“Mom, this is the moment,” Abigail Hing Wen recalls her son saying as they were driving to the screening of Paramount Plus’ latest film “Love in Taipei.”
Years ago, Wen’s film manager had told her, “It’s so hard to make a movie. We can’t celebrate until we’re in the car driving to the premiere.”
Before the 46-year-old author and producer could breathe in the film adaptation of her 2020 novel “Loveboat, Taipei,” Wen spent 10 years writing by night and working by day in a challenging career as a leader in law, venture capital and artificial intelligence.
When her New York Times bestselling novel was tapped to become a movie, Wen flew to Taiwan with the cast and production crew during the COVID-19 pandemic to shoot the coming-of-age, summer romance story.
“Loveboat, Taipei” follows Ever Wong (Ashley Liao), a young American woman whose summer takes a turn when her parents enroll her in a cultural immersion program in Taipei, where an unexpected romance throws her into a whirlwind of emotions. Throughout the program, Ever also finds the courage to pursue her true passion and break free from her parents’ expectations.
Wen says she has been more involved than most authors when it comes to the filmmaking process of the adaptation, noting the importance of writers in the entertainment and film industry.
“I know the whole storyline and the arches versus someone coming fresh to the project and studying it,” Wen tells NextShark.
“It was so easy for me because I know the characters inside and out. So when I was on set, it was easy for me to pick up beats that are missing. I ended up — as an author — saving a lot of money for the production company, but for me, it was also incredibly important to be involved to preserve the authenticity of representation, especially with an all-Asian American and Asian cast in a deeply Asian American story.”
As with any other film adaptation, the biggest challenge for the filmmakers was condensing a 400-page novel into a 100-page script for a 90-minute film.
“You just cannot keep all the story lines,” Wen says, adding that “the film ends in a different place than the book.”
“At a certain point in the book, the ending also happens, but there are two more novels. ‘Loveboat Reunion’ is out in the world already and ‘Loveboat Forever’ is coming, which is set six years later. The story continues through the rest of the books. I would love for readers to be able to find the full story there. I can say that the characters [in the film adaptation] are really true to themselves. They are exactly who they are in the book. Their journeys are slightly different, but they end up with the same story arch internally. “
Wen reveals that the ballet teacher in the novel who serves as a role model to Ever “ended up being the Auntie Shu character in the movie.” The character, portrayed by Cindy Cheung, does double duty as a mentor figure and an aunt keeping Ever close to her family, which Wen notes “is an important storyline for the full film.”
The title, “Loveboat, Taipei,” was also changed to “Love in Taipei” for the larger audience to directly understand the essence of the story.
“I spent the past year in Vienna, Austria, with my younger child who’s been studying music and composition there,” Wen explains. “[When] I mentioned this new title, people got it. It’s a story about love in Taipei. It’s romance in another cool city, so they’re intrigued immediately.”
The novel and film draw inspiration from the real-life “Love Boat” program in Taiwan, which many Chinese and Taiwanese youth attend to learn more about their heritage.
Wen shares that she attended the six-week-long summer program with her friends after her freshman year at Harvard. She recalls the wild and crazy nights of friendship and romance as she had the opportunity to explore Taipei without parental supervision.
The friendships she formed would follow her outside of the program to reunion parties with “Love Boat” alumni. It was at one of those parties that non-Asian Americans became fascinated by Wen’s stories and told her, “Wow, this really needs to be a book or a movie.”
Wen previously brushed off the idea, recalling an Asian American author who had to change her Asian character to Caucasian in order to get her book deal, as the industry did not view Asian characters as profitable. But after the success of “Crazy Rich Asians” and “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” Wen eventually became inspired.
“I did start to find the courage to write my own main characters. I joked that I went into the deep end because it’s got 30 different Asian American characters,” Wen says.
The author believes that “Love in Taipei,” which boasts an all-Asian cast, allows viewers into the multiplicity of stories, voices and experiences of the Asian American community.
Wen, who was born in America to a Filipino mother and an Indonesian father, grew up in a multicultural home where different Asian languages were spoken.
“I think I just lived with that fullness and as well as that tension,” she shares. “What really impressed me the most was while we’re all so different, we’re all also very similar. I think that’s what I loved about this diverse Asian American story because the Asian American-ness is no longer the most interesting thing about the character.”
While what makes the film uniquely Asian American is on the surface of the story, Wen is grateful to lead a script where being Asian is no longer the defining detail of a character. “I love that their Asian American-ness was erased in some ways so we could see them for the human beings that they are,” she says.
“Love in Taipei,” starring Ashley Liao, Ross Butler and Nico Hiraga,is now available to stream on Paramount Plus. Watch NextShark’s full interview with Wen below:
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