particular piece. And so it ended up not really getting shown around all that much during the actual Venice VR expanded into all the different satellite locations. So in this series, I'll be talking about the first in the trilogy and then the last in the trilogy. So that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Yen happened on Saturday, September 4th, 2021, during the Venice VR Expanded that was happening virtually. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:01:56.030] Kent Bye: So my name is Dongyan Zhou. I'm from Taiwan, Taipei, where I'm based now. And my pronouns are he and him. and I started to work with VR actually quite a long time ago in 2011 I got in contact with a panoramic video recording system so I used that with a dancer to make a long dance film but at that time we didn't have VR goggles so it was more of a projection mapping kind of thing And then around two, three years ago, Kaohsiung Film Archive contacted me to see if I want to make a VR work. And that's where everything got started. But basically, I have a theater background where I also have been playing with videos ever since I was in college. So I kind of step on both run. Yeah.

[00:02:52.700] Tung-Yen CHOU: Yeah, maybe you could give a bit more context as to the in the mist and how this story came about for you.

[00:02:59.355] Kent Bye: Yes, so In the Mist is my first VR film It's about a steam room in the gay sauna And when Kaohsiung Film Archive proposed me to see if I want to make one I proposed them two proposals One is very physical, it's very abstract It's about choreography, like a group choreography with headset or VR goggles The other one is the gay steam sauna and they liked both so I go ahead and made in the mist and it was because for me VR is it's like playing with your mind playing with your brain and it also needs to be sensual even visceral. And once I was in a theme room in a hot spring in Taipei. It's not even a gay hot spring, but I noticed there are people sort of approaching each other in a very intimate way. and that's so real at the same time so unreal like with all the mist in front of me I feel that's exactly what I would like to capture what I would like to share with the audience and what's the center of it it's that it's not just desire it's not just sexual desire so a lot of people would assume that people who go to gay sauna would be sex addict or whatever but you know, it can really be anyone around you. And then a lot of time people who go to sauna, the deeper need is not sexual. It's emotional. And I want to capture that. So, um, that's probably how I started to make in the mist.

[00:04:55.050] Tung-Yen CHOU: Yeah, well in the mist, it feels like a little bit of like a poem, like poetry in the sense that there's no speaking and there's just a lot of embodied interactions of groups of people. So it's sort of cuts between individuals and groups and is kind of splicing the individual experience versus the group experience. And maybe you could talk a bit about that dynamic between the individual within this piece versus how there's then these group experiences and how you're cutting back and forth between those.

[00:05:25.607] Kent Bye: Yeah. So while making this work I actually did an experiment first It started during the very beginning of COVID-19 One of my theatre shows got cancelled in the National Theatre in Taichung But in Taiwan the situation wasn't so serious So the staff can go to the theatre and work and experiment But they cannot have audience So I assumed like why don't I just rent a panoramic camera and then see if it works like I don't know if this thing is gonna work and also I want to use the digital system to hold the camera to create the last thing that you saw so technically I want to do that and also I want to I just really need to see pieces that I can start to make sense of So I got something really successful and exciting And then the founder, Kaohsiung Film Archive also liked it a lot But then when I started to write the story, I got kind of stuck Because there is no beginning and there is no end I tried really hard to make it a narrative, like traditional narrative short But then one day I told myself Yen, if you are making a poem, don't try to make it sounds like a story. So then I stopped. Then I wrote a few scenes that I want to see. Like I know the set, it's a square I place the camera in several angles and I start to observe which angle can say what kind of story For example, the one that you see the door most it will tell a short story, tell a narration about entering, re-entering again and again The one that you are in the center you'll be surrounded with a group of people So I structure it visually And then in terms of individual and a group of people, it's really... So VR for me, apart from visceral, sensual, it's also intimate. And when I talk about intimate, it's also a very lonely experience. Like when you watch or experience or enjoy VR, you hardly enjoy it with your friend. I mean, even though they are multiplayer kind of experience. So loneliness has been something that I always interested in and then I also need to introduce several characters one by one and they also duplicate themselves like that's the thing I like VR the most I mean video can do that definitely but when you duplicate someone in VR or when someone can look at themselves in the sexual scene in the ecstasy kind of situation and when the whole thing can stop, I want to capture that

