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An Exclusive Interview
with Director Joe Ma Wai-Ho
(Part I)



We had an exclusive interview with director Joe Ma in mid September 2002. The interview took place in director Ma's office in Kowloon Bay, Hong Kong. It was a very pleasant and comfortable interview. Director Ma is a very nice guy. He shared his vision and thoughts with us generously. Topics include his latest film The Lion Roars, his influences, unforgettable experiences, and many more. We would like to thank director Ma for sharing his invaluable time with us, as we know he has a very busy schedule.

Please enjoy the interview!

* The interview was conducted in Cantonese.

Who is Joe Ma?

Joe Ma is a very young and prolific filmmaker in Hong Kong. He is one of the most popular directors lately. He has directed 15 movies up to date, including Feel 100%, Funeral March, Dummy Mommy, Without a Baby, Love Undercover, Summer Breeze of Love, in which all of them are box office guarantees. In addition to directing, Ma is also a successful producer and screenwriter. He has cooperated with director Wilson Yip and produced several highly acclaimed works like Bullets over Summer. His screenplay Black Mask, Victim, and many others also received positive responses.

Recently, he just completed directing The Lion Roars. The film stars Louis Koo and Cecilia Cheung and is scheduled to come out in early October in Hong Kong.

  director Joe Ma  

The Lion Roars

Cinespot: How did you come up with the idea for The Lion Roars?

Ma: It is mainly because I wanted to shoot a film with a new "look". As you may know, I am used to making light-hearted romantic comedy, in fact, I am a fan of "wuxia" film. I studied Chinese History and History at college, and I love reading "wuxia" novel. I like the story of those "wuxia" films. For instance, in a contemporary drama, it is weird to have people killed frequently, but in a "wuxia" movie, it is not unusual to have lots of characters killed in every scene. I think this is the biggest reason that propelled me to start out this project. In addition, this project was not started by me in the beginning actually. Chinastar, the investor of this film, was very interested in this story. They had been looking for director to make it. When they talked about the plan with me, I knew it was tailored for me, and that's why we decided to do it. As I have said above, I always wanted to make a movie with ancient China background, besides, the story of this film is familiar to Hong Kong people (It was adapted as a Cantonese opera before). Since we had a well-prepared and comprehensive plan, we began production smoothly.

Cinespot: Although The Lion Roars is a Hong Kong movie, the production mainly took place in mainland China. Did you encounter any problem?

Ma: I guess you probably would expect us to have problems with the local crews since we speak different languages and have different cultural backgrounds. The truth is, such problems did not exist. The crew there were very professional. Everyone of them would do his/her best. For instance, the prop team would try their best to accomplish their task even if they were told to search for firewood for us at midnight. It was not easy even for the Hong Kong crew. Conversely speaking, what I found problematic was the Hong Kong crew. As you know, many Hong Kong people have prejudice against working in mainland. They tend to think it is wearisome to work there, the environment is not clean, the local crews there are not smart. Moreover, the Hong Kong crews have their own professional vocabulary, it would be hard for them to adapt to those of the local area, hence, they might not have the patience to communicate with the local crews. In general, I would say, the problems were mainly coming from the Hong Kong crew.

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Career & Influences

Cinespot: Aside from being a director, you are also a producer and screenwriter. Among three positions, which one do you enjoy most?

Ma: This three positions contain very different elements. Personally, I love all three of them. The most interesting part of writing screenplay is that, everything starts out from nothing. Building everything up is like constructing a bridge, it can bring you enormous satisfaction, especially when you are the screenwriter and someone is to direct your script. The disadvantage of being a screenwriter is that it is a lonely job. Yes, there is time that you have to meet with other people to discuss the script, but for most of the time, what you do is to simply sit in front of the computer or paper and write. About director, it is a powerful position. Due to the system in Hong Kong, director possesses huge power, everyone will respect you and listen to what you say. But director always has to work under pressure, and he has to make a lot of decisions. For people who do not enjoy making decisions, it might not be a good job. As for producer, the job duty is a little more complicated. It consists of many business decisions. You have to decide how to sell the movies to the audience and the theater, which I think is also cool and provides satisfaction. However, the creative ratio is not that much as compared to directing and screenwriting. Back to your question, ideally, what I want is to take up all three positions at the same time. It is because all three of them are connected, for instance, you can learn more about the market as a screenwriter if you have to research on it as a producer.

Cinespot: What is your favorite movie? As a director, what do you consider as your influence?

Ma: I love many movies. During my time at college, my favorite would be Woody Allen's films. His films are always about gender relationships set in a city background. The topics contain humors, wits, emotional moments and taste. His films were a big impact on me at that time. I also love other films like Godfather and Saving Private Ryan. These are the films I am unable to make at the moment. There are many filmmakers in Hollywood, Japan and Europe that are good at storytelling and camera positioning, and I think they are all very good.

Cinespot: Does it mean you want to make a Godfather-alike film? It is very different from the films you used to make.

Ma: Actually, I didn't mean I really wanted to make such films. I simply enjoy them as an audience. Besides, as time and market are always evolving and changing, a Gofather movie might not interest contemporary audiences. It is also hard to find locations to make it in Hong Kong now. In short, at this moment, I don't think it is a good time to make such films.

Cinespot: Remake is a popular trend lately. If a foreign production company were to remake one of your films, which one would that be?

Ma: I think it would probably be Love Undercover. This film used to participate in a local film festival in Italy. It was well received there where 95% of the audience were Europeans. They had to read the subtitles in order to understand the dialogues, but still, they seemed to like it very much. I guess it was popular because the story is universal and easy to understand. On the contrary, films that promote local pop cultures like Feel 100% might not be welcome by overseas audiences.

Cinespot: Some people see you as the successor of Wong Jing, the king of commercial cinema in Hong Kong. What is your thought about it?

Ma: I think... one only needs to concentrate on one's own job. I don't care about this kind of title, and I am sure no one will want to be the successor of another person, or have it as one's ambition. Therefore, I only do my best every time!

  director Joe Ma  

For Part II of the interview, please click here!