Interview | Willy Duraffourg ‘Cotai and its casinos present an image of capitalism pushed to its extreme’

French comic artist and screenwriter Willy Duraffourg co-authored the first volume of “Macao – The Cité du Dragon”, a graphic novel exploring the world of Chinese triads.

The story follows a powerful triad leader who believed in luck, and a journalist who believes that people are the masters of their own destinies.

Duraffourg lived in China for several years, specifically in Inner Mongolia and Shanghai, where he was a journalist for Le Petit Journal de Shanghai.

He stated his admiration for Macau’s old towns and its rich history, and affirmed his desire to learn more about the city’s triad activities.

According to Duraffourg, Cotai is an “image of capitalism pushed to its extreme, where everything is bought and sold in a flamboyant setting, creating a very positive image.”

The second volume of the book, which is currently only available in French, will be published in France and released this September.

The book’s creators are looking for producers to green-light a film adaptation.

Macau Daily Times (MDT) – What was the inspiration for the comic book? 

Willy Duraffourg (WD) – On my first trip to Macau, I spent the night walking around the casinos, taking buses and shuttles to get from one place to another. And I remember entering a casino, having not slept since the day before, in the middle of the night and seeing that unreal light that you can find in some of them, a light specially designed to mimic the light of day.  Before traveling to Macau, I had pictured for myself an image of ​​what the casinos of Macau might look like – but the reality struck me, with these gigantic buildings open 24/7 offering everything you could think of, bathed permanently in this artificial light mimicking the sunlight, this air-conditioning absorbing the smoke from millions of cigarettes around the gaming tables. With enough money, one could live there in full autarky. It gave me ​​the starting point for the scenario, a luxurious and unreal place where the protagonist is forced to live permanently, cut off from the rest of the world, but where he is granted access to everything he could desire.

MDT – How much of your first experience in the city influenced the comic book?

WD – The first time I came to Macau was in 2007. I have been there several times since. I regularly come back to China and visit different regions, but Macau and Hong Kong are places that I particularly like to come back to.  I really like the old town of Macau and its rich history, but exploring it was not the goal of this comic. Cotai and its casinos present a very glittering universe. It is an image of capitalism pushed to its extreme, where everything is bought and sold in a flamboyant setting, creating a very positive image. These are no longer backroom casinos but mainstream entertainment. But triad business is still triad business. VIP rooms, for example, filter access to drugs and prostitution, [keeping it] away from the general public. By extrapolating a bit, this script speaks about how our current liberal world makes it possible to buy and sell everything, and the moral consequences that entails.

MDT – Was there a certain tone that you used to portray Macau in the story?

WD – I wanted to focus on the ‘Crown of Macau,’ the central casino in my story, and build a claustrophobic atmosphere in this gigantic gilded cage where the main character would be locked up. I was interested in addressing the notion of luck that is prevalent in Chinese culture.

I wanted to confront two characters with very different visions of their lives: on one hand, Leon, the journalist, who has the impression that he is the sole master of his destiny, and on the second hand, Kwan Tao, the triad leader who is convinced that sheer luck has always carried him throughout his successful and dangerous life.

They embody the opposition of predestination and free will. This will continue to develop in the second volume. It is the through line, the theme, that binds their stories together and pushes each one of them to his fate.

MDT – The comic book discusses casinos and triads. Was that your first impression of the city or did it take you some time to realize?

WD – I am a big fan of Johnny To and other Hong Kong directors of action and crime movies.

I wanted to write a triad story at the same time as a modern [take] on Scheherazade, a kind of modern fairy tale: a powerful triad leader, knowing his end is coming, wants to have his story written before he dies to [preserve his legacy] and tell his story.  He sends for a journalist who he locks up in his casino until he finishes writing this story, pretending this work is a political biography so as not to arouse the suspicions of his triad partners.

The young journalist discovers this closed and unreal universe which he cannot leave, but where he can get everything he wants. I read a lot about triads in Macau and Hong Kong before going through the writing of this script. The funny thing is that after finishing this story, I realized that a similar one happened in real life. A wealthy but illiterate chief of the Golden Triangle triad once captured a journalist in the jungle between Yunnan and Myanmar [and held him captive] for years, asking the journalist to write his story.  Like my character, this mobster did not want to disappear and fall into oblivion after his passing.  Men of power have disproportionate egos and refuse to die without leaving a testimony of their passage on this Earth.

MDT – Any plans to promote the book here in Macau and have it translated to Chinese?

WD – My publisher and I would like it to be accessible and translated for the Chinese readers. It would be great recognition, but there are many factors that come into play. I would be thrilled to be able to bring it to Macau and promote it here. The second volume on Macau will be published in France this September. Then, my publisher will look for partners to translate it into English, Portuguese and Chinese. We will also look for producers to try and adapt it into a movie. Lynzy Valles, MDT

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