[00:08:26.521] Tung-Yen CHOU: Yeah, when I talked to Michelle Riak and Liz Rosenthal, you know, one of the things they said in their preview of the Venice Film Festival 2021 is that they actually had to create like a whole special section for your piece because they had trouble having the distribution platforms that they were in collaboration with, with Fiveport or Oculus, refused to distribute it because of the sexual explicit nature. And what Michelle Riak said is the moral code of the family values, it goes against their terms of service or code of conduct that they have for what type of content they're going to have on their platform. So maybe you could explain to me the moment that you heard that it was not going to be able to be distributed, but yet they wanted to show it anyway, because they thought it was important to take a stand in that way.

[00:09:13.504] Kent Bye: Well, it's really the most mixed feeling you can have as a filmmaker Like you got the letter from Venice that you are selected They even tell you that you would be in competition But because of the COVID-19 they don't have a physical venue this year They don't have the VR island this year That you will not be in the competition So as a filmmaker, that's a great pity And you are also so happy that it's gonna be in Venice. So that's the first time I heard about it. Then about the moral restriction, I think not even about VR. I think people are, we are still trying to know how to work with internet, with TikTok, with everything. And VR is something absolutely you need to be very care of. So in a way, I can understand those gigantic company, those set of rules. But funny enough, there are so many super violent content, like gaming, or in the VR chat, there are always very naked ladies, like they are barely wearing things. But then there are something that is a taboo. So, yeah, so Michelle actually set up a panel on the 8th of September. We are going to talk about it. And I think for all the festivals, especially for the first festival in the world, for the A-list festival, they are trying very hard. And then there are not that many platforms that can be so powerful and hold all this film and technology. But then I think there must be ways for films like this or experience VR works like this. There must be a way to restrict or prevent underage group to see it rather than making it in a special program. I mean, this is the best solution we found this year and I'm so grateful they even made this solution But I hope, I know in the future there will, as Michelle said, there will be more artists, more VR creative breaking the boundaries and then it's a little bit like you cannot stop a kid from doing something the parents don't want them to do, you know And art is all about that So, yeah.

[00:11:44.254] Tung-Yen CHOU: Yeah, one of the things that Michelle had said is that a lot of times that in order to produce a film, a lot of times you are thinking about how to distribute it. And if you have a piece that is of a either controversial or sexually explicit nature as In the Mist is, then it disrupts that normal distribution channels. The distribution channels for immersive storytelling or 360 videos are already not that great in terms of the different options, but the funding aspect is something that is a huge block for even making pieces like this. you know, you sent over some behind the scenes footage, which gave the impression that this was actually a really significant production with a lot of people involved and a lot of money to be able to actually fund something like this. And so maybe you could describe to me the conversations that you had with your funders and the Kaohsiung Film Archive, that they were willing to be provocative, despite the risks of not being able to have it be as widely available to be shown, that they were still willing to be able to produce it anyway.

[00:12:50.007] Kent Bye: To be honest, I don't know how to thank them enough Like when I showed them my prototype shooting They were shocked I think the head of the Kaohsiung Film Archive was shocked But then we had a meeting And then the questions were all about creativity and artistic choice rather than about moral or how would the government think, this and that I was so honored and privileged to be able to work and live in Taiwan actually Apart from feeling fortunate, I think I can share more. So as a theater maker, because making theater and touring theater is so difficult, it's quite difficult. And I've been working on several international collaborations. So there are never the idea of distributing. It's more like, you know, you go to a festival and then you go to the next one and then maybe it will stop. And then you always need to have a big funding for the theater to physically be able to present there But I just need to be honest I didn't know much about distribution I only know what I want to film and what I want to share And I think Gaosheng Film Archive were kind of in line with me like They just want to push the boundary and then support artists to fulfill, to create what they see in their mind. They are still making other very abstract projects. Yes, so that's simply amazing.

[00:14:36.140] Tung-Yen CHOU: Yeah, so in going to the film festivals over the last number of years, I've seen actually a lot of work from Taiwan, 360 video and some other CGI work. So there seems to be some other efforts, either more of a governmental or countrywide efforts to support and innovate in 360 video, which I think is really quite interesting. I don't know if you have any other further comments in terms of the community of immersive 360 video and virtual reality storytellers that have been supported and emerging there in Taiwan.

