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An Exclusive Interview
with Chan Wing-chiu
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.
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
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
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
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.
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!