Set during the pandemic, a Chinese driver in New York struggles to make ends meet as he picks up various passengers on a long and dreary night.

Partially based on a real-life encounter, ‘Wuhan Driver’ takes us on an Uber drive with a Chinese driver during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Subjected to an onslaught of prejudice, the driver struggled in America and longed to return to China. The film is directed by Tiger Ji, whom received similar acts of prejudice as an Asian man, and felt the need to tell the story, seeing the world as it was.

Needless to say, this film is more relevant than ever before in light of the racism against Asian people today. Understandably, some might find this film sad or harsh, but it is the lived reality of many people during these times. Tiger believes it’s only through making something unflinching — without any sugar coating — can an artist create a true antidote to a more compassionate society. We spoke with the nineteen year-old director who told us a little more about his precious film:

Director Tiger Ji
Director Tiger Ji

Can you tell us what inspired you to bring this story to life?

It was March 2020, and New York was just getting its first lockdown. I remember getting picked up by a grey Toyota Camry. Sitting behind the wheel was an anxious, overworked Chinese man — he looked like he hadn’t slept in days. Ironically from the city of Wuhan, he confided in me his struggles as an Uber driver. Life for him was about survival. Striving to make ends meet, he faced prejudice night after night.

As a filmmaker from Hong Kong, I understand his loneliness — I wanted to make a film that questions our capacity for kindness during turbulence.

How did you go about casting for ‘Wuhan Driver’?

Interesting you ask that, since I initially wanted to cast the actual Uber driver who inspired this film. But after months of struggling to get ahold of him, we took the traditional route of working with a casting director and found Wayne Chang, who gave such a sensitive and candid performance. Many times he would surprise me with things I couldn’t have imagined. He was such a sweet, cool guy.

Tell us about the challenges of shooting in a car?

We initially wanted a moving trailer so that our actor didn’t actually have to drive the car, but that would’ve broken the bank.

So, instead, we had to simplify our setups as much as possible. I’m not very good at killing my darlings, but those restrictions made the film much more sparse and brought a loneliness to the tone. By not doing too much coverage, my DP Stefan and I could get a lot more precise.

I was in the lead car, and our actors were in the picture car following behind us. We held a walkie talkie which projected into the stereo of the picture car. I remember being really adamant about somehow hiding myself in the picture car (so I could whisper directions into their ears) but we quickly realized I’d be way too distracting.

What do you hope people will take away from Wuhan Driver?

I just wanted to confront the audience with exactly what it’s like to be a Chinese Uber driver in New York during the pandemic.

I was really afraid of making the film into a politically-charged opinion piece that screams: Oh, look at this oppressed Asian man and his struggles, take pity on him! There are too many films like that, and I find them a little shallow. Instead, I want the audience to be able to see themselves as the passengers in his car, and be able to reflect on their own capacities for kindness, without wagging my finger at them. With the film, I just wanted to drop a simple question on the table, and leave it there.

I mean, we all like to think of ourselves as open-minded, tolerant people, right? But when shit hits the fan, how capable are we, actually, at looking beyond our prejudice?

What are your favorite films and have any inspired this film directly?

My favorite filmmaker is Abbas Kiarostami, and watching Taste of Cherry at 15 was a totally transformative experience. In a way, Wuhan Driver was kind of an ode to him, and his cinema.