[00:15:08.710] Kent Bye: Yeah, I think recent two years, especially in all these forums, in a new image festival in Paris or even several panels in Venice and in We've been told that Taiwan has a very good ecosystem for XR. And then it's not only because some of the components, the hardware is made here, but the government is also putting huge support in it. So they are not just one single console who is doing it, but we have an institution called Taica, which is like a Taiwanese, sorry, I don't know the full name, but Taica has several programs that support immersive content and especially international collaboration. And then Kaohsiung Film Archive has been doing it five years ago So also the Ministry of Culture supports art using technology for more than 10 years So they are projects with the laptop on your back kind of VR experience I think I started to see that in Taiwan around 2016 So that was very very early And then You know, I think like everywhere in the world People, especially business people Had a mirage of VR Like 3D printing, like everything Like 5G is coming, it's gonna change our world And then the mirage vanished But then slowly it's growing And slowly we start to see work that touches us And I think that's where, when people are not only thinking about money, or gaming, or even pure pornography, when all these games and porn didn't work on VR, I think there's a place for art to grow there in the realm of virtuality. When I think about VR, I just want to experience something that I can never experience anywhere else So only very recently, I went to a museum of art and reality to see the XR3 of Trebek Haakon and the new image thing I'm quite late on that But then I realized there are so many experiences I can do. As a theater maker, I did a project in Groningen, in the Netherlands. I had a gigantic three meter high silver bowl on the stage. But then in VR, it can be 30 meters, right? It can be huge. And then there can be different kind of interaction of the performer and the audience. So I'm definitely gonna continue try to explore this.

[00:18:01.670] Tung-Yen CHOU: So one of the things that I find really interesting about virtual reality as a medium is that it's able to capture different aspects of a culture that it takes me into another world that I otherwise wouldn't able to have access to different behaviors that happen within groups. kind of a spatial anthropology is one way to think about it, the ways that you're studying the human behaviors. And you did a documentary leading up to this a number of years ago called Looking For. Well, maybe you can describe to me the Looking For as a documentary and maybe some of the themes that you were discovering there that maybe are a continuation into exploring the similar aspects of gay culture within In The Mist.

[00:18:45.016] Kent Bye: Yeah, so actually this connects to how fortunate I am to be a creator, be an artist in Taiwan. There are so many queer artists and queer filmmakers, writers in Taiwan who influence me so much so that I think one day I can also create and share my own story. you know for example looking for is basically a question that this dating app or hooking up app you name it it's just to be very quick to check are you looking for sex or you are more looking for a long-term relationship or you know to be quick so it's a quick short question but when i first got asked this question i thought they are asking me what i'm looking for in my life I thought they are so philosophical I was so naive I think I was in Paris I was doing an art residency there So that's the starting point But then, back then the smartphone wasn't there So when I started to use smartphone and then when I started to download Grindr I started to explore a new garden that I've never been to And I got really confused So my artwork, my work my creation are normally responding or discovering myself or share my question with the others. Like, what's your experience of using the dating app? And most importantly, what is intimacy? What is love? And what is loneliness? I think it's on our phone every day. It can be in a steam room. It can be in a park. It can be in your own bedroom. And that's really my main focus on creating work But work that touch upon queer intimacy is just one threat of my practice There are also other threat that is not so directly talking about LGBTQI plus topics

