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An Exclusive Interview
with Chan Wing-chiu
(Part I)



Director Chan Wing-chiu (aka: Ah Chiu), little known to the audience until recently, started his career in filmmaking in the 80s. Having been the assistant director and production manager for many movies, he eventually jumped into the directing stream. While director Chan has gained much experience in commercial filmmaking, he did choose to be an independent filmmaker. Recently, he has just finished directing his latest work A Side, B Side, Seaside, a teenage drama. The film is an official selection at the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival and Pusan International Film Festival. We are glad to have director Chan with us to talk about this new film as well as his insight on the realm of independent filmmaking in Hong Kong. We would very much like to thank director Chan for sharing his invaluable time with us.

Please enjoy the interview!

* The interview was originally conducted in Cantonese.

Who is Chan Wing-chiu?

Born and raised in Hong Kong, Chan Wing-chiu started his filmmaking career in the 80s. He has been the assistant director and/or production manager for the movies of Sammo Hung, Alfred Cheung, Eric Tsang, Gordon Chan, etc...

Later in the 90s, Chan established an independent filmmaking group called "Ah Chiu Workshop". The aim of the group is to encourage independent production and promote education on multi-media design. In 1999, Chan proposed the re-organization of the Film Culture Centre of Hong Kong and became its committee member.

In 2002, Chan Wing-chiu directed the award winning documentary By Heaven's Grace. In 2004, Chan became the instructor of the "Filmmaking Vocational Training Program" co-organized by the Federation of Hong Kong Filmmakers and Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education.

A Side, B Side, Seaside is Chan Wing-chiu's latest work. The film is an official selection at the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival and Pusan International Film Festival.

  Chan Wing-chiu  

A Side, B Side, Seaside

Cinespot: What is the story of A Side, B Side, Seaside about?

Chan: Simply put, it is about the blossom of youth. As you may know, VCD usually consists of two discs, "Side A" and "Side B", that is where I got the inspiration. I borrowed this idea to tell the story of an "A" looking for a "B", and the entire story happens by the sea, which connects the young people and their dreams together.

Cinespot: Can you tell us a little more about the significance of this idea of "A Side" and "B Side"?

Chan: It is quite difficult to explain clearly as the story contains a lot of evolvements. Basically the film is divided into three segments, "A Side", "B Side" and "Seaside". But then there are actually only two stories about two different girls. As I said, the "Seaside" is merely a device to connect the two stories together.

Cinespot: There are so many movies about teenagers and youngsters in these few years. How would you make your film more distinguished among them?

Chan: I believe that my film can provide a different viewing experience for you. Most of these movies are pop idol driven, but we are quite different. Starting from the beginning, we have already decided not to employ any pop idols to play the roles. We wanted to tell a genuine story about the youngster, and so we needed to find someone who is really 17, but not someone who pretends to be 17. We spent a lot of time to cast the actors, and we ended up hiring an entire cast of non-professional actors. I remember one of the girls coming for the audition asked me how this movie could make money if there is no pop idol. I didn't really know how to answer her, I just told her that since my company trusted me, I would give it a try. Honestly, it was quite a risky decision for us since this is not any non-commerical independent short but narrative feature that is intended for public distribution.
Story-wise, what I tried to do this time was to simplify and purify the diegetic world. Unlike most of these movies that usually love to deal with social matters, the characters and the settings of A Side, B Side, Seaside are more innocent and simple. That's how we distinguish ourselves from the others.

Cinespot: Just like The Unusual Youth, your film is also set in the rural area of Cheung Chau. How is yours different from it?

Chan: About this question, I think you definitely need to go see the movie! (lol) Referring back to the previous question, this movie is about a simple and innocent world. That is why I picked Cheung Chau as our main setting. Cheung Chau is a place that could easily generate collective memories. For instance, when we mention Cheung Chau, we would always think about sail racing and camping... But then, I was not trying to turn Cheung Chau into an innocent island that is unrealistic. I only wanted to present the unknown side of Cheung Chau to the audience, something that is not usually portrayed in Hong Kong movies. For instance, when we film the sea, one of the perspectives is from the outsiders, and one from the local residents. In general, I wanted to bring something new to the audience.

Cinespot: Many independent films are employing professional "big name" actors to play the lead roles, like Josie Ho and Eric Kot in Butterfly. What is your view on this matter? As an independent filmmaker, did you ever consider this approach?

Chan: Yes, I did! From a commercial standpoint, you have to consider the need of the audience and the demand of the market, especially when your movie is intended for public distribution. People may wonder why they should go to see your movie if there is no celebrities at all. In addition, some roles really require professional to handle. Making A Side, B Side, Seaside was a fun experience, but after the production, we had a hard time as we needed to think of many different ways to introduce the movie to the market. There were a lot we had to fight for. It was a very tough task.

Cinespot: But don't you think the movie would become much more commercially calculated if a star is presented in an independent film? In some senses, it would not look like an independent film anymore.

Chan: You are right! At least when you have a star in your cast, the way you work would be much different. Take A Side, B Side, Seaside as an example, if the lead female is a professional, I am sure I would film the story in a different angle. The entire approach would be different. You have to put more emphasis on the "character" than anything else. Basically, you should know how to balance the elements by making the right choice. I think it is the fun part of filmmaking.

Cinespot: Are there any stars you want to work with?

Chan: Yes, there are many Hong Kong actors I am interested to work with, but I just didn't dare to ask them. For instance, some of the big names like Sammi Cheng and Miriam Yeung are all great. Josie Ho is a very talented actress too. Her range is very wide and she is willing to try out different types of roles.

Cinespot: Assume that you have gathered an all star cast now, would you still make an independent film? Or would you rather switch to commercial cinema?

Chan: If I have such a cast, perhaps I couldn't choose an alternative subject matter. On the contrary, if you ask me to do something very commercial, I guess I just couldnt pull it off convincingly. The dilemma is to make a film that I am interested and at the same time that I am able to utilize their talents. Like the recent Korean film April Snow, both Bae Yong-jun and Son Ye-jin are popular stars, but the movie is very artistic. It is quite rare to find similar movies in Hong Kong. Overall speaking, I think it is possible for "star" and "independent film" to co-exist, it all depends on the subject matter and the approach of the director. The priority is to get the right actor for the right role.

Cinespot: In the coming Pusan International Film Festival, three Hong Kong movies are selected, A Side, B Side, Seaside is one while the other two are The Myth and Everlasting Regret. How do you feel about entering this international film festival as an independent filmmaker?

Chan: I didn't try to think too much. I am simply very excited to see that my movie will be screened outside Hong Kong. My film is included in the "Conversation and Communication" section of the film festival, which I thought is quite meaningful. I make movies because I want to communicate with the audiences. So I am very happy to have the opportunity to interact with the audiences from around the world.

  Chan Wing-chiu  

In part II of the interview, director Chan Wing-chiu talks about his experience in independent filmmaking and his insight on its future development. Please click here to go to Part II!