TRACEY, the first Hong Kong feature film with a direct theme on transgender, is distributed by One Cool Film, and produced by One Cool Film Production Co., Ltd., Pintianxia Film Co., Ltd., Sun Entertainment Culture Limited., Big Honor Entertainment and Honger Music Venture Ltd. Behind the scene were renowned producer Shu Kei and Jacqueline Liu Yuen-Hung as its executive producers and the director is Jun Li, winner of “Best Director” and “Fresh Wave Award” in the 11th Fresh Wave International Short Film Festival. The leading roles are Philip Keung Ho-Man, the Best Supporting Actor of Hong Kong Film Awards, and Kara Wai Ying Hung, three-time winner of Hong Kong Film Awards and the Golden Horse Awards.
The leading character of the story, Travis Tung at his age of 51, has a good wife, a son and a daughter. A typical middle-class man in Hong Kong, he has always hidden a secret: He is a woman in a man’s body and finally he decides to undergo a sex reassignment surgery. It is difficult for his wife to accept this, the son is at loss, and the daughter’s marriage ran into trouble…… How should Travis, Tracey after the surgery, face his family and himself?
From its pre-production to the release of the concept poster at the 2018 FILMART, TRACEY has always under the spotlight of media and the public. The focus is also undoubtedly on the transgender role played by Philip Keung. Some people say that TRACEY is a film on the gender issue for social minority groups. But that is not the whole picture. According to the producer Mr. Shu Kei, with TRACEY as an introduction, “It is expected that each one could find the greatest inner strength for themselves to face life – which means no longer escaping from the inner calling or taking lies as cover for retreat. Be honest with yourself.” Director Jun Li believes that we live in the same world as transgender. What the viewers will see in the theater are stories in our daily life. According to him, “It is expected that the viewers would come to watch the film not as bystanders, but see themselves through the movie.”
Li graduated from the School of Journalism and Communication at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Cambridge. His short film LIUYANG RIVER won the “Best Director” and “Fresh Wave Award” in the 11th Fresh Wave International Short Film Festival, and was also shortlisted for the 2017 Kaohsiung Film Festival and the Polish Five Flavours Film Festival. Li is also a stage playwright.
CFM: Why do you choose the theme of transgender?
Li: I am very interested in the gender issue – not just transgender, but also other gender-related issues. I am also interested in other social issues such as the laborers.
In fact, it is a matter of habit as for whether a film makes its audience feel good or not, or that if the audience can empathize with the story. Lots of attempts have been made to enable the audience to empathize even in non-mainstream stories. I once joked that many people like to watch crime movies, but none of us works in police forces. Why then are we so interested in such movies? Because we have watched so many that we are accustomed to its language. The relationship between language and culture is a fine line to walk. When watching crime movies, the audience can easily understand that language and culture. Although we are not living in a world of sin or a world of superheroes, the culture in that language can help us understand the story.
However, some films about the LGBT group try too hard on unexpected winning moves, but I have always wanted to get the attention of the mainstream audience when making this film. One of the problems for many of these films is that the creator didn’t not aim to move the audience in the first place when building the character, or we can say that such films are too auteuristic. However, we still want to establish some social awareness through the film. We want the audience to watch this film they rarely pay attention to, so that it shines some light on the transgenders—a group that people don’t usually have access to—thus understand them better. For me, this film is a story-driven one, we want to guide the audience along the storyline instead of forcing them to understand the character. In this concern, we would want to present this film in more commercial film festivals to be closer with the mainstream audience.
CFM: Do you have any preferences when casting? Philip Keung is usually the tough guy in his previous movies, but in this film, he has to express the feminine inner world of the character.
Li: In my opinion, Philip Keung’s personality is not as tough as he may strike people. He is a very emotional person, and sometimes cries easily. In terms of the actor’s apprance, I think anyone can fit this role, because the height and built of transgenders vary greatly. I once went to their support group, and saw people of any posture and appearance there. On the contrary, there is almost only one type of posture for the transgendered men in films, Chinese or foreign, to be slim and very feminine. In fact, the height and weight of women also vary greatly in real life. Some women may be masculine, some women may be feminine, some not so much.
I think that capable actors can interpret different types of characters, so in this story-driven film, it may make up for what has happened beyond the film plot with an unexpected actor. For example, there is an American weightlifter who has just undergone transsexual surgery. His original body is very burly, but he can still appear in a very graceful form after sex reassignment. I think Philip doesn’t look so full of power and grandeur in this film as in other films. In fact, he is very approachable. Every day when he arrives at the site, he will tell me how he sleeps last night, and which scenes will make him feel nervous, as all members depends on each other. I think Philip is a very good coworker.