[00:20:54.829] Tung-Yen CHOU: Yeah, and so maybe we could talk a little bit about In The Mist and how you sort of describe it to people. Because, you know, as I'm watching it, I've watched it a couple of times. The first time, I think it was very visually arresting in terms of, you know, I've never been to a gay sauna before. And, you know, there's been pieces, actually, there was a piece that Michelle Riak had done back at Sundance 2016 that was exploring different aspects of sexual orgies within VR. It's like almost being taken into a place that I imagine what if I was here at the situation, I would have a much different embodied experience if I was actually there. But being taken there within 360 video is something that brings up a lot of different feelings of you know, like you said, when they first saw the first cut of the Kaohsiung film archive, there's a little bit of being shocked. And so there's a sort of a shocking nature, but also, you know, watching it the second time, I was able to pay attention more to the arcs of the subtle nuance of loneliness and what you described as the love without love. So people that are really seeking for that connection. And so there's a lot of things that are happening at other layers. I think that's maybe part of the point, is that when you're in these scenes and situations, that there's many different stories, many things happening all at once, and VR is able to capture that complexity, but also at the same time, because it's like a poem, it's really up into interpretation for where people are coming in. So I imagine that some people would watch a piece like this and say, oh, this is just like a really well produced piece of pornography versus the more artistic story that you're trying to communicate. It may take a number of times or hearing you unpack it a little bit more as to the deeper stories that you're trying to communicate here.

[00:22:39.572] Kent Bye: Yeah, I think I would still take it as a compliment if people think it of a very well made, like high quality, high definition 360 pornography. I think that's still very good. But for people who can also see and experience more, there are so many things that I secretly encode in it. if you expect to see something very sexual and hot you'll be kind of disappointed I think and if you are not prepared at all you'll be a bit shocked and normally I don't know how to share with audience really because it's coming back to Taipei Film Festival and then so there will be actually you know teachers of mine and a lot of people is gonna go in to see it and then I'll just let them share what they thought with me but uh you know as a theater person I use improvisation a lot and improvisation in the art is so ridiculously expensive because every second is a lot of money but then I still try that I told one of my performers to see if he has a suit And I asked if he can bring it to the set And then he said, okay And at some point during our filming I was like, can you put on a suit? And I gave him the torchlight And then my point is to find the absurdity or this intruder This intruder can be the audience or can be anyone who is afraid of facing something Who is eager to see something So that's where the suit guy comes from to tell the truth It's like a spoiler kind of thing here And then there is this guy that looks at you That gazes at you I think gazing is what I find the most interesting thing And also the hardest thing in VR, a lot of time in some VR 360 film work, when actor and when performer look at you and act towards you as if you are someone, as if you are their friend or if you are a character, I always feel very pulled off, like, come on, I'm not that guy, don't talk to me. And you're acting. But I really liked when one of my characters looked into the camera but didn't say anything, just staring at you. And then I think that's the moment where the mind game starts. Am I here? Can he see me? No, he cannot see me. I know he cannot see me, but what is he doing? So that's one thing I'd like to share. And then from the very beginning, One of my obsession is box like as a kid I collect all kind of box like lunch box when I go to the states I will get one lunch box I put all my stuff there and then I study theater so instead of thinking in frame in composition I normally think in a box so for me VR is very natural And I love deconstructing the box as well. So in some of my other dance video work, there are few panels on the stage that they will merge into a box and then they will transfer into different shapes. So for me, the opening of the box is one of the only thing, one of the key element that I know I want to have. And it's one of the key element that I tried during the tryout. but then changing the perspective is something else because during the tryout whenever I show people my tryout demo people will always need to put their head down so much that I don't think they feel very comfortable and then I asked the editor if she can bring the floor up to your eye level and then she miraculously did it and then In the end, when the box opens, originally I want it to be like the cops are here, so lights on, everything cut off, no music, that kind of club inspection situation. So I did that during my tryout And I think that didn't work So I started to have a more poetic approach Even though most of the performers, they were amateur But then we had one morning of workshop for them to walk To, you know, one time At this moment, you are so erotically doing this and that And then the space changed and then you leave your situation I think that's my interpretation of intimacy, of love, of desire It's quite clear to me People say what happened to the guy in the end And funny enough I got a chance to make a short film again sponsored by Kaohsiung Film Archive It's this time is a very very small budget and also a pop-up kind of experimental thing and I told them I would like to go to a real sauna to make a short film And then I just finished the filming like three days ago And I would love to show you it's called Kiss It's about people cannot touch each other in the future time or even now Like now you better not touch or in contact with the other You need to have your mask on To have a kiss is so hard To have a kiss with a stranger was kind of possible, right? Two years ago But now you better not do that So I kind of made a side story short film about it and I'm still brewing all different kinds of possibilities. There's an art festival in Taipei that's inviting In The Mist to have a hybrid version, like VR, then a live experience. And I'm still wondering what that live experience will be.

