Johnnie To Supports Newcomers Three Legendary Criminals Making Waves Again
—An Interview with the Trivisa Directing Team

Trivisa was produced by Johnnie To and Yau Nai-hoi, whose aim was to inject new vigor into the Hong Kong film industry. They selected three newcomers from the Fresh Wave new talent showcase – Frank Hui, Jevons Au, and Ricky Wong – to helm this criminal thriller. The film is a fictionalized story about three notorious Hong Kong mobsters (Yip Kai Foon, Cheung Tze-keung and Kwai Ping-hung) who are portrayed in the film by Richie Jen, Jordan Chan, and Gordon Lam. The three newcomers lived up to expectations and gave full play to their talent. First, they decided on the story concepts. Each person was responsible for one role. Then, they integrated three stories and made something new in the Hong Kong film industry in terms of both creativity and execution.

In 2005, the Hong Kong Arts Development Council launched the first Fresh Waves Short Film Competition, aiming to promote the development of filmmaking in Hong Kong and provide a supportive exchange and showcase platform for young local filmmakers.

The competition consists of an Open Division and a Student Division. After reviews and interviews, the shortlisted entrants each produced a short film of 5-25 minutes, guided by experts from the Hong Kong film industry. From 2010, Fresh Waves added a new section: the International Short Film Festival. It works with overseas film festivals and organizations, airing short films from all over the world. Johnnie To is a supporter of Fresh Waves, and hopes to attract talented young directors to join the film industry. Trivisa is part of this. The film took four years from the initial preparations to completion.


Q: How do you understand those three roles in your film?

Ricky Wong: I was responsible for Cheuk Chi- keung. I did some research on Cheung Tze-keung. He was very high-profile in his day. I highlighted this characteristic in the role. Cheung Tze-keung once said that he loves challenge as much as an alpinist. He’s a smart guy. If he has chance to do legal business, He will be a successful businessman. Unfortunately, he is too eager to succeed, and this is the root of his ultimate downfall.

Frank Hui: I am responsible for Kwai Ching-hung’s character. I did a lot of research about him. I found out that he was a low-key kind of person. He changed his identity many times, and was a fugitive in Canada. Many Hong Kongers at that time wanted to emigrate over- seas. This background is very interesting.

Although he is a legendary gangster in others’ eyes, he wants a normal life. He only commits crimes due to financial difficulties. I want to highlight his real character – his greed. He could have lived in the shadows but came back because of a rumor, like the greedy dog in the fable. The dog sacrificed the bone in his mouth for its reflection in the water.

Jevons Au: I give a more humanistic interpretation of the role of Yip Kai Foon. Actually, he is a product of the times. Back then, everyone wanted to get rich before Hong Kong returned to China, and values were distorted. Materialism led to a higher crime rate. In my film, Yip Kai Foon is not just a heart-less criminal, but a victim of his time. When he is bullied by officials, he chooses to rebel and goes crazy when oppression tips him to breaking point.


Q: In the past, you mainly produced short films, but have now made feature-length movie. What’s the difference between the two?

Ricky Wong: My predecessors have given me a lot of valuable advice in all aspects, especially directing and editing. I believe that I have a lot of to do to reach their standards, in particular editing. For this film, three of us shot three stories separately. It was a kind of secondary creation to bring the three different stories together. I learned a lot, although it’s been a painful process.

Frank Hui: Our cinematography team consists of senior professionals. Compared to them, I am still a newcomer. I’m impressed with their professionalism and efficiency, and I’m lucky to have the opportunity to learn from them.

Jevons Au: Although I participated in the screenplays for Don’t Go Breaking My Heart and Drug War, this feature-length film was a big challenge for me. In my previous films, I used much more discretion. We needed to consider a lot of issues for this one, such as the market and film production trends. This film was directed by all three of us. We had to integrate three different stories. It was a good opportunity to learn how to work as a team. It’s not easy to shoot a successful film that will be recognized by the industry.


Q: During the process of creation, how do you do something new with the gangster film genre, made famous by Johnnie To?

