Treasuring the Diversified Soil for Producing Chinese-Language Films
- Interview with Chun Wong, a Rising-Star Director in Hong Kong Movie Industry

As one of the films supported by Hong Kong’s First Feature Film Initiative (FFFI) in the Higher Education Institutions Group, “Mad World” is the first full-length feature of Hong Kong director Wong Chun. Since the world premiere of “Mad World” at the 41st Toronto International Film Festival, this film has been well-received. It is aired at the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival as the opening film and attends several film festivals such as Hawaii International Film Festival and Palm Springs International Film Festival. “Mad World” is nominated for the Best Supporting Act, Best Supporting Actress and Best New Director at the 53rd Golden Horse film awards. Director Wong Chun wins the Best New Director and Elaine Jin wins the Best Supporting Actress. This film is praised as a surprising work in recent Chinese-language movie market with its realist style and delicate figure and psychological presentation.

Thanks to well-designed script writing, “Mad World” attracts A-list Hong Kong actors and actresses to join the cast and their devoted and richly-layered performance makes this movie a great success. In the film, Shawn Yue is totally immersed in his role battling bipolar disorder. He communicated each performance detail with the director before shooting the scene. Due to a tight budget, the film needed to be shot in just 14 days. Shawn Yue had to follow the script arrangement and experienced dramatically emotional ups and downs in his role. Eric Tsang Chi-Wai acclaims this movie “the best script of the decade” and invites Elaine Kam Yin-Ling to play the leading actress role. Eric Tsang Chi-Wai said, “he is most impressed with the father-and-son sentiment in this movie”. Shawn Yue reminds him of his son Derek Tsang. He tries to figure out the role of “a loser dad” in the movie by a similar experience as a dad who despairs of how to help his son. Elaine Kam Yin-Ling’s part was shot in one day and the crew was amazed by her professionalism shown in the movie. In the movie, the mother role has dramatic expression changes, which really test the acting techniques of actress. Elaine is sometimes cried and shouted, while she looks very kind in some parts. Although her scenes are not many, this role runs through the whole film and is an important source of rifts and resentment between father and son.

Director Chun Wong graduated from School of Creative Media, City University of Hong Kong, with a concentration in film art in 2011. After the graduation, his work “6th March” was nominated for the best short feature film at the 49th Golden Horse Award, won the gold award at the 18th ifva awards open category, the best script award at the 2011 Fresh Wave International Short Film Festival, media panel award at Kaohsiung Film Festival, nominated for International Short Film Festival – Clermont-Ferrand and the competition category at Greek Short Movie Festival, attended a series of international film festivals such as Paris Film Festival and Jeonju International Film Festival. Afterwords, he is engaged in script writing. In the interview, Chun Wong shares his filmmaking experience with us.


Q What’s the special meaning for the movie name “Mad World” (Yi Nian Wu Ming in Chinese)?

Wong: “Yi Nian Wu Ming” (i.e. “The heart of one single mind embracing ignorance”) is a Buddhist term. “Wu Ming” means ignorance of the truth. “Yi Nian” refers to an idea. In Buddhism, the term “Yi Nian Sheng Wan Nian” literally means “One Thought Arises Ten Thoughts Thoughts”, which actually implies that people normally sacrifice more for achieving one simple goal. The term “Yi Nian Wu Ming” reveals that what we pursue is not really what we need. If we are too engrained to pursue that goal, some problems may arise. When we look back our life journey, we may find that what we need is actually very simple and we just couldn’t figure out at that time. We are easily fooled by the superficial look of things. This is also true for interpersonal relationships. In the movie, the father and son, mother and son and the couples, all of them actually “love” each other. Their tragedy leaves us to ponder on whether we build a relationship or fix a broken relationship in a right way. If not, the result will be definitely devastating.


Q As we heard, “Mad World” is adapted from a real social news. Why this topic attracts you to make this film?

Wong: Actually, this film is inspired from this news rather than adapted from it. Our scriptwriter saw a similar story from the news about a middle-aged man who took care of his father suffering a long-term illness. Taking care of a patient for a long term was a painful process. Finally, their relationship was corrupted and they turned out to hurt each other. The father died in an accident and the son was convicted of murder. However, no one cares about why they finally turn out to this tragedy and care about what the son actually did. Instead, this eye-catching news just attracts people’s attention and shocks them.

Actually, for such social issue, what we need to care about is to find out what he really experiences. Our scriptwriter had an interest to know his story. However, he couldn’t find the answer from news reports because no audiences really cared about what on earth had happened to him. So, we decided to make this film aiming to let more people know his suffering. Later, we did a lot of research. We interviewed many people and heard many similar stories. “Emotional problem” is a frequent problem faced by the caregiver and patients with a long-term illness. We could find many similar cases in families and communities. Based on these true stories, we re-write a story, which is quite different from the original news. We add more our social observation and some thoughts and feelings on the changes of Hong Kong encountered in recent years. We hope to take audiences to a life of a stranger that they never imagine before through the movie “Mad World”. By using the film–this media–to describe a person’s mood and emotion, we hope to remove the “emotional problem”– this tag so as to truly understand a person. When you meet a marginalized person, you will have some sympathy for him. He is alive and has his stories. I want to remove such tags and stereotyping framework through my movie.


Q The director and scriptwriter add their observation of Hong Kong society in the story. Do you deliberately discuss some realist Hong Kong social problems in the movie? Any special meanings of the church plot in the movie?

Wong: I want to discuss the nature of “humanity” through this church plot. The church plot actually intends to describe the environment, rather than deliberately emphasizing a belief or religion. So, this plot could happen in any place. Tung’s ex-girlfriend doesn’t intend to hurt him. Charmaine Fong’s performance is very accurate. She tries to reconcile or fix this broken relationship, rather than hurt or get revenge on him. However, she has many karmic obstacles not to be dissolved. So, she goes to extremes and finally turns out to hurt each other.