[00:29:22.728] Tung-Yen CHOU: Oh, interesting. Yeah. Cause I haven't seen a lot of pieces like this as we were talking before, in terms of the high production quality version of a lot of people, very theatrical at the end, you're talking about like a big crane shot, lifting up a camera and deconstructing a space. And there's a lot of really interesting things going on there in terms of the spatial storytelling language of VR. and being able to interpret what everything means or why you're doing this or that, or what kind of messages are being communicated. I really appreciate that level of experimentation that's happening. In immersive theater, there's a lot of dance. So with Sleep No More or Then She Fell, there's a lot of communication of trying to tell a story without using any words, just using your body. So the relational and embodied interactions that are happening between the characters, there was a phrase that you said that I think was really striking, which is love without love. Maybe elaborate on that concept of love without love, because that seemed to be a theme that was being explored here.

[00:30:26.408] Kent Bye: The past few years Taiwan and the whole world has been fighting for marriage equality and queer rights and then Taiwan is the first country in Asia to have marriage equality back in 2019 By doing this Australia has a referendum and then a lot of time we need to sanitize love We need to advocate love is love Love is the same. And I appreciate that. I definitely agree with that. But I also want to depict some kind of love that is not what you would like to see in a romantic TV drama. There are tenderness in the random hooking up situation. You can probably share your deepest fear, your personal story in this dark room with a stranger. you can share something you wouldn't share with your friend. And that's something I find very interesting. So because of all this advocation of equality love, all these very positive aspects people want to look into, and then sharing this, I thought, I personally feel some kind of love when I'm in this kind of situation. And I want to share that too. I don't just want to see people who fall in love in a romantic restaurant or in a coffee shop. There's one influence that I can share. It's from the Venice VR College. I need to look up the name of the work, but it's about a disabled teenage girl who wants to look for hookup. And it's so hard for her to look for hookup. And then you start all this journey. And then this disabled girl is actually not very stereotypical. she's kind of punkish and then also angry kids talk to her mom in a very teenager way but then finally she found someone a teenager boy and then in the very last scene they lie on the bed and somehow they are kind of naked i don't remember how naked they are but i just remember i was sitting beside their beds there are two lying beside me No, no, no, like I look at them, they are so close to me It's not filming a very high quality But the story is so good They lie beside each other and then they realize they cannot make it And somehow you know that the boy is not into girl And then this disabled girl start to say it's okay She start to comfort, like to say it's okay to the boy And then to look at these two pale, young body lying there doing nothing, but understanding and share a kind of empathy. That's a very big influence of this film, of In the Mist, actually.

[00:33:46.918] Tung-Yen CHOU: Yeah, I think that was four feet high that you're referring to there.

[00:33:50.639] Kent Bye: Yeah, yeah. Please do share that with the podcast listener.

[00:33:56.138] Tung-Yen CHOU: Yeah, I, uh, I saw four feet high at Sundance a couple of years ago and they actually expanded it out and did a whole like four episode series that premiered at Sundance 2021. And I have some interviews with them from the first time for first episode and also some unpublished ones with the second series. But yeah, you were talking a lot about your own experiences in these different types of situations. And you had mentioned earlier the feeling of the end of this breaking up or people dispersing, or there's a sense of like, this may be kind of an underground type of situation. Maybe you could just share that larger context and then your own journey or experiences within these types of situations.

[00:34:36.817] Kent Bye: Yeah, what's so interesting about it is I have only been to Sona once Like literally, like real going into it two weeks before filming In the Mist Like I went once when I was in Australia with an Australian director that I worked with on a Monday night so it was an empty night and it was even an under 30 night that I had to make a fake ID so that I'm under 30 like I'm 40 now so anyway I went to a sauna in Australia but I didn't notice anything so for me in the midst is not real at all it's not a realistic depiction of what Sona should be and what Sona is about it's kind of real but it's also not real no one will walk in with a suit and all that and the time will not stop so i only went there once like i told myself come on i must go there once before i film it so i'll get more idea So that's to share that it's really not so much from my personal experience, but more from my documentary, my community theater work, virtual intimacy. So, yeah.

