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Interviews

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An Exclusive Interview
with Kit Hung
(Part I)


  Interview


Foreword

Gay and Lesbian films used to be a taboo in Chinese cinema. However, in the past decade, there have been a growing acceptability of this genre and a lot of quality films have been made. New director Kit Hung from Hong Kong is one of the most promising filmmakers focusing on gay cinema. His first feature Soundless Wind Chime was an official selection of Berlin International Film Festival in 2009. As of now, the film is traveling around the world, and we're fortunate to get a hold of Kit when his film was screening at the San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Film Festival in June. Kit was generous enough to share some time with us discussing his film, as well as his career in filmmaking.

Please enjoy the interview!

* The interview was originally conducted in Cantonese.


Who is Kit Hung?

Kit Hung (1977) is a Hong Kong film director. He received his bachelor degree in design at Hong Kong Polytechnic University and later graduated from the MFA program at the Department of Film, Video and New Media in School of the Arts Institute of Chicago.

Hung directed his first short film Invisible People in 2000, the film won the Distinguish Award at IFVA short film competition in Hong Kong, and it was also a winner at Berlin's Transmediale.01. Award. Hung continued to direct his second short film I am Not What You Want in 2001, which won a special jury award in Belgium. In 2003, he made another short film Buffering..., which earned him a special mention at the Turin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival. Hung's films have been selected to more than 60 international film festivals.

Soundless Wind Chime is Hung's first feature film. It was developed during his study in Chicago. The film was an official selection of Berlin International Film Festival and it's scheduled to release in Hong Kong in July.


  Kit Hung  


Soundless Whind Chime

Cinespot: How did the production of this film begin? As an independent film, how did you locate the investment?

Hung: The script of this film was initiated five years ago when I was studying in Chicago. The original story contained two parts, the male and the female. However, after I graduated from school, my co-writer found a full-time job, and her physical condition was not good, so she dropped out from the project, and the female part was also gone. Thinking about that, the original script was really great, it was like a masterpiece. When I have gained more filmmaking experience in the future, I would definitely love to shoot it. Anyway, after she left, I continued to develop the story myself. It was very different from the original concept. In the beginning, it was supposed to be a Hong Kong and New York co-production. But after I moved to Switzerland, the background of the story was also changed. When I was in Switzerland, I located a local producer, who helped me to reach out for funding.

Talking about financing, the first part of our fund came from Hong Kong Art Development Council. After I received the money, I first managed to finish our scenes in Switzerland. Actually before that, I had already held quite some auditions in the US. Most of the actors were very professional. I remember I received more than 300 responses when I posted an audition notice in New York and Los Angeles, while in Switzerland, I only r eceived about six to seven responses. But since the location was changed, we picked our actor in Switzerland.

After we secured our Swiss lead, we then looked for the other protagonist in mainland China. As for the cinematographer, he is from Beijing. As a fledgling director, I am a little bit afraid to work with those experienced filmmakers in Hong Kong. If they look down on you, they wouldn't pay much attention to work. That's why I decided to hire a cinematographer whose age is similar to mine, but with much more filmmaking experience. We worked together well and shared similar vision. Money is certainly an important issue, but even with massive resources, the critical factor of success is the collaboration of a group of zealous workers.

After we finished our filming in Switzerland, I edited a teaser and secured my remaining fund. All the money was depleted after the filming in Hong Kong was over. I then spent three months to edit the film. I submitted my rough cut and received funding from the art council in Switzerland. To summarize, most of the investment came from Switzerland, and the post production was mostly done there. Other investments include some post-production grant from San Francisco Frameline (the host of San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Film Festival). The entire budget of the film is about US$500,000. The film was selected by Berlin International Film Festival and premiered there.



Cinespot: What're the biggest challenge making this film?

Hung: The biggest challenge was that nobody cared about me when it began. A gay film, a new director with no prestige and a resume of short film with no commercial value but only some film festival attached, a combination of these elements means it is basically impossible to secure any commercial investment. It was quite stupid for me to spend a lot of time looking for commercial investment at that time. When I was looking for investors, I distributed my scripts to many people, and later I realized that it was plagiarized by many films. Although I had registered my script, I wouldn't have money to hire a lawyer and file a lawsuit. I could only say to myself that since the original concept was conceived by me, the copycats wouldn't know how to present the essence of it.

Another problem was that nobody believed in the project. Other people would tell me that as a new director and with no celebrity at all, they simply didn't know how to market the film. So I gradually understood that I myself needed to make an impression. Actually I did reach out to some famous actors before, and they also agreed to include their names in my project, so that it might be easier to find investors, however things just didn't turn out successful. Even though these celebrities wanted to help, they just didn't have the money, and they also wouldn't invest themselves. Therefore, the best way to move along the project was actually to find those people who genuinely have the ability to support new directors. There're quite a handful of these people in Hong Kong, which includes my current film company. Moreover, there are also some foundations specialized in supporting artistic activities. For instance, the Swiss foundation I applied for Soundless Wind Chime is one of them. These foundation are usually not established for filmmaking only, they support different types of art, therefore the subsidies are relatively small, perhaps just about a few thousands dollars each time.

