In ‘Taiwan Oyster’, an Eastern Backdrop with Austin Sensibility
One of the films having its premiere at this year’s SXSW film festival tells the story of two expats who set out on a journey to bury a fellow American. But while the film takes place far from here, it is rich with Texas texture, sensibility and talent.
The Taiwan Oyster, the “Texas road trip” film set in Taiwan to a soundtrack of Bobby Bare, the Flatlanders and Bobby Gentry, is a story from Austin filmmaker Mark Jarrett.
“The original idea was, we were trying to think of a [low-budget] road movie,” Jarrett said. “I had lived in Taiwan for a while, and we had thought about doing it in Taiwan. And I was reading Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying at the time. And then the idea of them driving a body around Taiwan kind of came together.”
That body belongs to a casual acquaintance of the expats who died in an accident after one too many beers. His name is Jeff, and he has no friends or family. So one of the expats, Simon, decides to give him a proper burial.
“The main character Simon I see as kind of a witness of sorts, but he’s sort of removed from everything,” Jarrett said. “And uninfluential on his environment.”
“He’s at a crossroads in his life,” said Billy Harvey, who plays Simon. “He’s been in Taiwan teaching kindergarten. But he’s starting to question his purpose.”
As Simon and his friends travel across Taiwan with the corpse in the bed of their truck, they encounter ritual, violence and plenty of alcohol. Throughout their journey they struggle over finding the difference between being a friend and being a countryman.
“When you’re displaced from your roots, your homeland, you immediately gravitate towards anything familiar,” Harvey said. “So just someone who speaks your language, you’re like, OK, you’re my buddy, immediately.”
While the film takes place in the “Wild, Wild East” of Taiwan, it has a certain Texas sensibility to it. Several University of Texas grads worked on the film. The lead actor, Harvey, is an Austin music producer. He met Jarrett here.
“I think that the Texas flair is in that Southern crossover a little bit,” Jarrett said. “I’m a huge country music fan, so that’s present. And I think just the idea of the half-philosophical, wandering buddy, low-budget indie movie is an Austin sensibility in some ways.”
As with many films at this year’s festival, a good chunk of the money for The Taiwan Oyster came from the fundraising website Kickstarter.
You can catch The Taiwan Oyster tonight at 9 at the Stateside Theater on Congress.