Actually, this is a common problem faced by many people. Despite out of kindness, we mayn’t realize that our behaviours actually hurt our loved ones. So, no matter what we believe in, sometimes, we don’t know what our loved ones really need and hurt them in the name of “Love”. The results will be obvious. I think all of us–regardless of our religion–need to ponder on this.


Q Is this your first full-length feature film? What problems do you encounter?

Wong: Yes. This is my first full-length feature film. Indeed, I meet a lot of difficulties. First, this film only sources HK$2 million investment and is shot in just 16 days. However, this film has a lot of complex emotional performance. Thus, it’s a great challenge for the cast and crew. The most impressive thing for me is that the full-length feature film has more time for me to deeply explore the cast’s emotional changes and life of real individuals. When we have more space to explore more complex and in-depth things, I always remind myself of what I will present to my audience in this film. As the church plot we just mentioned, what effect will it bring finally? After final cutting and selecting, does this film still achieve its original goal? This is the big pressure for me and also what I insist on in the production process.

The production of this film lasts for three years from writing the script to the post production. It’s important to keep a good mind. It’s important to have good judgement. Do we lose our objective judgement when we work on a task for a long time and are very familiar with it? Or, does this film deviate away from its original track in the production process? These are what I learnt from my first full-length feature film.

QAll cast are professional actors and actresses in this movie. However, the director is a new director. How do you communicate with them and control the filmmaking activities onsite?

Wong: Actually, it’s much easier than what I expected. Of course, it doesn’t mean it’s a simple job. We have already reached a consensus before they come to play their roles. They join the cast because they love this story. As you already know, Shawn Yue and Eric Tsang voluntarily star in the film without any payment. They really want to create good characters, not just simply doing a job. All cast share a common goal to jointly create a good work rather than considering how much pay they could get. Based on these, many decision-makings and communication are much easier for me.

How to create a work and let the cast have their best performance? Bearing these questions in mind, we just throw ourselves into the filmmaking no matter who is an A-list actor/actress or not. As excellent veteran actors and actresses, they are quite capable of performing their characters, however, they put extra efforts on this film, which really touches me.

We treat this story seriously and the cast also take the script seriously, which help to improve the movie quality. Finally, audiences will see the performance of the cast, not me. So, if the cast don’t agree with me, no thing could be achieved. Audiences will feel our efforts and hope that they could watch this film as an artwork.


Q This film is supported by Hong Kong’s First Feature Film Initiative (FFFI). Would you please share with us what support Hong Kong film industry gives to you and how’s the film-making environment in Hong Kong now?

Wong: In recent years, Hong Kong government has provided some helps to the filmmaking industry. There are also some competitions and veteran filmmakers offer their helps to new directors and new filmmakers. They respect the vision and imagination of new filmmakers. I am very grateful for that.

The Fresh Wave program supported by the Hong Kong government and led by Director Johnny To is a short film competition. I participated in the Fresh Wave and my first short-feature film was stood out from the Fresh Wave. These supports from the Hong Kong film industry provide many opportunities for new filmmakers like me. Learning theory is not enough to shoot a film. You couldn’t produce a film even if you watch 200 films. The director must have hands-on experience to shoot a film. Of course, the full-length feature film is better but the short film is also good. Each opportunity is an important experience for filmmakers. We will learn from each opportunity and grow up.

Today, Hong Kong film industry gives us a lot of supports so that I have such opportunity to produce this film. I am really grateful for that.


Q Will you continue to focus on similar marginal topics? What’s your next plan?

Wong: My next work will be different from this one. It may not focus on social issues in such realist style. However, we will still put our foot on Hong Kong and tackle the subject of people’s sentiment and interpersonal relationships in this city. This won’t be changed. We may have a different genre or style to communicate with our audiences and further express our propositions. However, we will bear our original purpose in mind no matter what films we will produce.

My major responsibility is to produce films. To produce a blockbuster, we need more investments and resources. So, we need some commercial operation. Otherwise, we couldn’t source resources to make it. Some works are more independent and need more production space. So we will use independent methods to make them. So, I think that filmmakers could be more flexible and the most important is how to tell a story. A film work is like our kid. We need observe what he needs and give him what he needs as possible. If we fix our role inflexibly, our creative space will be constrained.


Q What’s your opinion about the co-production films and today’s Chinese-language film market?

Wong: In my opinion, co-production film is a choice for us. Some directors need to source a lot of resources and be supported by a large market through co-production, to showcase their real style and vision, while some directors like small films, depending on what they need. Someone likes the large canvas, while others prefer a small canvas. Some people like paint, while others like Chinese ink painting. Different people have different preferences. So, requirements and choices are different.

Although the co-production film is a way, we will lose our diversity if all of us rush to do the same thing. Actually, co-production is a choice. If some directors need co-production, they could produce good works for audiences through this way. For me, I prefer selecting genre and techniques much more suitable for me.

Regarding today’s Chinese-language market, I was invited to attend a workshop with the participation of directors from Mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan. At the workshop, I could strongly felt the diversity of Chinese-language film market. For example, from the speaker’s presentation, we could figure out where he comes from, no matter what dialect he speaks. Although we come from different cultural backgrounds, we share similar values, aesthetics and cultural roots. As we work under different backgrounds, our aesthetics and production techniques are different. This is a good thing actually. Although all of us produce Chinese-language films, we produce different works. I think that I broadened my vision at that workshop. Originally, I had my own ideas about films. However, I changed my mind during that short trip. We should treasure this diversified soil for producing Chinese-language films to produce films in different genres and diversify Chinese-language film market.