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An Exclusive Interview
with Gordon Chan and Dante Lam
(Part I)



Following the "combo" interview with director Pang Ho-cheung and Chapman To last week, here again we have two guests with us this time, they are the directors of Undercover Hidden Dragon, Gordon Chan and Dante Lam. As fans of Hong Kong cinema may know, Chan and Lam are long time collaborators, and the two of them have won the Best Director Award at the HKFAA in 1998 for their brilliant directions in Beast Cops. In this interview, directors Chan and Lam talked about their new film Undercover Hidden Dragonas well as their unique perspectives on the future of Hong Kong cinema. We would like to thank the two directors for sharing their invaluable time with us, depite having a hectic post-production schedule.

Please enjoy the interview!

* The interview was originally conducted in Cantonese.

Who are Gordon Chan and Dante Lam?

Gordon Chan, Hong Kong director, was born in 1960. He finished his university education in Canada in the 1970s and returned to Hong Kong in 1981. He then found a job at Shaw Brothers and began his filmmaking career at various departments there.

In 1988, Chan won his first HKFAA screenwriting award for Heart to Hearts. One year later, he made his directing debut with The Yuppie Fantasia. As one of the most prolific directors in the 1990s, he has directed about 20 films up to date, including Brief Encounter in Shinjuku, Fight Back to School series, King of Beggars, Final Option, Fist of Legend, Thunderbolt, Beast Cops, Okinawa: Rendez-vous, Cat and Mouse, Medallion and A-1, with Beast Cops as his most prominent work gathering five awards at the HKFAA, including Best Film, Best Director, Best Lead Actor, Best Supporting Actor and Best Script.

Dante Lam, Hong Kong director, was born in Hong Kong and started his filmmaking career in the 1980s. His collaboration with Gordon Chan started long time ago when he first became an assistant director for Chan in Brief Encounter in Shinjuku. Lam has been involved in various departments including producing, acting, action choreography and so forth.

In 1997, Dante Lam directed his first film Option Zero. One year later, he shared the Best Director Award with Gordon Chan for their first co-directing effort Beast Cops. Some of his other works are the critically acclaimed Jiang Hu: The Triad Zone, Hit Team, Tiramisu, Twins Effect, Naked Ambition, Heat Team and Love on the Rocks.

  Director Gordon Chan and Dante Lam  

Undercover Hidden Dragon

Cinespot: We are glad to have two award winning directors Gordon Chan and Dante Lam with us together. So it has been more than ten years since you two directed a movie together. Why would you want to co-direct again now?

Lam: Perhaps it is just our karma.

Chan: Actually we have always been working together, it is just a matter of whether the work is credited. Sometimes ago when we were making the short film 1:99, we have already thought of co-directing a film again.

Lam: Honestly speaking, I have collaborated with Gordon for more than twenty years already. While we have been working separately for a while, it's always a pleasure to come back and work together again! It just reminded me of the early days when we cooperated, or even earlier when I was working as his assistant director. The collaboration atmosphere was very good and we're like a family. The only difference is that we are both getting older. I have gained quite some experiences and perhaps became less optimistic now. Some people did even think that I am more bad tempered. Hmmm, I guess I have changed quite a bit...

Cinespot: Undercover Hidden Dragon and Beast Cops are totally different in terms of genre. Why would you want to make a comedy this time?

Chan: Sometimes ago when I met Ronald Cheng, he said he wanted to work with me, and that's when we began to write the script. The movie was tailored for Ronald, I believe it would be welcome by the young audiences. The story is mostly about the life of young people too. I would call this movie a totally Hong Kong style comedy, everything from the subject matter to the setting are located in Hong Kong. It is a very Hong Kong, domestic and young comedy.

Lam: The biggest reason for us to lock down on this subject matter is because of Ronald Cheng. If you take a look at his previous films, you would know very well what his target audiences are. That's how we began our writing process.

Cinespot: Ronald Cheng has been in many comedy movies before. How would you make him look refreshing to the audiences?