[00:36:04.702] Tung-Yen CHOU: Okay. Yeah. So I guess it's sort of a, an imaginal space of the different types of situations. You said it's from the imagination. It's not real in the sense of documentary, but I'm just wondering if there's aspects of these different types of situations or scenarios that you would like to see exist in the future.

[00:36:23.129] Kent Bye: yeah okay so when i say it's imagination it's also not so imagined it's still a steam room the steam room is quite realistic it's what's happening inside and the film how we film it how we edited it make it not surreal and also the surreal character. What I can share is that during the rush hour, when it's very crowded, it's just super crowded. It's more crowded than what I filmed. yes and also originally i want to film they are normally small room dark rooms like a lot of small room that people walks and cruise and then go into a room and then do this and that and originally i also want to film that we actually build a set in the theater But it didn't quite work. I didn't have enough time to film that So I want to bring two very important references One is a short article by a writer called Li Tonghao It's an article that he published like almost 18 years ago influenced me a lot It's really short. It's about a guy who returns to Sona, who said he'll never go to Sona again but return to Sona. And then about seeing old men in a Sona, they are like old trees that deeply rooted in the dark Sona. That visual is very important for me because I can feel that sometimes when I interview people about their Sona experience, one guy actually told me that he will go to Sona and he will let an elder guy touch him to let them feel better. And for me, that's love without love. That's a great gesture to do. Also, there's an elder guy in the mist And the other work that I want to share will be River by Tsai Ming-liang Made in 1997 or ish And I think he won the Berlin Silver Bear Prize It's actually about a father and son encounter in a sauna it's so edgy now that we look at it back then and it was also governmental supported can you imagine so he actually filmed a corridor that the protagonist just go in goes very very slowly it's a bit like space odyssey but in a sauna and there are all these men with towels on their body these two works influenced my interpretation of Sona a lot.

[00:39:21.202] Tung-Yen CHOU: Yeah. As I watched through the piece, both times, the thing that struck out was the lighting that you have is very dramatic. It's coming from very specific points and very theatrical in some ways, but also very surreal. Like I'm not in very many situations that have that intense of directive lighting. And so maybe you could talk about the lighting choices that you have and what you were trying to communicate with the lighting and how this whole space was lit.

[00:39:47.520] Kent Bye: Yeah. I have obsession with shadow with all different shades of shadow so that having a big window in this sonar room was a must for me because in certain sonar steam room there's no window one of my assistant director told me that it's not very common to have a window there but I just say I would need one and That window serves as a frame for these people to look outside And also sometimes when the lighting is right They will see reflection of themselves There's a scene where there's a young guy Who look at the window reflection and slap himself It's not that I wrote it It's during the casting session He told me his experience He said he would go there again and again and sometimes he would just go to the toilet and stop, slap himself. And then I asked him if it's okay that he performed that in the film. So he did. And there's these protagonists also go behind him and then sort of be not directly taking care of him, but be there behind him, like kind of understanding him, understanding what he is doing. Only with the window, it's possible to make some light with a direction. And also the studio that we work with, Phoenix Studio, they are super amazing. like the ceiling actually has a big hole for more light to come in and then you don't see that because it's covered so all the lights from the door is very important i really like to see shadow for example when the people is approaching the door you start to see a shadow of a man first then you see him and i think that's very interesting

[00:41:58.055] Tung-Yen CHOU: Yeah, I'm just curious to hear what this experience was for the actors that were in this piece, because you said a lot of them weren't professional actors. And so what was it like for them to be on this theatrical stage, but also to be interacting in these intimate ways with these other actors?

