Composer Ian Chen Discusses Score for Netflix’s ‘Green Door’

Review Ethan / 2022-10-23 20:02:11

Have you watched all of the Netflix shows during your time at home? The Taiwanese horror-thriller Green Door is worth a second glance if you love horror. An exclusive interview was conducted with Ian Chen, who helped to create the Netflix title.

The six-episode series was adapted from Taiwanese author Joseph Chen’s novel of the same title and tells the story of Wei Sung-Yen, a troubled psychologist who returns from the U.S. to set up his own practice in Taiwan, where mysterious patients and uncanny events shed light on his murky past. The series' uniqueness is its unpredictability.

The original score of Ian Chen emphasizes the unpredictable nature. Chen is able to enhance the emotions we feel for the characters and weave the story together with his score. To learn more about Chen’s work on Green Door, we conducted the below Q&A with him.

He discussed everything from working with the show’s director, Lingo Hsieh, to the different character themes he created.

WoN: Green Door, a Taiwanese horror-drama. Is the sound of a Taiwanese project like this different then, let’s say an American horror drama? How are they different?

My experience is that Taiwanese dramas are less restrictive in terms of genre. You’ll often find elements from other genres, such as comedy or thriller, mixed into the plot, even if the series is billed as horror. The soundtrack needs to be flexible enough to adapt to the many tone changes throughout the series. In Green Door, for example, Wei SungYen (played by Jam Hsiao) becomes a ghost-psychiatrist. While some ghosts might be ill-intentioned, most are just as clueless and naïve as their living counterparts. The ghosts come to Wei in search of solutions to their problems. In doing so they uncover very real relationships and share heartwarming stories. Green Door could be described as a comedy-thriller mystery under the guise of horror drama.

WoN: What is your favorite Green Door episode, both musically and visually? If yes, which episode was your favorite?

The story of Yu Hsiu Chi, played by Hsieh Ying Xuan (Golden Horse winner), is concluded in Episode 5. It is one of my favorite character arcs in the series, spanning most of the season, centering around a woman who is possessed by the ghost of a mobster boss’s runaway younger brother. The relationships involved are especially intricate and coupled with Hsieh’s brilliant acting – switching swiftly between a proper Mandarin-speaking lady and a crude Taiwanese-speaking gang-member – make this concluding episode one of my personal favorites of the show. Hsieh and I worked together endlessly on the music for the dramatic reveal. It is one of my favorite scenes.

WoN: Many composers say that streaming a show is similar to making a movie. In your case, it's a six-hour one. Green Door was a case in point.

This is true in a certain degree. In order to develop musical ideas for TV or film, I always start with understanding and examining the character's psyche and their world. These are essential building blocks of an entertaining story. A TV series has more conflict resolution and time to allow characters to grow. This gives me more opportunities to create themes and motifs alongside them. Green Door is the story of Wei, the main character. He takes on the task to assist the ghosts that he meets, but the shadows of his past catch up with him and eventually lead to his breakdown. The scene was based on elements I had seen in previous episodes. They foreshadowed the reality that Wei would have to confront.

WoN: What themes did you assign to each character? Which character do you enjoy scoring most, if so,

Yes! Yes! Alex Wong originally wrote the theme for Shen Jin-Cheng (the mobster boss). The original form of the theme is a melancholic melody played on the clarinet, reminiscent of the Godfather Waltz from Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather Trilogy. I was able to use a variation of this theme in Shen Jin-Fa’s repentance scene, following the climatic reveal in Yu Hsiu-Chi’s story arc in Episode Five.

WoN: The music in horror is extremely specific. It tells the viewer when to be afraid or when bad things are about to occur. This score can sometimes serve as a secondary character, so did you feel extra pressure?

I don’t think that is necessarily the case for Green Door. It’s true that sometimes there are jump scares or other classic horror moments in the show which require such techniques, but more often than not, the tracks are based on themes and textures derived from the characters and backstories involved in the show. One example is Wei's nightmares about Doris, his former patient. These nightmares are based on a common theme, which weaves throughout her story.

WoN: Which part was most difficult in working on this project.

Green Door was given a very tight time frame for music production. The music team had to record 112 tracks in a matter of weeks due to the fact that the previous composer left the project late in post-production. This allowed them to create, mix, and revise each track. Three composers comprise the core music team: Alex Wong from San Jose and me, Sean Kim, New York City, Shao-Ting, Sun (also based in New York), and Sean Kim, Los Angeles. Our coordinated efforts were key to the timely completion of the soundtrack and its delivery within the timeframe we had. To create an integrated voice and seamless flow, we also coordinated the use of themes and motifs across the seasons.

WoN: Lingo Hsieh, Green Door's director. Was there anything she liked about the music during production?

Lingo had very specific suggestions about the music that would help the show. Many cues needed revisions. Due to the many musicians and technicians involved, as well the tight timeline, it was important that there is a clear leader who knows what they are looking for. Lingo was looking for music to enhance and intensify the emotion of every scene. This could be a thrilling jump scare or heartbreaking departure.

WoN: Which shows are you currently viewing on Netflix right now?

I’ve just finished catching up on all 3 seasons of The Crown, and have now moved onto another great “period” drama: Netflix’s first original Korean series Kingdom.


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