USA | 16 minutes | 2020
Drama, Thriller short film by Grace (Ge) Gao
Starring Claire Hsu
Watch the Trailer
Under the familial pressure and countless rejections in her career, an Asian American actress blames everything on her appearance and blindly takes action to better herself.
CineAsian Films (CAF): Narcissus is well-crafted film about societal pressures, bias in casting, and the desire to be perfect. What was the inspiration behind exploring a story like this?
Grace Gao: In 2012, I read the news about a Chinese talent show candidate who lost her life two hours after going through a v-line jaw reduction surgery. The very same year, I turned 18. I almost went into a full-face plastic surgery treatment plan, but thankfully the night before, I decided to cancel the appointment for I can’t bear to never see my real face ever again. This wake-up call made me realize, I was not too far away from the same fate as the deceased girl from the talent show, and there are so many young women just like me, trapped in the dissatisfaction of their own appearance everywhere in the world.
Throughout college, I can’t help wondering: What if I did go through with the surgery? Will I be happier afterward? Will I ever feel enough now that I have the option to modify my look as I please? This pondering led me to use the topics of plastic surgery and social media to physicalize the abstract ideas of public image, vanity, the ephemeral quality of youth and beauty. Sybil’s tragic story serves as a cautionary tale and the result of the fatal pressure from her family and society.
CAF: We couldn’t help but get some Black Swan (directed by Darren Aronofsky) vibes from your film. What were some of the films you were inspired by visually for Narcissus?
Gao: You’re right about the Black Swan influence! My story definitely has thematic similarities to it, as well as to THE NEON DEMON (2016). Visually, however, we went for a more naturalistic, cold approach. The color palette and cinematography style was inspired by SHAME (2011) and GOODNIGHT MOMMY (2014) given their tone and genre are closer to what I’m looking for.
CAF: What do you hope people can take away from this story?
Gao: NARCISSUS is not criticizing those who choose to modify their own appearance. It is simply a portrait of how I’ve overcome my own struggle with self-image and found the strength to speak of the difficult process. I simply wish to contemplate on how far is too far for the actions we take in the name of “better ourselves” and I sincerely hope to offer catharsis for those who are still battling with their own reflections.
CAF: You have plans to turn this concept short into a feature. How is that coming along?
Gao: This short film actually serves as a proof of concept for the feature screenplay I’ve written under the same title. The screenplay won the Best Undergraduate Feature Screenplay at Fusion Film Festival 2018 and was a finalist at Screencraft Film Fund Finalist Fall 2019. We’re now actively financing for the feature production. Giving the short film a festival run is our first step to get exposure and attract potential financiers and EPs.
The film is still in the festival circuit and will premiere in 2021.
Narcissus is one of the many great projects shared with CineAsian Films through our submissions process. If you’d like to join them, submit your film.
Writer, Director: Grace (Ge) Gao
Producer: Siyu Lin
Cinematographer: Briana Man
Editor/VFX: James Sterling
Also featuring: Grace Chang