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The Golden Rock - Opinions Are Like A**holes Edition, part 1

There have been a couple of outspoken interviews recently - one from a Hong Kong filmmaker, and one about Hong Kong films. Over these two posts, I present translations of these two opinions as a taste of what I’m picking up day-to-day reading Chinese film media.

The first post is excerpts from an interview originally done in Shanghai’s Dong Fang Daily reprinted on with Hong Kong New Wave director Patrick Tam, whose last film was AFTER THIS, OUR EXILE and serves as faculty at the multimedia department of Hong Kong’s City University. The interview deals with his thoughts on Chinese-language films in 2010 and his view on the future.

T=Patrick Tam

Q: Let’s talk about Chinese-language films from the last year, especially those from Hong Kong. Were there any films that surprised you?

T: Last year was a low period for Hong Kong films. You can tell from the Hong Kong Film Award nominations that there weren’t many special works. As a jury member for the Golden Horse Awards last year, I watched 30-plus films in 10-plus days. You can probably say those are the most representative works of Chinese-language cinema, right? There were some pleasant surprises from Taiwan and China, while Hong Kong films were the weakest. I think that’s a worrisome situation.

Q: In recent years, many Hong Kong directors have gone up north to make films. How does this affect the creativity of local Hong Kong films?

T: After the handover, the relationship between the Mainland and Hong Kong has grown closer. Maybe they were only technical collaborations in the past, but in recent years, many Hong Kong film professionals have moved to Beijing to work on co-productions. These North-bound Hong Kong filmmakers have lost much of their uniqueness in order to consider the Mainland market, but do they really understand what the Mainland audience needs to see?

Q: What attracts Hong Kong director north-bound?

T: It’s the appeal of the money, the appeal of the market. That’s why I think their focus isn’t quite right. Johnnie To is fairly late in becoming a North-bound director. His local Hong Kong works have a lot of unique appeal. I’m not sure how much of his personality will he be able to keep, since i haven’t seen his latest co-production (That’s DON’T GO BREAKING MY HEART). Take John Woo as an example, I personally think that the BETTER TOMORROW period was his creative peak, and even though his production and creative environment became more professional after he went to Hollywood, the creative restrictions in turn prevented a creator from being faithful to his art. Among all the current Chinese-language directors, I think only Ang Lee has done fairly well at integrating into foreign cultures. He’s the only successful example in Hollywood. This is the same dilemma that Mainland-bound Hong Kong directors are facing today.

Q: Last year, it seems like some Hong Kong director kept the focus local. Some made films with nostalgic themes, and some had urban themes.

Translator’s note: Note that he did not name any specific films, though at least one is pretty obvious.

T: They weren’t very good. Some films talked about nostalgia, but it doesn’t mean using the same old way to tell stories. Plus, the stories were very false, so I was very disappointed. Some films expressed young urbanite romances, but you can only see the director is trying to play clever in a trivial way, and it looked smart-ass to me. I didn’t see the director’s concern for the target nor his/her stance towards the incidents. Some of these films exploited women in the way they were coded. I think a director’s character, temperament, and nurture are very important. Do you really have concern for your target, or are you using serious societal issues to sell sex and violence? If you’re out to explore the problem of real estate prices, then certain films didn’t explore them as deeply as DWELLING NARROWNESS (Translator’s note: A controversial Mainland TV drama) did. Films cannot be used to fool audiences.

One Hong Kong film from last year was OK, it’s GALLANTS by Derek Kwok (translator’s note: Plus Clement Cheng). Even though it was a little rough, one can see the author’s creativity.

After some discussion about Mainland and Taiwanese films, the reporter asked him about his thoughts on films again. 
Q: How do you feel about some of the Mainland films that were successful at the box office last year. Say, AFTERSHOCK?

T: I don’t really like that film. The common folks’ ethics are simple, they won’t think too much. They’ll think they’ve been touched once they’ve cried. I wasn’t touched because I don’t just watch a film’s content. I’d also watch how this film was produced in the cultural space. It’d be very sad if one only uses box office to measure a film’s achievement.


T: I quite liked LET THE BULLETS FLY. Jiang Wen is a very smart person, but I think he’s sometimes too smart. Jiang gave the best character to himself (laughs). Ge You was great. His character is very tough to do. The film has a message for sure, but I don’t think the director’s motivation was to bury all kinds of obscure meanings for audiences to decipher. Those “horse pulling train” explanations (translator’s note: those that speculate the meaning of the horses pulling the steam train at he beginning of the film) on the internet kind of went too far. This film was quite loose [in censorship standards], which is very rare compared to films that played by the book. [Jiang] was following a certain style in THE SUN ALWAYS RISES, but the finished product was incomplete. However, if you want to talk about a director’s “heart”, I think Jiang Wen’s “heart” is in his first film IN THE HEAT OF THE SUN.

Q: Have you been following THE GRANDMASTER? (translator’s note: Patrick Tam edited DAYS OF BEING WILD and is Wong Kar Wai’s mentor)

T: The poster is quite good. I hope the film will be as good as the poster. Wong Kar-Wai is someone who can tell stories, but the style he developed later on is relatively loose (Wong was the scriptwriter for Tam’s FINAL VICTORY). I personally think Wong Kar-Wai’s best film to date is DAYS OF BEING WILD. He captures the 1960s Hong Kong spirit very well.

Q: Have you noticed that many directors have began making martial art films? Jia Zhangke, Hou Hsiao Hsien, Wong Kar Wai will have martial art films in 2011.

T: Maybe they’re looking for change. Take Hou, I guess that he feels modern Taiwan society stories are finished being told, so he wants to try new challenges. Wong has wanted to make a martial arts film for a long time, he’s just hasn’t been able to do so. Maybe his individual style being matched with this type of films will produce a different result.

Q: Are you looking forward to their change?

T: I don’t have much expectations for filmmakers that have already matured. Say Wong, even when he used foreign actors for MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS, I can still identify his trademarks. That’s why my expectations are for the young people only.

Q: Do you think this is the best of times or the worst of times for films?

T: We’re in the worst of times, not just in film. In terms of film, the global golden age of film is over. Masters are dying one by one.

Q: Are you planning to make any more films after AFTER THIS, OUR EXILE?

T: I won’t give up film production. I’m preparing a new film now. It’ll use Hong Kong as background, and it’s a story about young people. I can’t reveal too much. I think it’ll be an interesting film.

Part 2 - A Chinese editorial about the Hong Kong Film Awards. 

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