Ricky Wong: Johnnie To is my idol. I like his films very much. His style is unique. After we took this project on, I wondered whether we should maintain his style in the film. Did we need to copy his style? When we talked with Johnnie, he asked us not to copy his style, because we have to make our own films. We are a new generation of directors; we’re different from him. We need to have our own style.

However, we share the same ideas. For example, the topic of this film. Johnnie is famous for his gangster films. So, the cinematic style in this film is similar to Johnnie’s, but we use a different presentation.

Jevons Au: For this genre and these three characters, our directing team had different opinions. Guided by Johnnie, we tried to shape our own styles to explore our own cinematic world. After Johnnie suggested the topic of Three Legendary Criminals, we found our own entry points.

Frank Hui: Johnnie always tells us to stick to our own style. He doesn’t want us to copy his shooting style. In the process of creation, we follow our minds rather than deliberately carrying something forward. To create a character is like making a baby, who should grow naturally without any restrictions. So, we don’t follow any particular style in our films. For film-makers and fans alike, the generation born in the 1980s loves Johnnie’s films. His style has influenced us to a greater or lesser extent.

However, we don’t deliberately copy him. Jevons Au For this genre and these three characters, our directing team had different opinions. Guided by Johnnie, we tried to shape our own styles to explore our own cinematic world. After Johnnie suggested the topic of Three Legendary Criminals, we found our own entry points. We considered how the stories would be narrated and how three characters should be. Each of us has our role. In my eyes, Cheuk Chi- keung and Kwai Ching-hung are very different from theirs, so we explored each role and found out more about them.


Q: How did you bring your three characters together? How did you form a cohesive film?

Ricky Wong: Initially, Johnnie only gave us a brief: three legendary gangsters. It was just a concept. We sat down to discuss what the three would do if they met. However, what you see in the movie is quite different from our initial discussions. We decided to focus on our own parts first, because we had our own screenplays. Of course, we exchanged key ideas with each other such as crossover scenes. As we fixed these issues, the characters became clearer. We didn’t force integration where it wasn’t needed.

As for the style of the film, we reached a consensus that it would be realistic. Each character would be bold and vivid. However, we had different ways of dealing with them. For example, I was responsible for Cheuk Chi-keung, played by Jordan Chan. Cheuk Tze-keung is a boastful person. People like him exist in the real world. He may be an exaggeration, but you can find guys like him. The style of the film is realism.

Jevons Au: Producers served as an important bridge between us, as we need a feature-length movie, rather than three short films. The film has a main topic; the three of us were allocated small topics. Johnnie was like a bridge, bringing the three separate stories together under the main topic.

Frank Hui: The film is set before Hong Kong returned to China in 1997. All of us witnessed that transition period. It influenced our style. The three characters have different personalities. We had our own storylines, but we didn’t discuss how to integrate them at first. In the initial stages, we had independent stories and planned a short film of around 30 minutes. We didn’t have any idea about how the film would be edited. Apart from some telephone scenes, we have our own story lines.

Jevons Au: At first, we had no idea how the film would be edited. We thought it might go the same way as Life Without Principle. As it turned out, our stories are narrated individually, so we didn’t worry too much what the others were doing.

Ricky Wong: However, we saw each other’s scripts during the creation process. For example, Frank’s guy is more of a pessimist, as his character believes in fatalism and is a low-key person. When I was shaping my character, I found that he was an outgoing and high-profile person. My cinematic tone became brighter to chime with this. The film is all about contrasts. When we saw each others’ scripts, we got some new ideas. You’ll see some subtle connections in the film.


Q: All of you are winners of the Fresh Waves Shot-Film Competition. What was your experience of participating in this platform?

Ricky Wong: We were all selected from Fresh Waves. For us, it represents a “wave” of newcomers at various stages. For me, Fresh Waves provided us with the capital to shoot films. Capital is vital for the initial stages of film production. After a film is produced, the next step is screening. Our purpose is definitely not to earn click rates by uploading short films on YouTube. Fresh Waves has a panorama section, which acts as a screening platform. We also screen films and hold meetings on campuses. Later, the organizing committee will take the film to overseas festivals. That’s part of the complete system offered by the Fresh Waves.