[00:42:16.672] Kent Bye: I think making this film 10 years ago will be very hard. even if we have the same kind of VR technology the mentality is very different I don't know if you or any of the listener audience know but the self-made homemade sex video is gigantic it's more than ever because everybody has a smartphone and then this amateur sex video are also profitable so actually exposing one's own body with Instagram or with all that people are more comfortable with it than ever so when we were looking for performer we were looking for people who already have experience who feel confident of showing their body sexually in front of camera and so to me that's even also a little bit reflecting this time because 25 years ago when you are filming a sauna scene you never see a dick everything is under a towel and I was also referencing a French film called Theo and Hugo which the first 20 minutes is in the gay orgy club so there was also my reference of like if I'm doing this how do I do this and that and their experience I can say that they are very professional because it's a very long day and our shots are not very long I think the longest shot is probably 2-3 minutes So it's a lot of on and off for men but they are just very talented if I must say But one thing I can share that one performer who came to see the VR film when it premiered in Kaohsiung When he exit, he actually cried very hard for a long time Because he was watching the film He was looking at someone on his back And he saw someone so miserable Like craving for the other's body So he was having pity for a character in the work But then he realized that's himself So when he finished the film and put off the goggle He had a very emotional impact on himself

[00:44:51.158] Tung-Yen CHOU: Yeah. Oh, that's interesting. Yeah. So it sounds like a lot of the actors were able to actually see it then at the premiere there.

[00:45:00.041] Kent Bye: Some of them managed to, and in some of them we had a small gallery using Oculus. Yeah. The premier was in a HTC Vive with 8K. Yeah.

[00:45:11.825] Tung-Yen CHOU: Okay. Great. So, uh, for you, what type of other things do you want to experience within VR or things that you want to make in VR?

[00:45:21.955] Kent Bye: There are so many things I want to make in VR. You know, I shared with you that 10 years ago, I encountered this panoramic video camera that Google used to use it to make Google Street Map that I so naively and so bravely take it to make a dance film. And during my tryout of In The Mist, I was also filming a dance piece. and recently I'm editing it and I realized there can be a strange dialogue of 10 years like the dancer is 10 years older and the film footage is like VHS quality but also panoramic and also it's much better quality now and the dance work is called Empty Memories It was inspired by a poem by Garcia Loca, Federico Garcia Loca, and I'm doing that. And also, I'm doing some interactive VR, where I want to translate my work with the Dutch group, VEK. The work is called Facing City. Originally, we are going to perform last year in Norderstown Festival. But we cannot even this year So I feel that it would be great if I can translate that into an interactive situation Yeah, like a guy in a space that jumps into a different space That's one thing And so I'm developing two projects And recently I saw a film I believe you also saw it called Ament immense it's basically about a kid playing these bricks with his mom with his or her mom and then it's a kid's toy that the kids play with mom and then the toy become an important narrative tool like at some point you notice that you are the kids and then you are becoming a teenager because your surroundings becoming different and you are taller and then you still have all this toy on your hand and you don't know what to do and I start to play with the toy like come on continue and then I start to throw these bricks away and then the space start to break so the more I throw away the space just vanish and totally turn into pieces And that's the moment I find some kind of language Some kind of interactivity in line with the narration so well As a teenager, you feel frustrated, you feel angry You just want to throw at things and your world collapses Because of what's happening in the story Because the mom is not functional very well And that's very touching I want to make something like that. I want to make their interactivity deeply, tightly joined with the narration, the emotion of the user.

[00:48:44.038] Tung-Yen CHOU: Nice. And finally, what do you think the ultimate potential of virtual reality and immersive storytelling might be and what it might be able to enable?

[00:48:58.575] Kent Bye: I was in several foreign in a new image festival I was also in this networking industrial meeting I must confess that everybody is still having a great confidence in VR or virtuality future Having said that, it sounds like I'm skeptical about it No, I truly love my experience in it But in terms of talking about its future, I would like to imagine that it's like going to a theater. You go there once or twice a month. If you are a theater goer, you go there a lot. But I don't necessarily want to see people wearing a goggle every day. And yeah. Yeah, that's my imagination for the future. like in a way I'm not so confident because back to the distribution and back to the finance it's so expensive and so little people can see it so in order to keep it going everybody must hold on to the dream like the American dream but maybe it's too much to hold on to it Maybe it's okay. That's what I say. That's where art can come in. Art can grow in it. It doesn't need to be always like a 10,000 user on it. Like that's my approach to it. That's how I like to think of it.

[00:50:43.909] Tung-Yen CHOU: Yeah. And is there anything else that's left and said that you'd like to say to the broader immersive community?