The biggest challenge before filming was money, and after the production started, it was finding the right crew. Compared to finding investment, this process was smoother. I was very honest to my crew, telling them that this was a very low budget production. Luckily my cinematographer was very nice, after he read the script, he agreed to work with me. I was fortunate to find someone who is very professional yet doesn't care too much about monetary compensation.

The challenge during filming was to multi-task. I still remember the first day when we were filming in Switzerland, I was the producer, director, assistant director, caterer and even the tour guide. I had to be a jack of all trades, and that's when I got my chronic stomach disease.



Cinespot: Talking about financing, there are several new directors assistance program initiated by some Hong Kong filmmakers in recent years. Did you try to approach them?

Hung: My producer didn't allow me to do that. In fact, many of these programs have specific requirements. These requirements may not be suitable for every film director. For instance, Andy Lau's Focus First Cut, a program aims at nurturing new directors, focuses more on commercial cinema, they have very strong marketing and distribution plans. Certainly, planning doesn't always make a film succeed. Comparatively speaking, I think my achievement is that I am always following my own path and passion. Even if I am in a program like that, I wouldn't allow the film company to manipulate my script. In terms of creativity, I wouldn't sacrifice anything. Therefore, to be honest, I feel that Soundless Wind Chime is better than all of the Focus First Cut films. At least the film has already secured distribution in many countries, some have theatrical release, and some go straight to DVD.

Another reason that I didn't approach these projects is because LGBT film is still a taboo in Asia. For instance, it is very hard for me to persuade them that my film would make money for them.

As for the $300 million film foundation established by the Hong Kong government, my friend told me that even though he had acquired the money, he simply couldn't manage to use it at all, and in the end he just returned it. There're tons of limitation set by the foundation, e.g. every expense needs to be accompanied by copies of receipt, and the applicants have to sign an agreement that the script wouldn't be changed at all. These regulations make it very hard for the filmmakers to work with the money. I remember British film director Peter Greenaway once said, the biggest problem of filmmaking now is that most films are too literal, but film and literature are different media, a lot of things cannot be conveyed through words, and it is sometimes difficult to turn beautiful words into visual presentation. Therefore, I feel that in order to be a good director and scriptwriter, I cannot rely totally on words. If I need to believe in words and cannot change the script, it would greatly limit my creativity.

Anyway, after I had submitted my teaser to Golden Scene, their boss Winnie Tsang and other film professionals saw it and decided to support my production and distribution in Hong Kong. It is good that they're satisfied with the outcome, and Winnie did also attend the premiere at Berlin International Film Festival.



Cinespot: Your actors are from different countries and speak different languages. How did you direct them and help them to communicate with each other?

Hung: When we were on set, there're four spoken languages/dialects: English, German, Cantonese and Mandarin. We mostly communicated in English. Although our cast and crew are from different countries, we're all enthusiastic about the project and were outspoken to discuss any problems. I read an interview about the making of Night and Fog before, when Simon Yam mentioned there was a six minute long take in the film, he explained how Ann Hui (the director) was very patient with his actors and encouraged them to try it over and over again. It shows how much Ann trusted her actors, and it is this kind of spirit that the cast and crew should have. My cast and crew all trusted each other well. Actually since my first film, I am always able to befriend my cast and crew.



Cinespot: From short film to feature, what is the biggest difference?

Hung: When I was in Turin, I met a director who was about 32 and have made five to seven features. I asked him if he would make another short film, he clearly stated that he wouldn't, since the effort of making a short and feature is the same. To me, short film and feature aren't very different. My short films are all very long, the shortest one is 35 minutes, and one is even one hour long. Therefore, I would say I don't really know how to make short films. The length of my short film sometimes makes it difficult for film festivals to program it. For instance, some film festivals would ask me to edit the film a bit so that they could fit it into their programs, but I wouldn't agree. I guess short film is more or less an exercise for me. I may still make short film, but it is probably going to be something very experimental.



Cinespot: Share with us your experience at Berlin International Film Festival.

Hung: The audiences at Berlin Film Festival were very nice. We had four screening there, and all of them were full house. They had good knowledge on films and they were very devoted to the festival. Among all of the festivals I have been, the smartest audiences were in Berlin, and then in San Francisco and Turin. As for Hong Kong, very few audiences asked questions, which is probably due to the personal content of the story. A producer from Hong Kong Warner told me that, after he had read the script, he felt like reading someone's diary.



Cinespot: When is this film going to be released in Hong Kong? What is your expectation?

Hung: The film was first premiered at Hong Kong International Film Festival, and it is scheduled to have its theatrical release on July 23 at the Broadway Cinematheque. I hope that everyone who has supported the production of this film would be satisfied.


  Kit Hung  


In part II of the interview, director Kit Hung talks about his view on LGBT films, as well as his filmmaking career. Please click here to go to Part II!