How a Chinese Ghost Tradition Inspired the ‘Marry My Dead Body’ Director

TheWrap Screening Series: Wei-Hao Cheng spoke to TheWrap about his LGBTQ comedy-mystery-thriller that is Taiwan’s Oscar submission

According to Chinese tradition, if someone picks up a red envelope left on the ground by family members of a deceased person, that someone has to go marry the dead person via a “ghost marriage” or suffer a lifetime of misfortune. That idea kicks off “Marry My Dead Body,” a comedy-action-thriller from Taiwan in which a cop (played by Greg Hsu) unintentionally summons the ghost of Mao Mao (Austin Lin) and must marry him.

“In our movie, a macho, straight police officer picks up the red envelope and has to marry a gay ghost,” director Wei-Hao Cheng explained during a discussion with TheWrap’s Joe McGovern that was part of TheWrap Screening Series. “And that starts up a hilarious journey” — one in which the characters develop a “relationship that goes beyond friends and is closer to family.”

Now streaming on Netflix, “Marry My Dead Body” is Taiwan’s submission for the Oscar for Best International Feature Film. During his Q&A with TheWrap, Wei-Hao explained that he saw his movie as representing “Taiwan’s contemporary significance” with regard to gay marriage: In 2019, Taiwan became the first region in Asia to legalize same sex marriage. “This movie strives to present the values of gay marriage and love, but in fact, there are still many problems of gender opposition in Taiwan and in East Asia,” Wei-Hao said. “And there are still many discriminations in our society. Under the patriarchal system in Asia, the gay community faces a lot of pressure from their families. But no matter what, through this movie, we attempt to return to love and equality.”

“Marry My Dead Body” is Wei-Hao’s fifth feature film and the latest in which he incorporates multiple genres, including horror, crime, mystery and sci-fi, into one project. “As a creator, I think this is one way to make this story fresh,” he said. “Because the audience is watching more and more films and the standard genre films are becoming too predictable, so much that they became less entertaining. So I wanted to flip the traditional genre of formulas to make the movie feel fresh and interesting.”

Of course, it’s one thing to mix genres on the page and another to balance tone and pacing so that it all works on screen. “It is a big challenge for me. In the beginning, everyone worried about [whether we were] mixing too many genres,” Wei-Hao said. His solution was to approach the movie in terms of foreground story (the ghost marriage) and background story (the action-mystery-thriller). “I kept reminding my cast and crew to pay more attention on the background story,” he said. “Mastering the background story is the key to mixing all genres smoothly.”

Watch the full conversation with Wei-Hao Cheng here.


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