[00:50:50.483] Kent Bye: So there's one thing I noticed that the Venice Film Festival VR Expanded Session have these satellite venues and then they should cover all the programs But I realized there are some of them are not covering in the midst So again, it shows the distribution problem It shows in Amsterdam in the Eye Museum, in Paris, in Grenoble But when I look into Barcelona or even far in Canada, in Montreal, they are not doing it. And of course, they are not doing it in China. I'm not too surprised. But you can imagine, even in the physical space, because of many things, how much you are ready to prepare your audience or to work with a film. because they have all different systems some of them you just buy a set of time like you have 60 minutes to watch the Venice selection so maybe the age can be a problem and I'm just surprised that even in the satellite venues they are also neglecting in the mist for technical reason or for other reason that I don't know. But, uh, one really good thing is that I can share on the podcast that it's going to other festival in Europe and also in North America. So, yeah.

[00:52:18.555] Tung-Yen CHOU: Okay. That's good to know. And have you thought about like something like web XR or being able to distribute this over the internet? Like, you know, a lot of the more sexually explicit content for virtual reality, there are these websites that are out there and there's There's Oculus browser and being able to watch some of these beyond the existing distribution channels. So it seems like pieces like this could help to create more of a robust distribution network or at least independent sites where if you did want to get it out there, that could potentially be an option in the future. I'm not sure if you've explored that at all.

[00:52:50.637] Kent Bye: Yeah at the moment I'm doing the first year festival run so I think about that later on but for me to have it when it's aligned with a lot of the other sexual content this film will not stand out but be a weird kid in the group so I would really imagine that it would be more ideal that it's invited by a museum so there's a small section that people can go to the museum. Because in Kaohsiung, we actually build a set for the audience to watch the VR in the set. So they sit down in front of the window, they put a goggle on, and then when they turn off the goggle, they will be in the mist that we create. and there's also a little locker outside the room that you can put your stuff there and you'll get a little tower so the experience is kind of well I would not say important but it's how we carefully curated it and then I would definitely think about ways to distribute it widely later on who knows maybe some very artistic souls that goes to the website to see sexual stuff and then notice come on what is this maybe that's a chance yeah

[00:54:18.880] Tung-Yen CHOU: Okay. Awesome. Well, thanks so much for joining me here on the podcast and being able to dive into the, in the midst a little bit more and unpacking it and your journey and creating it and unpacking the poetry, I guess a little bit. And yeah, I look forward to seeing where this piece goes out in the wide world, but also where your own journey goes and exploring different aspects of VR. So thanks again for joining me on the podcast to be able to talk about everything. Thank you. So that was Tang Yen Cho and this piece was called In the Mist, which was a 360 video exploring the scene of a gay sauna in Taiwan. So I've a number of different takeaways about this interview is that first of all well this is a very poetic piece and it's also a piece that has inspired lots of different people within the context of Taiwan because Taiwan is really this hotbed of innovation when it comes to pushing for the different structures and forms of immersive storytelling specifically with 360 video but also with CGI pieces as well and So lots of really amazing work that's coming out of Taiwan that I usually come across at least a couple of pieces throughout the course of the year at all the different film festivals that I end up going to. And so this was premiering at Venice VR Expanded, but like I mentioned at the top, it was actually censored in a way that was not distributed. This is something that Liz Rosenthal and Michel Riak had expanded upon within their initial launching of The Menisciure Expanded, commenting on this type of moral policing and censorship that was happening, that usually these festivals are supposed to be a place for artists to push the edge and the boundaries. And this is an experience that Yen had gone to Asana and had this experience where it felt like this virtual experience that he had and that he wanted to recreate this tension to have eye contact with other people where he mentioned that having people talk to you within VR was breaking presence because you know that they're not actually talking to you but With the different gazes and more of a passive non-verbal body language that they may be giving to you It can somehow become much more realistic when you're in the context of these VR experiences because there's no expectation for other ways that you can really communicate back so Yeah, just a really high production value piece and very poetic as well And it also led to a whole trilogy where he went from this to do gazing the mist and then traversing the mist Which was just premiering at November of 2023 at if a doc lab, which I'll be diving into much more detail in the next episode So, that's all I have for today, and I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoy the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a listensupported podcast, and so I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue bringing this coverage. So you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. Thanks for listening.

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