As promised, and I apologize to you, the reader, for taking so long. Here is the interview / Q&A with Hong Kong director Pang-Ho Cheung, but 1st I just want to give a shout-out and thanks to Veronica Bassetto for making this interview happen to the effect it did, with multiple translators helping to translate from Cantonese to English on their side of things. We had no one to help on our end, so high praise to Pang and his team for all their hard work.
JP will refer to Josh Parmer, written in black, and red in bold for director Pang Ho-Cheung (PHC).
The Q & A:
JP: I think 2015 has been a great year for movies. What are some stand out titles for you, or just films you've been into recently?
PHC: The documentary, Batkid Begins, to me is the most outstanding film in 2015. It is a really touching film. Sometimes, I like the documentaries more than feature films, as it involves more true feelings. I think Batkid Begins is one of the best movies I’ve watched thus far.
Image from the documentary, Batkid Begins.
JP: Any local films that have stood out to you recently?
PHC: I prefer to differentiate the movies by their good or bad stories only. Whether it's a local production or not, to me, is not really important.
JP: So what made you want to be in the film industry? Where did it all start for you?
PHC: John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow Trilogy inspired me to join the industry. In the very beginning, I dreamed of becoming a movie star, but most of my attempts to be an actor had failed. So I shifted my goal and started off to be a television screenwriter, and eventually become a film director.
JP: I've recently revisited a lot of your films, and seen a few for the very 1st time, and one thing I noticed is how varied your catalog is. You do comedy, drama, violent thrillers, and you do them all well, with signature flair. You never seem to be bound by a genre and mix a lot of things up in all of them. What is the deciding factor in what type of projects you do?
PHC: I actually like including various genres in my film works, just as I preferred having a buffet than a specific cuisine when I was a kid. I concerned more with if the film is enjoyable than if it can suit a specific genre. We should always think out of the box and not be constrained by any genres.
Pang Ho-cheung sporting his favorite jacket!
JP: There has always been an edgier, darker side (usually in the humor) to your films. It helps set you apart from other directors working in Hong Kong today. You never seem to strive for doing what's popular. Do you have a particular desire to see other filmmakers (veterans and newcomers on the rise) to think outside of the box?
PHC: I think the Hong Kong industry is now under a transitional period. The quality of Hong Kong movie is not decreasing; only that Hong Kong directors have moved somewhere else to make their films. Although they are making movies outside Hong Kong, they are also bringing in various elements and style to the market, creating an impact to the local industry.
JP: Speaking as a fan of Hong Kong cinema, I think there has been a great decrease in the amount of quality films coming out, even in the more martial arts or thriller driven genres the country is known for. Where do you think the state of Hong Kong is right now, in terms of cinema?
PHC: In my opinion, Hong Kong’s movie is now under a transforming period. As I mentioned before, the quality of Hong Kong movie is not decreasing, but Hong Kong directors indeed make their films somewhere else. No matter where they produce/shoot their films, they still keep the Hong Kong essence in their films, and those movies still carry on the Hong Kong spirit.
JP: Though I am not able to read, due to the language barrier, I noticed when digging around on your site, that you have published a lot of your films in the form of paperback. Is this you converting your films to novel form at some point, or are your screenplays usually published for the public to read?
PHC: I am publishing my screenplay collection soon. As per I would like to show the original scripts and ideas to my audiences. This can also be a good reference for people whose career aspiration is to become a director. For example, everyone knows Columbus’ achievement, but if you got a chance to read his diary, Diario de Navegacion, then you will be able to further understand the reason behind his every decision.
Movie novels are usually a re-creation of the story from the film. I personally seldom re-write the movie novel by myself, instead they are usually written by my co-playwright or other writers. Unless it has an original novel, like one of my works Trivial Matters.
Collection of published Pang Ho-cheung screenplays.
JP: Aside from some of the more over-the-top delivery in some of your earlier works, for comedic effect, what made you want to bring a more naturalistic approach to the way your performers deliver dialogue? It's always so down to Earth, sometimes filled with vulgarity, but most importantly, it feels real. Now, I am sure I can't quite truly appreciate it, considering I know zero Cantonese, but when I watch a Pang Ho-cheung flick, I feel like I am just right there among the people. Was that a conscious decision early on, or is it just something that feels right?
