Facts are important and essential but they are superseded by emotion when it comes to context. To know about an occurrence is trivial when compared to feeling what it’s like to be a part of it. Filmmaker Haina Zhou understands this perhaps deeper than most. She has committed her professional life and creative vision to this concept and has delved deeply into the sonic components which communicate emotion.

Collaborating with director/writer Anna Yang on the highly praised film One for Sorrow, Two for Joy, Haina undertook the daunting task of manifesting the auditory elements in a story about China’s one-child policy and the generational impact. As the film’s sound designer and dialogue editor, Ms. Zhou crafted an unseen but incredibly powerful world for this story which holds deep meaning for many, including her.

She communicates, “I’m emotionally connected to this story. I resonate deeply with the social commentary of this film. Growing up as a single child, a daughter, a woman in a Chinese family, I was not aware of the idea of gender inequality until I was in high school. There was a prolonged period of time that I was conditioned to accept these discriminatory practices. I am really proud to be part of this film and I hope that the message it delivers will allow more girls to feel empowered and liberated.”

Haina Zhou at work on One for Sorrow, Two for Joy
Haina Zhou at work on One for Sorrow, Two for Joy

As the sound designer of One for Sorrow, Two for Joy, Haina aimed to construct a genuine acoustic environment that is representative of both the physical and psychological space of the film. In simple terms, this requires calibrating not only how a sound may be authentically presented but how the emotional state of the characters will receive it, thus allowing the audience to inhabit that very same state.

The range and complexity of her work is demanding and allows Haina’s remarkable skill to shine. The opening scene of One for Sorrow, Two for Joy takes place between Yimeng (the film’s main character) and her love by the seaside. Yimeng’s inner turmoil is communicated by Haina’s manipulation of the sound of the waves and their varying intensity as the crash against the rocks and sand. The sonic rhythm and texture is a proxy for Yimeng’s confusion and frustration which is representationally brought into the physically world by Haina’s skill.

A far more delicate example of her sound design is found in a ritual blessing scene for the desired birth of a son. While the diegetic sounds of this scene deliver the story points, Haina’s highlighting of the friction of the rice grains as they fall against the woman’s abdomen are a subtle hint at the objectification taking place. During a later scene in which Yimeng has an imaginary meeting with her yet-to-be brother, Haina has chosen to keep the sound design very realistic. Though this approach might initially seem unintuitive, the result speaks loudly.

The audience begins to comprehend that the “reality” these characters exist in is itself corrupted. The bridge that repeatedly beckons the viewer to accept and inhabit the characters of this film is constructed by Haina Zhou’s work. Her sound design contributions construct auditory elements which lead us into an emotional lane without ever being too aware of them; a feat achieved through the design and masterful skill of Haina. 

One for Sorrow, Two for Joy has already made a mark among audiences and critics as exhibited by its award at the (Oscar-Qualifying) Austin Film Festival and nomination for a Cannes Indie Shorts Award.

Haina is most excited about this film bringing its message to a global audience stating, “I feel honored that a Chinese female-led film can be recognized internationally and am excited that more and more stories like this can be seen and heard by a worldwide audience to raise awareness on gender inequality and the centuries of struggles for Chinese women. During the preliminary creative conversations, our director expressed her hopes to convey the underlying and often internalized gender discrimination in Chinese society through this film.”

“A lot of Chinese women often do not even realize the absurdity that they exist in and normalize their plight as a part of social consensus. This project allowed me to connect with like-minded female filmmakers who share the same anger and frustration as a Chinese woman. Having experienced similar circumstances as the main character, I was eager to contribute to delivering a message that is very close to my heart.”

Writer: Basil Thomson

By Punit