Two real-life events that took place in China during the past decade inspired the short film August 15th. Both involved women being raped, one in a train and the other in a bus, while a crowd of people stood by and did nothing to intervene.
“The first motivation is truly pure anger,” said filmmaker Xuan Jiang of why she decided to tell the story of one such victim (Meng Tinyi) taking revenge. “I kept thinking, how can that really happen? How can a group of people when they’re together just purely become an audience and be so silent?”
A native of Beijing, Jiang earned her degree in advertising studies from the Beijing Broadcasting Institute (now called the Communication University of China). While working for three years in television programming, she began to write and shoot videos on the side. “I remember the first short idea came when I was in Beijing,” said Jiang. “I thought about a person waking up one day and realizing he had become deaf. People talk to him exactly the same way at work, and his girlfriend talks to him exactly the same way. And then he realizes that nobody really listens, nobody cares, so nobody communicates.”
“I kept thinking, how can that really happen? How can a group of people when they’re together just purely become an audience and be so silent?” -Filmmaker Xuan Jiang
While the man in her first short film was deaf, the characters in the bus that witness the rape might as well be blind. “It’s hard to blame them, because the movie asks the question, ‘Are you sure you would be the one to stand up if you were in the bus?’” Jiang said. “And nobody can really give a specific answer to that when you’re not in that situation. So the story is not intended to judge those people. To me, they’re all victims of what happened. It’s more about people’s silence and how that group of people became responsible for the final events.”
Finding the right group of actors for what Jiang calls “a group character study” was the biggest challenge of the production. Even in casting the rapist and his accomplice, played by Qu Shaoshi and Xixin Zhao, Jiang wanted men who looked like ordinary people rather than stereotypical bad guys. “They could be just perfectly normal boys next door living in the neighborhood,” she said. “But when they have a gun, all of a sudden the power makes them pick on other people. It exaggerates the darkness inside of them.”
During the quick, eight-day shoot near the inland Mongolian mountains, Jiang did everything she could to ensure that the emotionally charged shoot didn’t take too much of a toll on her actors. But the discomfort she wished to spare her cast she hopes to impart to audiences. “When I first showed the film to some friends, I remember one girl told me that after she saw the movie, she went home and, for a couple of hours, she didn’t want to talk to people,” Jiang recalled. “And when she told me that, I was really happy, because I wanted to raise some questions for people. That’s the reason I wanted to make the movie.”