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An Exclusive Interview
with Derek Yee Tung-sing
(Part I)



This time we are honored to have director Derek Yee, the winner of the Best Director Award at the 24th Hong Kong Film Academy Award Ceremony, as our latest guest. Currently, Director Yee just finished shooting his new film 2 Young which is scheduled to come out in late April. Therefore, in this interview, not only would he talk about his thoughts on winning the HKFAA award, he would also introduce this new movie to us. And as usual, we certainly didn't waste this invaluable opportunity to ask director Yee to share some of his views on Hong Kong cinema as well as his experience as a director. We would love to thank him for sharing his invaluable time with us.

Please enjoy the interview!

* Special thanks to Film Unlimited Production for arranging the interview.
* The interview was originally conducted in Cantonese.

Who is Derek Yee Tung-sing?

Derek Yee was born and raised in Hong Kong. He started his career as an actor at Shaw Brothers movie studio after he graduated from high school. During his time at SB, he has appeared in more than forty movies, including Death Duel, Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre, Buddha's Palm, Let's Make Laugh II, etc...

In 1986, Yee made his directorial debut with Lunatics, The, a critically acclaimed work. Since then, he has moved his focus to directing, some of his works include People's Hero, Bachelor's Swan-Song, C'est La Vie Mon Cheri, Full Throttle, Viva Erotica, Truth about Jane and Sam, Lost in Time and One Nite in Mongkok.

Derek Yee has been nominated for best director at Hong Kong Film Academy Award Ceremony many times , and successfully captured the title twice for C'est La Vie Mon Cheri and One Nite in Mongkok. In 2005, he is scheduled to direct two movies, one of them is 2 Young featuring newcomers Jaycee Chan and Fiona Sit, while another is a drama starring Miriam Yeung and Daniel Wu.

  Director Yee with his awards  

2 Young

Cinespot: First of all, we would like to congratulate you on winning the Best Director Award at HKFAA. We know that your new movie 2 Young will be coming out on April 28. Let's begin our interview with an introduction of this new movie. As far as the information revealed, it is about two teenagers falling in love. How did you come up with the story?

Yee: I think it is a very common subject among us, even if you haven't had such encounter before, it is not hard to find similar cases around your friends. The boy and girl first get to know each other and then they fall in love. Since they are still high school students, their parents would oppose to the affair. What I tried to do was to make the situation more explicit. In the movie, Jaycee's parents are Eric Tsang and Teresa Mo, they live in public estate, which is just one of many typical lower class families in Hong Kong. Tsang is a mini-bus driver and Mo is a restaurant receptionist. While Fiona's parents are Anthony Wong Chau-sang and Candice Yu. It is a middle class family, both of the parents are lawyers, but the mother later gives up her job to take care of the daughter.
Why am I interested in this subject? I have no kids myself, but some of my friends do have kids that are 10s~20s. I remember when they were young, they were rebellious and always went out to hang out with girls, even though they (that certainly includes myself) didn't do any bad things but merely went out to meet girls and dance at parties, their conservative parents usually didn't like it; But now as the parents themselves, when they are aware of their kids' love affairs, they would have very strong reaction. As an observer, I found it quite funny, why are we always repeating the same things over and over again?
The story is actually very very simple, the two teenagers fall in love and the boy gets the girl pregnant. That is it! But certainly it is not only a teenagers movie, since it also involves the parents. It really took some time for us to decide the roles of the parents, and finally we came up with the two couples I mentioned above. We know that Teresa Mo and Candice Yu are not very old, but nowadays a lot of parents are very young actually.
I have done some research before, it seems that if the couple have childen when they are very young, the marriage usually lasts very short. There are many social problems involved, and certainly some romances. But then, I didn't want the story to appear like a documentary, that's why I tried to add some humors into the movie, to make it more commercial, and certainly there are some touching moments. I guess my priority was to bring out the different perspectives of the characters on this matter. I don't have such experiences before, both as the kids or parents, so it is not my own perspective, but more like my comment as an outsider.

Cinespot: Since the premise of the story is quite traditional and the love relationship is also very innocent, are you afraid that the depiction of the teenagers' life and family might not look realistic and accurate?

