As random as it can be

One day you go to get a tattoo, you talk about what you do while getting inked, and the next day you get a commission to make an independent film about a tattoo studio.

Turns out one of two partners, Zhuo Dan Ting, is not any tattoo artist. She is “the” tattoo artist. She’s a well known personality in China’s underground culture. Now a pioneer of the tattoo scene, years ago she had to move to Shanghai escaping a conservative society in north China to which she felt she didn’t belong.

In the cosmopolitan Shanghai she found a home and a family, but with fast-paced and often superficial relationships, what it is known of Ting became what you can see when you look at her. And she might look rough. With fluorescent green hair, tattoos from toes to the chin, and spikes implanted in her face, profiles about her often focus on the exterior, the cliche, the madame.

But underneath the ink, there’s an extremely creative and sensible person who for a long time has been looking for a place and a family were to be herself and finally has found it. That was what interested me, and that was what the story went about.

No pain, no gain.

“Ink & Needles” is a personal, casual, dreamy, intimate, and away from stereotypes short film/micro-documentary about the daily life of the renowned Chinese tattoo artist Zhuo Dan Ting.

When Ting emigrated from the Hubei province to Shanghai, the tattoo culture was still a taboo in China, only associated with gangs and jail time. Her perseverance and strong character made her one of the most respected Chinese tattoo artists and an icon of the Chinese tattoo culture.

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Ting versus Ting

Ting’s English was good enough. She had learned in the studio tattooing foreigners. I could understand her perfectly, but she didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of using her voice in the film. For me tho, her voice was fundamental to the storytelling. We had to listen to her talking about herself.

I resourced to mask the imperfections by treating her voice as if it was a phone call or even a dreamy conversation that you recall while awake. The dragged voice, the hypnotic music, in conjunction with a particularly blueish, rainy, and cloudy Shanghai, created a beautiful atmosphere of intimacy against which Ting kind personality could be appreciated.

When the film was delivered and presented, staff and friends at the studio loved it. Ting wasn’t sure of her feelings. She loved the film, but she was struck by her own visualization. She wasn’t used to seeing herself depicted in such a way. Not playing rough. As kind and nice as someone can be, as herself.