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Interviews

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An Exclusive Interview
with Benny Chan Muk-sing
(Part I)


  Interview


Foreword

Our latest guest is Benny Chan Muk-sing, the icon of new Hong Kong action cinema. From Big Bullet (1996) to Gen X Cops, and from Jackie Chan's Who am I to New Police Story, Chan's works are almost always associated with the word "blockbuster". This time, we're glad to have director Chan to meet with us and talk about his latest movie Divergence. Moreover, director Chan also shared his experience in directing big budget action scenes, and provided a brief retrospect of his career. Fans of Chan's action cinema should definitely not miss this exciting interview. Again, we would like to thank director Benny Chan for sharing his invaluable time with us.

Please enjoy the interview!

* Special thanks to Golden Scene and Universe HK for arranging the interview.
* The interview was originally conducted in Cantonese.


Who is Benny Chan Muk-sing?

Benny Chan Muk-sing was born and educated in Hong Kong. After he finished his study, he joined Rediffusion TV (later became ATV) and worked with filmmakers like Johnny Mak Tong-hung, Tsui Siu-ming...

Later he moved to the film business and directed his first movie A Moment of Romance in 1990. It was regarded as one of the most important films of Andy Lau. He then went on to develop a very successful directing career, some of his films are Son on the Run, What A Hero!, A Moment of Romance II, Magic Crane, The, Man Wanted, Happy Hour, Big Bullet, Who Am I?, Gen-X Cops, Gen-Y Cops, Heroic Duo and New Police Story. He was nominated for HKFAA Best Director award three times.

His latest work in 2005 is Divergence (starring Aaron Kwok, Daniel Wu and Ekin Cheng). The film is scheduled to release on April 28 in Hong Kong. If you want to learn more about this movie, please check out its official website here.


  Benny Chan  


Divergence

Cinespot: We are glad to have director Benny Chan as our guest. let's talk about your new movie Divergence. Sam Tsa Hau (the Chinese title of this movie) is quite an exotic title to most audiences, and from what we know, it is derived from the title of a Peking opera. Why would you want to use it?

Chan: There are two reasons. First, I didn't know about this Peking opera in the beginning. One day my screenwriter suggested it to me, he told me that the title means "fighting in the dark without seeing your opponents clearly". Then later when we were making the movie, I had a chance to talk to Lau Siu-ming, who is very familiar with Peking opera, and he told me the entire story of that title. I thought it is interesting, and it also parallels to the story of our film, like, the three protagonists don't know each other, Daniel Wu is a assassin and you never know when he will be standing behind you to attack, so it is like fighting in the dark and danger is everywhere. Second, everyone of us has diverging moment in our life. We always have to make a decision. In the movie, every character has to make a choice about his life, some may head to the wrong direction, some may even cease to walk, like Aaron Kwok, he has been refusing to walk for ten years. I think the title Divergence (Three Turning Points) is a good fit, my only worry is that the word "tsa" is probably unfamiliar to most people. But on the other hand, it can also propel the audience to look for the word in the dictionary and hence remember our movie.



Cinespot: How did you conceive this story?

Chan: We first had the three lead male Aaron Kwok, Daniel Wu and Ekin Cheng confirmed. Because of the contract with the company, we have to use these three actors. And so we began our brainstorming from that on. We were sure that we wanted to do cops and actions, then we tried to see if we could incorporate it with some dramatic conflicts. Basically we had the actors first, and then we concieved the story.



Cinespot: It seems that in recent years you're trying to inject more and more dramatic twists into your action-oriented movies, and this time you have hired female screenwriter Ivy Ho to write the script. So how did you balance the elements of action and drama?

Chan: If you have seen the movie, you'd realize that it is very different from my previous stuff. Because the script was written by a female screenwriter, it opened up a lot of new perspectives that I was unable to explore in the past. The narrative is also less linear than my previous movies. Actually drama and action are always a friction. If I spend more time on the drama, that means I have to lessen the action scenes. It is really not easy to balance these two elements. That may also explain why it is not easy for action movie to win an award. In this movie, you'll see that a lot of the drama are generated from a female perspective rather than a male one.



Cinespot: Talking about the dark side of human nature, quite some of your movie characters in the past, including Leon Lai in Heroic Duo and Jackie Chan in New Police Story, have to fight against their dark side before they carry on their life. So do the characters in Divergence also have to face such conflicts?