Yee: I think our view toward teenager is too brief and one sided. Many people would question if the teenagers nowadays are really that stupid or naive? I believe that not all teenagers are those hanging out in Mongkok. I have interacted with many university students before, and I found out that a lot of them are actually quite innocent. I have been to university giving lecture on cinema classes, from my observation, I think the level of university student in HK is getting lower and lower, and more and more naive. It also includes the staff I am working with now. Some of the newcomers, no matter boys or girls, although they are over 20, they just seem to be less mature than me when I was about 16. Perhaps they are good at playing with their cellphones and online games, but that doesn't mean they are very mature. Actually we have spent some time considering this question before, and I asked some of my friends to give some opinions about the script, at first they did show the same concern just like yours, but then after some careful considerations, I believed it's ok. It's because we don't want to make it too realistic, it is hard to persuade the audience if the characters are not naive, also it is not funny to watch too. In the beginning, I once thought if we should make the two leads younger, say the girl at 13~14, the boy at 15, the story would be even more dramatic in that case, but at the same time, it would look even more like a fairy tale. That's why we tried to pick the median. Moreover, it is also illegal if the kids are too small.

Cinespot: From the ultra-violent One Nite in Mongkok to the light-hearted drama 2 Young, what is the new challenge this time?

Yee: I think we can refer back to your previous questions, that is, the obscure line of reality. There are different types of comedy, some are more humorous, some more realistic, which is not easy to clearly define. For this movie, the most difficult part is to make the story plausible, but at the same time also romantic and humorus. Movie is not like reality, if you want to see real things, you can always watch the documentary from RTHK. Some people think I am quite pessimistic, but in this new movie, the style is actually more audience-oriented and mainstream. The pace is faster and the story is more entertaining. It is totally different from One Nite in Mongkok. In fact even some directors said they found it hard to accept the violence in One Nite in Mongkok. I believe the pacing of a commercial movie shouldn't be too slow, if you think a movie is too long, then it means it is boring. Luckily, even though 2 Young is more than one and a half hour long, some of the people who have seen it didn't feel it is too long. So it is entertaining and also not too long, and that's what we wanted.

Cinespot: Both Jaycee Chan and Fiona Sit are new actors, how did you guide them? What is your comment on their performance?

Yee: They are not really new, they have already had some performing experience before, especially as pop singers, they were well trained to face the crowds. It is actually not easy to face a lot of people on the stage. Even if you ask me to speak on the stage now, I would feel nervous. Since they already have such experience, they are not really inexperienced newcomers. Talking about acting, Fiona has been in a TV drama, and Jaycee in a movie (Twins Effect 2), but certainly they still need to gain a lot of experience to grow up. However, they are still very young and so it is not a good time to make a judgment of whether they are good or bad actors at this point. As of now, I think they are both ok! Jaycee definitely has the talent in comedy, he would be a good successor of Alfred Cheung Kin-ting, haha... Check out 2 young and you'll probably agree that he is good at catching the timing for comedy.
As I said, Fiona has been in a TV drama. Working in drama is a good training for new actors. But actually, acting in TV drama is quite different from acting in movie. In TV drama, the priority is the presentation of the dialogue, you have to speak very clearly, while in movie, the acting is more delicate. Since the screen is big, the acting will look pretentious if the gesture or facial expression is too bombastic. I am not sure what kind of training Fiona have had before, but she was quite able to adapt to my style. She is capable of doing different expressions, so my only job was to adjust the intensity of her performance, and certainly also the way she speaks the dialogue. Overall speaking, directing them was not that difficult, the biggest problem was that they were always chatting on the set. But I wouldn't blame them, because I was like that too when I was young, haha. It was generally a nice experience working with them. We were able to talk and have fun together. I felt much younger too.

Cinespot: Are you afraid that the four veteran "parents" may steal the show from the two young leads?

Yee: I am not afraid, because we have balanced their parts in the script...

Cinespot: You are always good at directing actors. From Anita Yuen (C'est La Vie Mon Cheri) to Cecilia Cheung (Lost in Time), and from Daniel Wu to Alex Fong (One Nite in Mongkok), you succeeded in exploiting their potentials. How do you usually direct and interact with your actors?

Yee: Since I started out my career as an actor, I have learned a lot about acting from the directors I worked with. These directors in the past put very strong emphasis on "drama". Yet with the advent of music video, the trend has been changing in the past 15 years. Music video depends heavily on lively editing and so visual effects are more focused. Certainly Wong Kar-wai's early movies played a big influence to contemporary HK cinema too. While my style is little different, as I was more influenced by the old school directors, I tend to emphasize more on the drama itself. Director Choh Yuen influenced me a lot. I learned from him about directing actors as I was always on the set when he was teaching his actors. Also, as an actor myself, I guess I can understand what an actor may feel. Just like them, I used to feel nervous, feared and puzzled as most actors might have experienced. I guess these experiences really help me to communicate with my actors, and also they'd trust me more. Actors don't want to look dumb on the screen, it would be great if they can trust the director. Like, there are many ways to perform a facial expression, you have to tell them exactly which style you would like, and it would give them confidence to do their jobs better.
I always think making movie is like grouping a bunch of lunatics, everyone of them, including the cast and crew, is mentally unstable and fragile. So gaining experience is really important. I can only say compared with some directors, I have little more experience in acting, and if you want me to list out all the methods of directing actors, perhaps I can publish a book too, haha...

