Wong Chun: Opening a window on Hong Kong

China Daily USA | Updated: 2017-07-28 11:12

Wong Chun: Opening a window on Hong Kong

Wong Chun (left) talks with actors Shawn Yue (center) and Eric Tsang during filming. Yue played Tung, a former stockbroker, who is struggling with bipolar disorder, while Tsang played Tung's father. Photos provided to China Daily

WASHINGTON - Wong Chun got a warm welcome when his low-budget feature debut, Mad World, was presented as the opening film of the 22nd annual Made in Hong Kong Film Festival on July 14 in Washington.

Co-sponsored by the Smithsonian's Freer and Sackler Galleries with the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office, the festival, running from July 14 through Aug 6, features some of the most talked about recent films out of Hong Kong.

"To begin with, just in case you are wondering, this is not a kung fu movie, and is not even a comedy," Wong told the audience at the National Museum of American History before the screening.

Wong Chun: Opening a window on Hong Kong

Wong Chun: Opening a window on Hong Kong

The audience laughed, and got even more enthused when they learned that the 26-year-old director not only completed shooting the award-winning film in just 16 days, but also edit it himself.

"Hong Kong films are often associated with kung fu movies," Wong said. "We take that as a compliment and we're certainly proud of it, but we need to show more aspects of Hong Kong to the world."

Featuring the family of a former stockbroker who is struggling with bipolar disorder, Mad World was one of three films to win the premiere First Feature Film Initiative launched by Hong Kong's Commerce and Economic Development Bureau to support new directors and their production teams in making their first feature films.

"They served more like a subsidy provider than an investor, which allowed us more freedom to tell the real Hong Kong story we wanted to tell, a story that commercial films hardly pay attention to," Wong said.

The film was based on a real news story, which Wong and his team adapted to take a more comprehensive look at Hong Kong's housing problems, mental disorder problems, doctor-patient relationships and the pressures facing care providers.

With such non-mainstream themes, Wong cast mainstream actors - Shawn Yue, Eric Tsang, Elaine Jin and Charmaine Fong - to draw a mainstream audience.

Not only did Wong win the Best New Director at both the 53rd Golden Horse Awards and the 36th Hong Kong Film Awards, but his cast also won multiple nominations and awards.

"Hong Kong films have our own style. We may not be very exquisite or meticulous, but we are often witty and even peculiar," Wong said.

Wong Chun: Opening a window on Hong Kong

"Many say that Hong Kong film nowadays has stepped down from its golden age, the period when it played a leading role in the Asian film industry during the late 1980s and early 1990s," he said. "It is true. Audiences now have many more options with Korean films, Japanese films and films of Chinese mainland, so it's high time for us to really think about what stories we want to tell."

The challenge facing young Hong Kong directors like him remains: How can they win their audience back?

And in his mind this is not necessarily a bad thing. "It urges us to do better and make our films more unique," he said.

There was a time when some Hong Kong filmmakers tried to jump out of the context of Hong Kong and do big-budget productions in order to become more globalized, but that didn't work out very well, Wong said.

"During the past decade, more and more Hong Kong filmmakers have started to bring back the concept of localization, which makes more sense to me," he said, "because globalization can never be achieved if you throw your own identity and uniqueness away. I mean, you need to find out who you are before you present yourself to the world."

Mad World is one of those films that is local but also global-it's a typical Hong Kong story that reflects universal human emotions, conflicts and values.

"I was surprised to see how fast audiences from different parts of the world could really pick up on this film. It connects with people," Wong said.

And he came to realize that as long as he is telling a good story, it naturally reaches out to people no matter what their backgrounds are.

"This was an amazing movie with a very difficult subject matter. I can't wait to see the other films," said Josette Desfayes, a member of the audience who had been to Hong Kong more than 50 years ago but was not familiar with Hong Kong films.

For Wong, film is a powerful and influential medium, through which he tries to open a window for the world to really learn about Hong Kong and its people. With Mad World, he seems to be off to a good start.

Yuan Yuan in Washington contributed to the story.


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