PHC: When I design the dialogues, especially for comedy, I usually ask myself whether or not foreigners could also understand the humor too. The punch line can always be in verbal gags or local culture, thus can easily make Cantonese speakers laugh. Yet, despite from only depending on the punch line / gimmick, I also consider on how to enhance the comedic conflict, by actors’ gestures and other visual elements, as such for those who cant understand the language and could also enjoy the humor when they watch the film.
JP: You are an artist who likes to keep himself busy putting out content for the fans, and you do a lot of different things in the entertainment business. Acting is something you haven't really done a whole lot of. I read that you were co-starring alongside Derek Kwok in Chapman To's directorial debut, Miserable World. I haven't been able to find any real news on it,so I am assuming it hasn't begun shooting yet. How do you feel about taking on a new challenge as a leading actor?
PHC: It is indeed a pity that this project has been cancelled already due to investment issue, but there’s another film project in development, which I am planning to participate in as the main actor. I wanted to be an actor at the very beginning of my career, so I would say I still have the fantasy to act on screen.
JP: Going back to directing, which of your works are you most proud of and why?
PHC: I like Isabella the most. The leading actor and actress had excellent performances, and you could see the excellent sparks between the two from their performances, and I put lots of effort to finish this movie. I seldom watch the movies I've directed, except this one.
JP: What made you decide to pack up and open shop in Beijing? I think it was a smart move, and Love in the Buff proved to be a smash hit.
PHC: After the production of Love in the Buff, I wondered how I could further understand the mindset of Chinese youngsters if I want to continue to produce co-production movies. Obviously, it is easier for me to achieve if I live in Beijing.
JP: Speaking of the Love in a Trilogy (I don't know how to refer to it), you recently announced a 3rd film was being developed. Is there anything we can expect from it, or are the details still on the hush side of things?
PHC: Many are expecting this, but indeed I don’t have any plans so far.
JP: If you had to pick one specific genre of film you haven't gotten to dip your toes into and make something within it, which would it be?
PHC: As a fan of action movie, I’m pretty eager to make one in the future, especially since I have never tried the genre so far.
JP: What's been your favorite moment out of your entire career (on-set or off)?
PHC: I started off my career as a fiction writer, so I always like the process of writing. The most favorable moment to me are the times that I am developing on a new story, where I create everything beyond my imagination. Sadly, that imagination in the script usually got manipulated when the film production starts.
JP: Your most recent venture, Women Who Flirt, was your 1st time making a Mandarin speaking movie. What was that experience like, and were there any difficulties, if any, such as the possible language barrier?
PHC: To me, a story is a story, so a change of language does not create any obstacles to my way of telling the story.
Women Who Flirt (2014)
JP: Though I can't speak on a personal level about the movie, as I have yet to see it, tell us a little bit about your involvement in the recent film, Lazy Hazy Crazy. It isn't a Pang Ho-cheung film, per se, but it most certainly feels like something I could have seen you making.
PHC: Lazy Hazy Crazy is only a film that I produced and cannot be classified as A Pang Ho-cheung film. From the very beginning, I promised the Director, Luk Yee-sum, that I wouldn't interfere with the creative directions of this project when I took up the role as the producer. Director Luk and I have been working together for a long time. She was the screenwriter of many of my movies, including Love in the Buff, Vulgaria and Women Who Flirt, etc. I believe because of this, we share a lot of common ways of story telling.
JP: Finally, on a fun note (though not if you were really in the situation), if you were stranded on a remote island, and for some reason there was a nice HDTV with a magical non-realistically working media player attached, and the tv worked as well... what would be the absolute one film you just so happen to have on you, that you can watch on repeat for the rest of time, and be happy with, or at least until you get rescued?
PHC: I’ll bring Shawshank if I’m being trapped on an uninhabited island.
Actually I was talking to you, but it's over now Mr. Pang.
Thank you so much!
Written by Josh Parmer