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An Exclusive Interview
with Pang Ho-cheung and Chapman To
(Part I)



After winning the Best Original Score award at Berlin Film Festival, director Pang Ho-cheung's new film Isabella is set to come out to the theater in Hong Kong in early April. This time we are glad to have director Pang and his lead actor Chapman To (who also happens to be the producer of this film) as our guests. In this interview they would talk about Isabella as well as the new company Not Brothers Production they just formed. What makes this interview significant is that it is the first time we have a director being interviewed by us twice, and it is also the first time we have a working male actor as our guest. We would very much like to appreciate director Pang and Chapman To for sharing their invaluable time with us.

Special thanks to Media Asia for making this interview possible.

Please enjoy the interview!

* The interview was originally conducted in Cantonese.

Who are Chapman To and Pang Ho-cheung?

Chapman To, born in Hong Kong in 1972, is a versatile actor. He started his acting career in the early 1990s at HKATV, one of the biggest television studios in Hong Kong. Having acted in various TV series, he soon became a favorite of the audiences, with A Date with Vampire as his most notable work.

In 2000, To left HKATV and moved to the film business. Up-to-date, he has appeared in more than 40 movies, including A Teacher Without Chalk, Goodbye, Mr. Cool, Infernal Affairs series, Golden Chicken, Cat and Mouse, Color of the Truth, Men Suddenly in Black, Jiang Hu, Love is a Many Stupid Thing, Six Strong Guys, The Attractive Ones and Initial D, etc.... In addition to his prolific acting career, To is also a successful radio program host.

In 2006, Chapman To and director Pang Ho-cheung formed a new film production company - Not Brothers Production. Together they produced and directed Isabella, an official selection of the Berlin International Film Festival. The film received very positive comments at the festival and won the Best Original Score Award.

Please click here to check out the profile of director Pang Ho-cheung.

  Chapman To and Pang Ho-cheung  

Isabella and Not Brothers

Cinespot: This time we are very happy to have director Pang Ho-cheung as our guest again. What makes it even more exciting is that we also have actor and producer Chapman To on board. It is our first time having an interview with two filmmakers at a time. Thanks a lot for sparing your time for us!

To: You are welcome!

Cinespot: As we know, Isabella is the first movie of your new company Not Brothers Production. Please tell us more about this new company.

To: I remember it all began in my living room...

Pang: No, it should be earlier.

To: Are you sure? Then it should be the time when we always stayed together to talk about movies. At that time, this "not brothers" group were formed by...

Pang: Four directors... no, three directors, and...

To: It should be three directors, one production manager and one actor, which is me. In the beginning we were hoping to gather a group of "non-blockbuster" directors. Ok, what is "non-blockbuster" director? Perhaps I can put it this way, Johnnie To and Andrew Lau are blockbuster directors, and the rest... haha... So we are a group of people at the 30s and we hope to make movies based on our own interests. We made a vow at my living room and we ate and drank together. However, on the very next day, we already received a call from one of our members saying he wanted to quit, and then another one left, and at last only Pang and I remained in the group! Seeing their departure one by one, I guess "Not Brothers" is really an appropriate name for the group!

Cinespot: The story of Isabella consists of elements of incest, which is quite rare in Hong Kong movies. Why would you want to work on such a controversial subject?

Pang: I am just wondering, why wouldn't anyone want to try it? Perhaps most of us didn't try to see it from another perspective, that genuine emotion is actually something very simple, and that is what I wanted to explore. It is simply a story about two people genuinely loving each other.

To: One day I saw a lady embracing a rooster and crying at the same time. Some people laughed at her, they didn't understand why she would cry for a rooster.

Pang: It was actually quite a touching scene.

To: Perhaps you would feel more proud of your parrot, but what is the problem with a rooster? What is the difference between a parrot and a rooster? Rooster is just bigger in size! Similar to the human-rooster bond, interpersonal relationship, like father and daughter, can be very complicated yet appealing too. Like, it is hard to tell why some people like to have a daughter more, or some like a son. Rather than putting an emphasis on the incest element, why shouldn't we spend more time to explore the complex yet intriguing interpersonal relationship? Is she really his daughter? Even though her mother is his ex-lover, is he simply thinking too much? That's the kind of questions that concerns us most.

Cinespot: This time you are using three new scriptwriters (Kearen Pang, Derek Tsang and Jimmy Wan), can you introduce them a bit?

