Film finds a hip-hop-tai chi connection

Updated: 2013-10-28 07:22

By CAROLINE BERG in New York (China Daily USA)

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 Film finds a hip-hop-tai chi connection

Up-and-coming Hong Kong filmmaker Adam Wong Sau-ping (left) and film curator for the Asia Society La Frances Hui speak at a news conference on Friday before screening Wong's summer hitThe Way We Dance at the Asia Society in New York City. Caroline Berg / China Daily

The odds were against him from the beginning. Adam Wong Sau-ping was a little-known Hong Kong film director; he made a dance movie, which is not a popular genre in the region; and his cast was not studded with even one star.

"When [The Way We Dance] was released in Hong Kong, it was initially not doing so well in the box office," La Frances Hui, film curator for the Asia Society, said at a press conference in New York on Friday. "Word of mouth kept spreading, and people began to fall in love with this film."

Released in Hong Kong theaters on Aug 2, the film's returns were sluggish at first, but by a month and a half later it had earned more than double its $272,000 budget, according to a report in the South China Morning Post.

The Way We Dance — Wong's third feature length film — is based on Hong Kong hip-hop culture. Wong said he was inspired to write the story after spending nights on campus at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, where he was teaching as a visiting lecturer, and he encountered a group of street dancers practicing outside a 7-Eleven convenience store, according to a article.

"It's not like those gangster films or martial arts films that you are more familiar with [from Hong Kong]," Hui said. "I wouldn't say that all of them are dancers in Hong Kong, but you will see the local culture, traditional things and contemporary things, as well as young people and older people."

The surprise summer hit came stateside for two special screenings over the weekend, first at New York's Asia Society on Friday and then to close out the four-day Boston Asian American Film Festival on Sunday. The post-screening question and answer session at the Asia Society will be available for viewing on its website.

The Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office, New York (HKETONY), sponsored the two events, in partnership with the Asia Society and Asian Cinevision for the New York screening, and with the Boston Asian American Film Festival, a production of Asian American Resource Workshop in Boston. The film programs form part of the cultural programs to celebrate HKETONY's 30th anniversary.

The production of The Way We Dance was supported in part by the Hong Kong Film Development Fund, which aims to engage local upcoming directors, nurture talent and promote long-term development of Hong Kong's film industry. The film's total budget was just under $684,000.

"I think many Hong Kong people are accustomed to making films on a low budget," Wong said with a laugh. "Because I started my filmmaking career as an independent film director, making this movie on a low budget was nothing new to me."

Wong said another thing Hong Kong people are good at is mixing different things together to invent something with their own style, whether that is blending coffee and tea to make a new drink, or in his case for The Way We Dance, bringing together the opposing forces of hip hop dance and traditional Chinese tai chi.

"When I was conceiving my story, I knew that conflict is a main mechanism of pushing forward a story, so I thought, ‘What is the opposite of coolness?' " Wong said. "Then I thought of tai chi because maybe it will give young people the impression that it is something old-fashioned that doesn't belong to this age, so I thought these two things mixed together must be very interesting."

Wong was born in Hong Kong in 1975, and before graduating from the Chinese University of Hong Kong's Fine Arts Department in 1998, he spent a year as an exchange student in the US at the University of Iowa in 1996, where he began making short films and videos.

"I think it was my study in America which made me realize how Hong Kong movies are great and how Hong Kong movies are strange to Americans," Wong said.

Wong said he encountered many questions during the years he spent hunting for investors for The Way We Dance. People he met were skeptical about how a Hong Kong-based hip-hop movie would sell and how it would compare to Hollywood counterparts, like Step Up.

"I knew I had my own unique Hong Kong style and way of making this dance movie, and it turned out to be welcome in [the city]," Wong said at the press conference on Friday held at HKETONY. "So, I want to see how the American audience, who is supposed to be more familiar with hip hop dance, how they will react to my film."

The film's lead and debut actress Cherry Ngan has been nominated for the 50th Golden Horse Film Awards in Taiwan for Best Actress, and Shing Mak is nominated for Best Action Choreography. The film also received the Audience Award at this year's Fukuoka international Film Festival and Wong has been commissioned to write a sequel.

"You don't see very much hardship in the reality of The Way We Dance," Wong told China Daily. "In the sequel, I will tell more on that side."