Chan: I think they are different. Say, Aaron Kwok doesn't really have any evil inside himself. He is simply a loser, a lackluster cop. He loses his energy because his girlfriend has been missing for ten years. But when he meets Ekin's wife and notices that she looks exactly like her girlfriend, he becomes optimistic again. He wants to find our whether this woman is his missing girlfriend or not. It is interesting when the plot begins to develop from that point. Although he suspects that the woman is her girlfriend, he doesn't really have the right to investigate, but then the woman has already become part of his life, so it gives him a lot of pressures, and almost drives him mad eventually. You really couldn't say he is evil, it is just about his mind and attitude. There is no good or bad, he only lives for himself, and it is the same for Daniel Wu and Ekin Cheng.



Cinespot: What is your comment on the three main actors?

Chan: Aaron Kwok has become much more mature now. Compared with our collaboration 12 years ago (in A Moment of Romance II), he has transformed from a sunny boy to a masculine and mature cop. He has shown great improvement in this movie. He totally threw away his star image and engaged in the role. He didn't wear any makeup, and didn't comb his hair this time. Overall speaking, I think he has done a great job! Daniel Wu as the assassin is also cool. Although he has been an assassin in One Nite in Mongkok before, this time he is a more professional killer. Daniel did complain that why I always casted him as the bad guy, haha... but I think he is a good fit for the role, and his performance is great too. It is Ekin's first time doing the role of a lawyer, and it is quite different from his previous roles that are mostly gangsters or cops. I know it is tough because this role has to present a lot of professional dialogues.



Cinespot: What about Gallen Law? He is well known for his successful career at TVB, but he sure is still quite fresh on the big screen.

Chan: Gallen certainly won my respect. He treated himself as a newcomer during the filming, he always said, "I am a newcomer, and I am here to learn", even though everyone of us know he has won numerous best actor awards at TVB before. This time he really gave it all. About the difference of TV and film actings, the most important thing is the acting skill of the actor. Since I have TV experience too, I understand the methodology. They usually employ a lot of close-ups to capture the actors' expressions, as audiences at home are probably eating or walking around, so they really need to make the actors eye-catching enough to get your attention. But for films, it is not necessarily to always use close-up, and the gestures of the actors don't have to be too obvious. As a veteran actor, Gallen could be adjusted easily to fit my requirement.



Cinespot: Since Kung Fu Hustle, the market of HK cinema didn't seem to rejuvenate as expected. So do you have pressure about the box office result of Divergence?

Chan: Yes, especially when the market is really not that good. That's why in the last two years, both Heroic Duo and New Police Story had to count on the mainland market too. In mainland, New Police Story made about $50,000,000, while Heroic Duo also made more than $10,000,000. I guess nowadays, Hong Kong audiences have too many choices... Bootlegs and BT are certainly discouraging, and there are many factors that are not controllable by us. Talking about remedy, I believe that education is very important, and it should start from kindergarten. It is hard to persuade the adult, we should instead teach them when they are young. Take a look at Korea or Japan, it is all about civil education. Although it is difficult, I think it is still necessary for the government and the film industry to work together and deal with the problem. Well, I guess I have gone too far... Anyway, what we can do now is to do our best and maintain the quality of our movies.



Cinespot: Do you think we need to recruit more young and aspiring people to renovate our film business?

Chan: Absolutely yes! I think we always have a lot of graduates from Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts and some other television and filmmaking programs every year. But then we don't really have too many openings, so it is necessary for us to give more work opportunities to these newcomers. Try to think, if we don't have any successors, how are we going to carry on our film business in the future? In short, the answer to your question is simple, we absolutely need new face!



Cinespot: As we said, the market of HK cinema is not good, but most of your films are big budget blockbusters, so is it hard to find investors?

Chan: It isn't really hard for me, because there are always mainland and overseas market for action movies. We should appreciate our predecessors for opening up an international market for us. I know it is generally not easy to look for big budget investment, but I am really in love with action movies, and I believe that if you can control the budget well, which I think I am doing ok in this regard, it shouldn't be too hard to find investors after all.



Cinespot: Talking about the mainland market, what is your view on CEPA (Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement)?

Chan: Honestly it isn't really that beneficial. It would be better if it can allow more rooms for our creative process. For instance, ghost movie is still prohibited in mainland, and cops cannot make mistake, also we are not allowed to fire weapons when we are making films in mainland, there are just too many restrictions... What help does CEPA actually offer when we are writing the script? It doesn't seem there is any. I guess the biggest help is for the investment. We are quite disappointed with CEPA probably because most of the benefits seem too abstract and our movies always end up looking different from what we expected following the scheme.


Benny Chan   Benny Chan


In Part II of the interview, director Benny Chan Muk-sing talks about his experience in directing big budget action scenes, and also provide a brief retrospect of his career. Please click here to go to Part II!