Pang: There are actually four scriptwriters, including myself. But since I was doing four jobs, I just found it little weird to put my name on the credit list four times.

To: It gives people an impression that we are too broke to hire more people, haha.

Pang: Haha, I have known Kearen Pang for a long time. She is in the theater and drama department at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. She was involved in a lot of my previous projects, mostly during the brainstorming stage. Actually my scriptwriter friends are always helpful and give me a lot of advice every time, it is just a matter of whether they are credited or not. Derek Tsang is the son of Eric Tsang, and he was the actor in my previous film AV. When we were working on that film, he was already very helpful and offered a lot of good suggestions. Since we believed that we could be good partners, we began our writing collaborations. Jimmy Wan is Derek's writing partner, and he also helped produce the making of documentary for AV. We realized that we all have the same goal in filmmaking, and so we have decided to work together.

Cinespot: The story of Isabella is set in the summer before the return of Macau to China. Is there any specific meaning for that?

Pang: Macau's return to China struck me quite a bit. Macau was the first city to be occupied by foreigners, and it also happened to be the last colony to be returned to her motherland, so it is quite a representative place. It is just like the reunion of a daughter with her long lost father. That is why I wanted to begin this story within this setting.

Cinespot: Let's talk about the actors. How would you two rate the performance of the fledgling and inexperienced actress Isabella Leong?

To: Why didn't we find an experienced actress to take on the role? That was an important point! You know, the performance of many so-called experienced actors could be very horrible indeed! Haha... I am not kidding! Talking about Isabella, I think her expression was very honest. It was probably due to the reason that Macau is the place she used to grow up, and also similar to her character, she doesn't have a father.

Pang: You are wrong, she does have a father, but only that he passed away long time ago.

To: Oh, yes, there is no one in the world who doesn't have a father. I am sorry about that, haha... So it was perhaps due to the reasons I mentioned above, she was able to tune herself up to fit the role very well. We were glad that we didn't choose the wrong actress, and you know, there're actually not that many choices...

Pang: It is hard to find a girl who can act and looks like 17.

To: And one who looks like my daughter.

Pang: Yeah, and with acting experience. There're really not many choices.

To: Yup, so we were also very happy when we saw that she was much welcome by the audiences in Berlin. Although we are two guys, it just seems like we have given birth to a daughter. I am serious, in Berlin there were some guys kneeling down on the floor and yelling out her name.

Pang: And they even proposed to her. I was thinking... did you ask us first? Haha...

To: Haha... they were really passionate! Some of the directors there did come up to ask whether they could invite her to act in their films. What I thought was, just take her and film whatever you want, and then you would know you have made a terrible mistake (lol), hahahaha... It was really funny.

Cinespot: So it is your turn now, Chapman. As a successful comedian actor playing mostly comedy roles throughout your career, do you think it would be hard for the audiences to accept your non-comedy performance?

To: I didn't really try to position myself as a comedian actor, and I didn't try to follow that route. As an actor, each of my roles is independent, and I am only working according to the demand of the director and the script. Honestly, I don't really think too much about the preference or the acceptability of the audiences. Last year after I came back from Sri Lanka visiting the victims of the South Asia Tsunami, I have made up my mind to execute two tasks, one was to get married, and another was to produce Isabella. As I said, I didn't estimate the reaction of the audiences, and actually we would know very soon when the film comes out. Perhaps some people will not like me anymore, or actually no one has really liked me before!? I didn't try to expect anything, I wanted to do it and so I did it!

Cinespot: What about director Pang? How would you respond to this question?

Pang: We have actually considered this question in the beginning. When we formed the company, everyone would expect us to make a comedy, as we are both labeled as comedy filmmakers. But I just thought I could do something more, and I knew Chapman is also capable of doing a role that is more serious. Since we're in charge this time and we didn't need to work according to the investor's choices, why wouldn't we want to try something different?

To: From my observation, I just think you really have some suicidal tendencies. Aren't you jeopardizing your reputation as a comedy director?

Pang: Ha, just some? Maybe more...

To: Ha, that is why the more I think about it, it just seems you are almost... (lol)

Chapman To   Pang Ho-cheung

In part II of the interview, director Pang Ho-cheung and actor/producer Chapman To carry on their humorous discussions on their new films as well as their collaborations. Please click here to go to Part II!