Meet Abigail Hing Wen, author of the novel Loveboat, Taipei which is inspired by her time in the Love Boat program to learn Mandarin and more about her heritage, and tells a story of self-discovery. Loveboat, Taipei has a film adaptation retitled Love in Taipei to be released on Paramount+ on August 10, 2023.
Neil Bui: I want to start by asking about your experience in the real life Love Boat program and what parts of your experience inspired you to write Loveboat, Taipei, the novel Love in Taipei is based on?
Abigail Hing Wen: So I had no idea that I was going to a Love Boat. I received a letter from the Taiwanese government at the time. They would send out invitations to Presidential Scholars, Coke Scholars, everyone with a Chinese last name got this trip for free. So I showed up thinking I was going for language and culture with a bunch of my friends who had also gotten this letter. And lo and behold, they turned out to be this party, this crazy party all summer, where as you know from the books and the film, the kids sneak out clubbing and in the books they drink snake blood sake. They take glamour shots. I too snuck out clubbing. I love to dance, and so that was a fun time. I did take glamour shots, but not naked ones like Ever. And I would say that the internal journeys of the characters are mine, and then the external journeys, all the shenanigans that go on in Loveboat, some of those are quintessential stories that you kind of hear about through the years and some of them are just entirely fictionalized.
Neil Bui: What parts of Loveboat, Taipei the novel did you feel were ideal for live action adaptations?
Abigail Hing Wen: Definitely seeing the city of Taipei, that was the part you can’t really capture in a book as well, but to see it on the screen is incredible. The kinetic energy of the dancing at the clubs and also the performance that Ever puts on at the end and and then the sneaking out scene. That was one of my favorites, and unfortunately most of that didn’t end up in the final cut, but there was a lot of really cool footage of the kids running all around campus and crossing paths with the counselors.
Neil Bui: One thing that I really noticed about the film is from the first 5 minutes, it really does feel like we’re in Ever’s shoes where we grew up in America, and we’re coming to Asia for the first time and really engaging with the culture.
Abigail Hing Wen: She is definitely our guide. She’s the fish out of water and bringing us into this really amazing world. I grew up loving fantasy novels, and even though Loveboat, Taipei is not, it’s a contemporary, realistic story. I think of it almost like a fantasy novel. It’s about a girl who goes through a portal into another world and has this amazing experience learning about this strange new, beautiful, amazing place and then comes home transformed.
Neil Bui: What would you say are the themes that you really want the film as well as the novel to really touch on for audiences?
Abigail Hing Wen: Well, there’s definitely a theme of identity, but also a deeper theme of like what does it mean to honor your parents while still finding the courage to pursue what it is that you love? For me, a big theme is really coming to our own power by being ourselves and being fully ourselves, like embracing all parts of our heritage, our backgrounds and the things that make us diverse and uniquely ourselves.
Neil Bui: I like to end interviews on who is your favorite character growing up, whether that means something you watched or read, but essentially made you a dork.
Abigail Hing Wen: I was definitely a dork. I was just commenting last night, I was at the Modernist Club, which is this really cool, swanky private club after the screening in San Francisco. I’m like I am not cool enough for this. This is too cool for me. But I grew up reading Laura Ingalls, The Chronicles of Narnia. I read a lot of David Eddings, which I learned later was a Tolkien derivative. I did love all those characters as well, but I think Laura Ingalls was the person I quoted my entire marriage according to the Ingalls family, so I would say yeah, it’s Laura for sure.
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