"HUNDRED MEN WIVES"
Interview with Various Broken Trail's Cast Members
VALERIE TIAN: There's a scene in part one of 'Broken Trail', where for a brief moment, the Chinese girls get to escape from their fears by looking upat the moon.In Chinese culture, the moon has long been associated with home and family reunion. These girls feel they only have one other now because they are the only things unforeign to each other. They just want to go back to familiarity.
JADYN WONG: The reality of the conditions the girls had to endure really hit me in the scene when we were riding into town with Tom and Heck, who had hopes of leaving us at some sort of haven. I scanned the environment, the faces of the townspeople, and I could feel my body reacting then I just broke down. The foreign land, the disgust and hate for these girls - it was a realization. Yes, everything was manufactured with the set, costumes, actors, but I am portraying the lives of many girls during this time in history.
YEO: When Robert Duvall is numbering
us in that wagon scene--I am trying to protect these young girls and I
think he's coming to harm us--how poignant, the relief and comfort I felt
that he was not going to hurt us, but simply identifying us - the relief
and comfort of being a number. When we shot that scene--Duvall and I shared
an incredible moment... me thinking one way that wasn't even written in
the script...but I found that moment... Mr. Duvall saw what I was thinking
and fed right into it so at the end of the scene, I was weeping. After
we shot the scene, he came over and said "Beautiful work. Don't change
a thing, Sun Foy." I went home that evening and wept. I felt such
joy in having the experience to work with such a remarkable actor as he...someone
who could see right to my heart and reveal his own right back.
OLIVIA CHENG: That’s a tough question to answer. I think that will vary for the audience. Hopefully they become emotionally attached to all of Broken Trail’s protagonists because then every scene will be poignant.
US ASIANS: Is there a picture/scene that accurately describes your impression of the project and/or your character’s role in the film? (If available, could you send us the picture to post within this interview)
GWENDOLINE YEO: In that goodbye scene I referenced--Sun Foy takes a private moment to herself...at the end of her journey, in western clothing, but with an eastern heart, has to decide between responsibility for others and go to San Francisco, or responsibility to herself and choose the man she loves (picture 2)
And picture 1:
"Int. Dark Room--Chinatown--San Francisco--1897--Day.
Sun Foy, 20s, sits on the wooden floor, her back against the wall, her form etched in shaft of light from a high window. Her upright bearing and stoic expression suggest that she refuses to be humiliated by these humiliating circumstances...
The on set photographer took this photo and my jaw dropped to the floor. From when I read the script --- through all the revisions-- the opening remained true to what I had envisioned in my mind, and it was brought to life by this photo.
OLIVIA CHENG: I think people need to ask themselves what they would do if their lives were reduced to daily beatings and emotional torture for the sole purpose of being conditioned for a life of sexual bondage. These girls were sold by their own families in China in order to survive crushing poverty. If the girls were lucky enough (or unlucky enough) to survive being caged in their own filth for the journey to America they were then sold like animals on the docks of San Francisco or in dingy underground rooms in Chinatown basements. These girls were stripped of their humanity in every possible way. The most attractive girls were sold as concubines and mistresses to wealthy Chinese merchants. They were the fortunate ones, relatively speaking. The next tier of girls ended up working in high end brothels while the majority of the unfortunate were shipped to Midwest mining camps or kept in San Francisco to work out of dirty little rooms called cribs. The women were beaten, starved and threatened into submission. If they didn’t meet a monetary quota every day or couldn’t perform their duties because of menstruation or pregnancy they received further physical and mental punishment. And remember, these women were exploited by their own people just as much as they were by members of the greater community. Can you imagine the damage that does to one’s soul?
Adding to their shame was the cultural belief that a woman’s worth was determined by her purity, in other words, her virginity. At that time, Chinese women who were raped and didn’t kill themselves were considered an affront to society. These women were shamed and ostracized on so many levels. I’m saddened yet compassionate to the fact that many of them chose suicide.
You also made reference to my personal experience with depression. I was 23 when I was diagnosed with severe clinical depression yet I refused treatment for months because I couldn’t get past the stigma of being labeled mentally ill. At the time I was a hard news reporter for Global Television in Edmonton. It wasn’t until my coworkers found me passed out and frozen to the ground in our parking lot one winter morning that I finally got help. I was deeply ashamed to be fighting an illness in which I had no tangible evidence to show for it. It was literally all in my head and I was so overwhelmed at the idea of getting through another day. I was so tired of fighting what I didn’t understand and couldn’t see. I was extremely fortunate though because a lot of people around me refused to let me give up on myself. You really find out who your friends are when you’re on the verge of losing everything. I eventually wrote about the experience to educate other youth and the piece was picked up by newspapers across Canada which is what resulted in recognition from the Canadian Mental Health Society.
As hard as the depression was on me, and those around me, I know the experience is what helped me play Ye Fung in Broken Trail. In my first meeting with director Walter Hill he told me he could sense a deep sadness and sensitivity in me and asked me where it came from. I had a certain way of moving, and seeing the world when I was depressed. I don’t know how to describe it. Everything was slower and surreal. I always felt 3 steps behind everyone else and had a hard time focusing on anything in front of me. It was easy for me to remember that feeling for Ye Fung. By the time you meet her, she’s so traumatized by what’s happening that she’s always trying to hide. In finding her movements I remembered how I hid behind a dumpster at one point because I couldn’t stop crying and didn’t want anyone to see me. Strong emotions reduce you to a primal state. You don’t forget what it does to you.