Chan: Ronald is playing two characters in this movie, one is a triad boss, and another is a triad wannabe. Both characters belong to the lower-class minority group in the society. If you consider that there is a fault between the older and younger generation of Hong Kong actors, I think Ronald belongs to the group in between...

Lam: That explains why we were not thinking how to transform Ronald, but rather to push him forward and transcend to a new level. Although it is still a comedy, but does it mean no improvement is possible? Our objective was to bring out the diversity of a comedy actor, so that he could tackle with different types of comedy performances. We know that Ronald has already gathered quite some reputations through his previous films, and we were trying to bring his sense of humor into our work, hoping that it could mutually benefit both of us. While we have preserved Ronald's unique approach in comedy acting, we would also make the structure of the drama more intact and coherent.

Cinespot: Apart from Ronald Cheng, there are many other new actors in this film, including Lam Chi-chung and Theresa Fu, Pace Wu and some more. How did you balance their performance, so that they wouldn't end up becoming just the backdrops in the film?

Lam: When we assigned this group of actors, we certainly didn't want them to be backdrops. Everyone in the film has his/her functions to exist. In the past, a lot of actors were added in a movie merely for commercial purpose, but this time our objective was little different. We didn't think for something for the characters to do first. On the contrary, it is the story itself that leads them to do something.

Cinespot: As a co-directing effort, how did you two share the works?

Lam: We don't have a strict sense to share the workload. But then, I am usually the one designing the flow of a scene, for instance, how would an actor enter the frame, or where would he enter, or in what form? That's the part I contributed more, and that's the style of our collaboration. Gordon is usually responsible for something more prominent, like, the direction of the film, the thematic element, the structure of the narrative, in general, the overall style of the film.

Chan: Dante also focuses more on the technical aspects, like, the action choreography and camera angles. But certainly when two people are working together, it is difficult to draw a clear borderline of the job duties. It would be a big problem if each of us only care about our own area and totally ignore the others' job.

Cinespot: Director Chan, Stephen Chow and Ronald Cheng are regarded as the two icons of comedy films in Hong Kong, one belongs to the older generation, and another newer. A lot of people like to compare their style. As someone who has worked with both of them before, what is your view on that?

Chan: It was long time ago when I worked with Sing Jai (Stephen Chow). Both of them are very talented. As for comparison, Sing Jai is a quiet person and seldom speaks during the shooting, while Ronald is more talkative and loves to play. Ronald is not only good at making funny gags, he also has quite some ideas about action choreography. Just like Sing Jai, Ronald sometimes likes to imitate Bruce Lee, and both of them are fans of martial arts.

Cinespot: So is there any plan to work with Stephen Chow in the future?

Chan: Sing Jai has become much more mature now, and he has his unique perspective on filmmaking, that's why he can make his films well now. But then… no one can predict the future, who knows?

Cinespot: Director Lam, looking back at your previous films, it seems that the one receiving most critical praises is still Jiang Hu: The Triad Zone. Can you tell us a little more about the production of this film?

Lam: Destiny plays an important part in filmmaking. It is not like you can do whatever you want. The film business was actually not that good at the moment when we made Jiang Hu: The Triad Zone. It was very hard to start any big budget projects, and that really propelled smaller size projects like Jiang Hu: The Triad Zone. Many actors were also lack of job at that time, and so they were willing to lower their wages a bit and to try something a little more experimental. Honeslty speaking, commercial filmmaking is always an investment, perhaps it is little easier to garner the profit for the domestic film market through winning at international film festivals now, the situation was really not that good back then. In fact, there are so many film festivals everywhere, but does it mean a film can become more competitive at the commercial film market because of a festival winner packaging? In Hong Kong, recognition at prestigious film festivals doesn't really help a film much. Take Fruit Chan as an example, his films has been winning tons of awards worldwide, but it is still very hard for his films to be appreciated by the mainstream audiences.

Dante Lan   Gordon Chan

In Part II of the interview, director Gordon Chan and Dante Lam talk more about their collaborations as well as their insight on the future of Hong Kong cinema. Please click here to go to Part II!