Esther Liu EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: ‘Light the Night’ actress brings sweet and funny ‘Salli’ to life

Esther Liu Interview: Light the Night actress brings sweet and funny Salli to life in a coming-of-age film about finding yourself in the strangest of places

Starring in Taiwanese film Salli, Esther Liu, known for Netflix’s Light the Night, appears at the Busan International Film Festival to celebrate her film and talk to TheReviewGeek about a story that resonates, even with a city girl.

In an exclusive interview, 35-year-old Liu shares how Salli saved her at a time where she wasn’t sure what to do next. Liu is charming as we share ‘girl talk’ about travel, being at the festival and the plight of women. Her film, shown at the Busan International Film Festival, is about a 38-year-old woman who’s considered past it and embarks on a journey to prove to herself that love is still possible.

Liu talks about her connection with her character Hui-Jun/Salli. “Even though she’s a farmer and I grew up in a city (Taipei), I was able to connect and sympathize with her. She went to France and found herself. I too had a ‘finding myself’ experience in France.” With a chuckle she adds, “I learned enough French to swear with the locals.” Liu spent four years in Paris where she studied design and published her first book, Le temps qui compte (2009).

She continues, “The challenge is what initially attracted me – Salli changes through the course of the story. It’s her growth that resonates and through her I’m finding a fuller version of myself.” This isn’t the only moment where Liu expresses deep gratitude toward the character and having the opportunity to become her.

Esther Liu (photo credit: FRIGGA ENTERTAINMENT CORP)


Liu explains the visual transition from farm girl to world traveler. “Director Lien and I spent time talking about Hui-Jun’s look. As a chicken farmer, she’s slouched doing repetitive work and there is this loneliness, solitude, that shapes her.”

But once Hui-Jun arrives in Paris, she shifts significantly into the ‘Salli’ persona. “Dating, loving someone, is a happy time – infusing energy and a desire to be prettier in anticipation of a new life. By the time we reach the third act, she’s seen so many things, met so many people that she has a transformed view of her previous environment.”

While there’s a shift in the colors and clothing from Hui-Jun to Salli, there’s also a change in her attitude. She adjusts from a woman who’s comfortable with her day-to-day to someone who brightly tiptoes, voice much higher and step significantly lighter. Liu notes Salli’s stay in France was an experiment, where she starts quite timidly but gradually gains confidence.


“The dating scam, I think it broke her heart. When first one then a second man agrees so lightly to marry her, she realizes, ‘Okay, everyone wants to marry me. This really is a joke.’ So, she decides, ‘I don’t want to marry right now.’ But I think she finds a way to love herself.”

Pressing on, why does Salli elect to return? “I think a lot of Asian women’s lives involve self-sacrifice. This concept is ingrained in her whole family, including Hui-Jun herself. After living through this with her, having this experience, I realized there’s a boundary for me as well – the amount of sacrifice I make.”


This film is so much brighter than Liu’s three-season Netflix series, Light the Night – depicting women working in the red-light district in 1980s Taipei – how does she change headspace? “Light the Night is kind of painful with its heavy storyline – it takes me half a year to adjust after a season. Normally I would travel abroad, but unfortunately Covid was in the way. I was feeling lost. And luckily, I met Salli and she sort of became my savior. I feel like this connection really helped me.”


It’s her first time attending the festival in Busan and she notes, “It’s really sparkling. Everything is so fresh and exciting. A lot of the crew are here too so we could eat together, drink together – drink soju.” She adds with a twinkle.

Director Lien Chien-Hung is there throughout the conversation, but mostly leaves us to natter and giggle. When we talk about the festival and audience reactions, he chimes in, “I was afraid that people who don’t understand the language may not enjoy the film.” But the French tourist sitting next to me was absolutely delighted as was the entire cinema gauging by the level of laughter during some of Salli’s sillier moments. We agree that the story and Liu’s performance transcends the language barrier.

With such a light-hearted conversation, there’s an opportunity to check in for a little insider information, such as, something that happened on set that we can watch for during the film? “There’s a scene where we’re eating together at the family house. I improvised a little, asking the brother for the English term for ‘meatball’ – Austin Lin’s perplexed reaction was so genuine, we had to capture it.”


The relationships are one of the many things that shine in this story, from brother and niece to the family dog and the many chickens. “Chickens are so spiritual,” Liu says. “Everything was real [not CGI]. The Director wanted to shoot a scene where I watch a horror film with a chicken. He gave me a watermelon slice as a prop, but the chicken came and sat next to me. She turned her head to me as if asking to share and when I gave it to her, she ate so sweetly.”

“Salli has changed my life.” Liu asserts. “Because it was shot in chronological order, I feel like I stepped into her journey. I stayed in that character for about two months, even living at the farm during rehearsals. I had to wake up at 5am to feed the chickens.”

So, is there the possibility that upon retirement, she’d consider life on a chicken farm? “Well, I’m not sure – I want to be an actress forever. But the next film could be at a fish farm,” she confides with a wink.

Find out what the movie is about by checking out the Salli review here. For more stories from the Busan International Film Festival, click here. For more interviews, click here

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