Frank Hui: The first Fresh Waves didn’t offer us too many favorable conditions. Capital support was the most attractive for me. Money is important when shooting a film. Fresh Waves motivates young people to create. Functioning as an investor, it also offers a platform to air films in front of audiences. As such, more people will watch our films, which will motivate us to create more. We were able to speak with experienced directors. As well as the quality of entrants and work, the supporting conditions are improving.

Jevons Au: As two of the directors have said, Fresh Waves provides a good platform for entrants, and establishes a complete system to support young directors from shooting right through to screening. It’s great that Fresh Waves is getting better every year.


Q: How would you describe Hong Kong films and the Hong Kong film market?

Frank Hui: In my opinion, many of today’s films are inspired by Hong Kong movies. For example, I often watched Jackie Chan and Stephen Chow films when I was a child. Even today, these films are still a vanguard. Martial arts and comedy are integral to their films. Why are classic Hong Kong films so popular abroad? It’s because they were free from restrictions back then; filmmakers could do what they wanted. There are too many regulations now. Although we can’t lay the blame solely on the Mainland’s regulatory super- vision, it surely has some influence. The former freedom enjoyed by the Hong Kong film industry is hardly seen now.

Ricky Wong: That’s not just the case for Hong Kong films. Nowadays, a lack of originality is a common problem for many films. In the 1980s and 1990s, each film was interesting and novel to us. However, we can always find familiar plots or scenes in today’s films. Also, if a film succeeds at the box office, many similar movies will appear in the market. In the past two years, low-budget films have become popular. We would love to hear feedback from audiences as to whether these films are special and original.

Jevons Au: Unlike the others, I rarely saw Hong Kong films when I was in high school. Instead, I watched a lot of Hollywood films, such as Mission: Impossible. I got into European films when I was studying at the Academy for Performing Arts. I seldom watched Hong Kong films. I thought they were inferior to foreign movies. However, I finally fell in love with Hong Kong films when I discovered their unique characteristics. I like the way they record local people and their lives. You don’t see this in European or Hollywood films.

When I was younger, I was attracted by the special effects seen in Western films. When we were shooting Trivisa, Johnnie told us that we could not hope to compare with Hollywood in either technological wizardry or special effects. This troubled us, as we wondered how we would be able to attract an audiences. The answer was to offer a taste of Hong Kong’s unique culture. So, when we talked about the screenplay, Johnnie asked us to check whether local people’s lives and social concerns were being revealed. As new generation directors, we should shoulder this responsibility. At the very least, we need to find out what audiences expect for Hong Kong films rather than leaving them with the impression that our industry has fallen from grace.


Q: Do you have any plans for the future? What are your favorite genres and topics?

Ricky Wong: I am enjoying the project I’m working on now.As for my favorite topics, I have a principle that my work should inspire my audience to reexamine their lives, either for public good or moral fiber. For me, film is not a form of entertainment, but a vehicle to influence behavior. I want to present my ideology to my audiences and inspire them to deliberate and think. This is my expectation.

Frank Hui: I have no special plans. I just want to shoot more genre films.

Jevons Au: I’m planning to shoot a feature-length film at the end of next year, which focuses on social issues. It is not a commercial film.


Frank Hui graduated from the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts with a degree in Film and Television Directing in 2015. His film Wasted won the Best Film Award at the First Fresh Wave Joint Universities Short Film Competition. His work has appeared at several international short film festivals.

Jevons Au graduated with a degree in Directing from the School of Film/TV at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. His short film Merry X’mas won the Fresh Wave Award and the Best Film Award (Open Group) at the 2nd Fresh Wave Short Film Competition.

Ricky Wong graduated from the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at Hong Kong Shue Yan University. He completed his studies at the London Film Academy.

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