CFM: What difficulties have you encountered in this film?
Li: There is mainly too much pressure. Because this is my first feature film, and is also the first time for Mr. Shu Kei to supervise the work not made by his student. The entire crew is a large one, which makes me very stressed.
I only met Mr. Shu Kei because I won the “New Currents” Award. When he was looking for a director, he considered the complexity of this topic. When he found me, he arranged such a big crew for me. For me, it is the biggest crew ever including at least 50 people. Everything has to be done in accordance with the rules and cannot be delayed willfully. There may be willful space when shooting short films, but for such a large crew, if there is any delay, it will require the hard work of the entire team to make it up, and coordination among all departments to follow up. If it was in the past, I might only need to communicate with my DP and director of production design. But when it comes to feature films, the director is supposed to arrange and delegate work for others. For example, it is required that I should communicate with the assistant director in shooting big scenes. But I often forget it. As the assistant director has to deal with many other duties all the way down to extras, I often forget to communicate with him. So he often felt he was left in the dark, clueless. It’s just that I am not used to controlling such a large crew. As for a small film crew, all members sit in a room, and everyone should know what he/she is doing after we go through the shooting plan. But I cannot take thorough care of a big crew, which is my weakness and requires improvement in the future. Moreover, it only takes less than a month, about three weeks in fact, to shoot this film although it looks rather long.
CFM: Did you have regrets during the shooting? Was there anything you wanted to express but didn’t properly?
Li: As for regrets, if shooting or directing flaws are excluded, there are regrets in each filmmaking, such as a limited length. Because it is not a story that can be told fully in a three-hour film. If enough time is given to me, I can tell a three-hour story any time. In addition, I feel the transgender process was not given enough screen time, which is one of the great regrets. If there is enough time and resources, I think it is possible to describe in detail the transgender process, and the changes in both the body and life. I think these are very important for transgenders. This is the biggest regret for me, but I know it will be a regret from the beginning, because I don’t have enough time and resources to present this process.
CFM: With such a topic, what kind of social responses do you expect to create?
Li: I expect that through this film, the topic of transgender can be discussed on a deeper level in the current society, because there are still broader and more profound topics to talk about regarding transgender. It will never end.
It is expected that this is the first Hong Kong film with transgenders as the protagonist, but I would cry if it remained the only one on this topic after ten years.
Although the number of transgenders is very small, but each one is different. I am talking about a middle-aged person this time, and expect to have more resources later to shoot film on transgenders with different personalities, at different ages, on different time spans, and even with different ethical values. TRACEY is about a middle class person, but actually people of different classes have their own desire for gender and themselves. So I expect that this film may be the first on such topic, but not the only one after ten years. And I will also continue to shoot films on this topic myself, and expect more directors to talk about it.
CFM: This film has a relatively sensitive subject. What do you think about the overall environment of Hong Kong filmmaking when shooting this film?
Li: I think the most difficult step is to find the investor because it is especially difficult to find a confident investor. The overall film market situation in Hong Kong and what the audiences are thinking about are actually out of our control, and we are also not qualified for taking control of it. Moreover, I think the film market in Hong Kong is more advanced now than we think. Therefore, I wasn’t really concerned with the overall reaction of the public when making the film, and all of our crew members have been prepared to respond to various market reactions, such as when doing costume fitting. Everyone is very serious about it. Because people involved in the film know that we are doing something very important, so everyone has maintained their respect for the topic of gender.
CFM: Are there any future film project plans?
Li: The next film will still be about a topic I am concerned, such vulnerable groups as street sleepers. These people live on the streets and under the overpass in the Sham Shui Po area. They, including people of different races and refugees, are driven away every day. But great changes have taken place these years. They slept on the street at the beginning, and built some roofs when they were driven away. Then when there are more and more roofs, others wanted to get in, leading to growing number of violent incidents. But all members lived in harmony on the streets at the very beginning. After seeing the changes in these years, I wrote this script.
In addition, I mentioned that I still want to write a story about gender, not just gender, but also other marginalized issues. I expect that the stories and emotions of these marginalized people will be seen by the public and recognized by the mainstream society. But another group of people will continue to be marginalized by the mainstream. When a marginalized group is accepted, what will be rejected by the mainstream society is a topic worth exploring. On the one hand, when there is progress in one thing, there is also backwardness in the other. It is the same case for every culture. In fact, some marginal disadvantaged groups are not weak for long, as the marginality of society is constantly flowing. We have no way to eliminate them, but it is very important for us to pay longheld attention to this matter.
(By Gao Yuhan
Editor Guan Yu)