From assembling narratives in the editing booth to being present on set

Related event

Liyo Gong’s debut acting role in the film Here directed by Bas Devos led her to explore a different side of filmmaking. Sipping coffee not far from Marais Wiels – a protected marsh in Brussels that recalls the Moeraske in Evere and one of the movie’s set locations – she takes us behind the scenes to uncover how the fictional Chinese-Belgian doctoral student bearing her real grandmother’s name came to life.

Let’s start from the beginning. How did you first get involved in the project?

Bas and I have friends in common because I also work in film as an editor. Seeing as he was casting for a second-generation Chinese immigrant living in Belgium, he asked whether I’d be interested in the part, but also whether I could give feedback on the script. We discussed what he wrote, I offered input and remarks on the character, and the whole time I didn’t believe he would actually want me in the film. I’m an overthinker, so I doubted whether I could act or talk naturally in front of a camera.

<img class="editorial-image-50-left" src=""/>

<img class="editorial-image-50-right" src=""/>

How did it feel to play a fictional character moulded around your own real-life persona?

Of course, I’m not a biologist, so that was already a big difference. At first, I was actually a bit suspicious as to why this character was scripted as being Chinese; I was aware of the implications around representation. But I actively participated in the process of bringing her to life, which put me more at ease. For example, Bas let me choose her name because the one he had suggested, Xiu, felt incomplete and the Chinese cast and I didn’t feel it was believable. In China, a family name consists of one character; most given names are constructed by pairing two characters, both of which are picked for their symbolism and meaning. So I went for my grandmother’s: she is called 树秀, where the second character xiù is similar to what Bas had in mind, and the first character shù means 'tree', so it was kind of perfect.

It sounds like you brought depth and awareness to Shuxiu. Now that Here is out, are you still apprehensive about the character?

The film has only been shown at film festivals so far, and representation is still a sensitive issue that makes me a little uneasy. I don’t know how larger audiences will react, but in all truthfulness, the story does offer a realistic and fair representation of many second-generation kids' experiences. And after the screening at Beijing Film Festival I received positive feedback from both people in China and from the diaspora, so that was reassuring.

<img class="editorial-image-50-left" src=""/>

<img class="editorial-image-50-right" src=""/>

The film follows two people coming together. Is it a love story?

Well, I won’t spoil that. I’d say it’s open, with the notion of encounters and connections at the heart of it. There are two concepts that exist in Chinese spirituality that are very present in the film, and that for me eventually justified my character being Chinese: one is 万物, or wanwuwhich in Taoist religion stands for ‘ten thousand things’ and points to the ‘everything’ in the universe, all the things you can name. Chinese spirituality is very holistic, everything is interconnected and cyclical. So the second concept, which I love, also relates to that. 緣分, yuanfen, means ‘fateful coincidence’ and it’s a mix of fate and destiny, but also serendipity: if you are meant to cross paths with someone in this life, it was already determined in your past life. That’s why there’s a common saying that ‘it takes hundreds of reincarnations to bring two people to meet in this life’. And even if you don’t believe in reincarnation, in my family we just believe in Yuanfen as an invisible thread that ties people together. Yuanfen also has agency, because one should be able to catch fateful coincidences and decide how to act on them. I find that notion of having agency over fate really beautiful.

 I find that notion of having agency over fate really beautiful

<img class="editorial-image" src=""/>

How did you find this first acting experience, especially given your existing knowledge of the filmmaking process?

It's been a crazy experience, to swap over to the other side of the mirror. When editing, I can be a perfectionist because a sequence can be replayed endlessly. I’m also playing with timelines and being super receptive to everything relating to tempo. In film everything is hyper-focused so when I analyse and edit footage, I also have to be very selective and attuned to every little detail. Acting is not easy, because you’re performing in real time and there’s a whole crew to be mindful about. Leonardo van Dijl, a director Bas and I are both friends with, reassured me that I just needed to show up and be present. That stuck throughout the shoot, because it’s true: everything you do, your mood, energy, body language - everything will be recorded. 

It's been a crazy experience, to swap over to the other side of the mirror

Besides working as an editor, you are also a DJ. Would you say there are parallels between performing in music and performing on screen?

It’s funny because I also started DJing a bit by accident, without me consciously choosing to pursue it. I love doing it, but I’m still not so comfortable with performing in the sense of making a spectacle out of it; I’m really self-conscious and shy about my body movements. That's why I’m really happy to have the HE4RTBROKEN residency on NTS Radio as an outlet because  I can just share my mixes without showing my face. DJing for me is much closer to editing actually, as film and music are both time-based arts and it’s all about assembling and creating narratives.

I just needed to show up and be present. That stuck throughout the shoot

<div class="editorial-banner"> <div class=“editorial-credits”> @liyo_hbkn  / @here_thefilm  / @filmfestgent <br/> Here will be premiering in Belgium as part of the Official Competition of Film Festival Ghent’s 2023 edition. Catch a screening on October 15 and October 16. Different Class members can go to the film for free on October 18. Make your reservation here. </div></div>

Different Class works with the interest of their community at heart.
Our work’s purpose is to foster a solid network for independent artists, those who love them, and those who want to support them. Become a member to contribute to the local Belgian art scene.

Our membership plans

The dedicated package for 1 month
Access to all events
Discounts in our shop and in other stores
Our magazine every 2 months
The basics for 1 year
total of 95,4 billed once a year
Access to all events
Discounts in our shop and in other stores
The full experience for 1 year
total of 107,4 billed once a year
Access to all events
Discounts in our shop and in other stores
Our magazine every 2 months
A Different Class totebag
Are you a student? You're in luck, we offer the perks of our devoted membership at a reduced price!  
All prices are in Euro (€), tax included — renews automatically, cancel anytime

Name Member