Cinespot: Are there any actors you want to work with in the future?

Yee: There are many, Anthony Wong is certainly one of them, and 2 Young is supposed to be our first official collaboration. He was in Viva Erotica too, but it was just a cameo, and we weren't really friends at that time. However, after the production of 2 Young, I believe I have earned some trust from him. I remember in the beginning he was little doubtful about me, perhaps because we were not that close at that time, and so we were not able to be outspoken between each other. But now I guess we could become friends and we would definitely work together again. Actually back in the days when Anthony was still at TVB, I already thought he is a very powerful actor. He is a man of strong character. His participation in this movie means a lot to Jaycee too. A good actor is always capable of inspiring his collaborators, and Anthony certainly helped a lot in this regard.

Derek Yee   Derek Yee


Cinespot: This is your second time winning the HKFAA Best Director Award. Tell us your feeling about it.

Yee: Honestly, I have no special feeling, really... I just had my girlfriend placing the award in my office, that is it! It is more like a competition for myself, instead of competing with the others. Making movie is never an easy process, and so it is really challenging to keep yourself engaged. No matter a good or bad movie, it takes similar amount of time to do. When you are very tired, or there are many obstacles lying before you, it is a big challenge to tell yourself to keep it up and get through. Nevertheless, winning an award is still rewarding as it shows that some people do really watch and support your works. It is also an incentive that pushes you to work harder. But in short, the biggest competitor is always yourself, so it is pointless to compare to the others.
I believe the award ceremony is more or less just a big party, and I wouldn't really think I am the best. Take car racing as an example, there are millions of car racing competitions every year, winning one doesn't mean anything. Most champions are backed up by strong financial support and luck, with the only exception of maybe running. In a 100m dash, if you run faster, you win, that is simple, there is no judge to give you points. I actually think some of the olympic sports are not that fair, like diving or gymnastic, they all require subjective judgment of human being, so the grading can be less accurate. In short, I don't try to think about it too much.
This time many people asked me about it, and I already tried not to answer. Some people might say, "Sing Jai (Stephen Chow) is really disappointed." But did anyone actually ask him? Was he really unhappy? Or was he just not feeling well? I guess he probably wouldn't mind, since this kind of gossip is inevitable.

Cinespot: After winning the award, do you feel more pressure now when making movies?

Yee: No, I don't have pressure. I am good at fighting pressure. I used to be a victim but after some research and reading, I already found a way to tackle with it. Actually after I knew I was nominated, I once thought if I should make 2 Young more slow-paced and less commercial? But then I found it to be meaningless. I understand that I am not making movie for the sake of the award. It should be the other way around, that is, if people like your movie, they'll nominate it. It is immoral to start a project if your only objective is to win an award. However, on the other hand, I know that many young directors may think that way, and I do understand their concern. Their strong desire to win an award may propel them to work harder and result in more high quality works. I wouldn't really oppose to such thoughts, but for veterans like me, it is just not acceptable.

Cinespot: So does it mean you feel different now when you start a project?

Yee: First, it has to be something I am interested. If it is a subject that I don't like, I would still do it, but you have to pay me well! This is a very realistic issue, I have to eat too. As a professional director, I have to do what I may not like to do, but I am sure the movie wouldn't look good in that case. Because if you don't like the story, you probably wouldn't enjoy working on it. I know it is hard to win every audience, as you can see, even Kung Fu Hustle is hated by some peple, so what I can do is to make the kind of movies I like, and I am sure some audience may feel the same way as I do. I also don't care too much about movie reviews, or comments on website forums. I don't try to get too close with my friends who are movie critics, because it is quite embarrassing when you have made a bad movie and they don't know whether they should bash you or not, haha... But on the other hand, it doesn't mean I don't care about the responses of the audience at all. You can feel the atmosphere when the discourse about the movie is being raised everywhere.

In Part II of the interview, director Derek Yee talks about his directing career and his insight on the future development of HK cinema. Please click here to go to Part II!