Aug 09, 2012|
My mother was a social worker and my father was a part-time policeman who also worked at a law firm. When I was little, my parents were pretty strict with me. I wasn’t allowed to watch TV. After elementary school, they got divorced, and from then on I got a lot of freedom.
I’ve always been an avid reader, but I hated schools and exams. During middle school and high school, I often skipped class to watch movies. It was my favorite thing.
When young people today say they like movies, they just mean movies per se—they can download them on their laptop and watch them on a tiny screen. Even when they’re in the cinema, they don’t mind being late or distracted by text messages. But what I like is the whole “movie” experience. I need to watch them in the cinema and I enjoy every part of it, from waiting for the curtains to open to going to the toilet. It’s like a sacred ceremony.
Audience members sometimes ask me how I came up with those “weird ideas.” But for me, they are just thoughts that have been in my head my entire life. The reason why other people don’t have them is not because I’m smarter, but because luckily there’s some part of my own voice and creativity that has survived Hong Kong’s educational system.
I shot a short film with my older brother when I was about 12. My mother borrowed a big ol’ camera and asked us to film her singing and dancing. We soon got bored of that and decided to shoot our own stuff. Mom was supportive, but under one condition—she had to be the lead! So we ended up making a wacky action movie headlined by her.
The first and only semester I did in college in Taiwan further proved that I was not academic material, so I returned to Hong Kong and joined ATV as a television writer. It’s a channel that nobody watches, which was an advantage for me because I could write any nonsensical bullshit I wanted.
Since the station couldn’t afford enough actors, I had to perform in my own shows, too. That became my best writing training. See, when you’re just a writer, if your lines don’t work, you always blame it on the actors. But when you have to act out your own crappy sketches, you realize it’s your writing skills.
Read Penny Zhou's review of "Vulgaria" here.
In the next few years, I worked back and forth in TV, radio and magazines, and wrote a novel. Then in 1999, I turned 25. I remembered both Akira Kurosawa and Martin Scorsese had said that if you want to be a director, you must make your first film by 25. So I put in all my savings and self-financed my first short, “Summer Assignment.”
You hear aspiring filmmakers complain about not having investors to help them
start their career—that’s just an excuse. I mean, come on, making a digital short is so cheap these days. If you really want to do it, just work hard at your day job and save every penny possible, then you can get your film done with 20 to 30 grand. If you’d rather waste your cash on karaoke or shopping, it only means that your movie dream is not as important to you as you think.
I know some will think it’s too risky. Because what if you fail? Well, then you at least get a wake-up call and realize you’ve overestimated yourself, and can start focusing your energy on something else. It’s a good thing either way.
When I first moved my studio to Beijing, a lot of people criticized me for being a sellout. But they didn’t understand that sometimes leaving is for a better return. If I didn’t prove my ability to make successful commercial co-productions, why would the rich financiers trust me with their money to make a category III Hong Kong movie that can’t be shown in the mainland market? “Vulgaria” wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for the box office success of “Love in the Buff.”
Haha, I know many people thought it was “Love in the Butt” when they saw the poster. We didn’t do that on purpose, but it was a good little accident.
“Vulgaria” is particularly dirty, because I thought, since this time I can make something that doesn’t have to abide by mainland censorship, I might as well make it as politically incorrect as possible. It’s like a mental lavage, getting all the bad tastes and dark ideas out of my system at once. But of course, those things will start accumulating again, so in a few years I may need another lavage like this.
Making a film is like robbing a bank—who you team up with directly determines whether it’ll be a successful mission. Your fate is decided even before you set off to the bank. That’s why I believe in elites and always hire the same people, who I know are the best at what they do, even though they’re expensive.
I absolutely love going to the supermarket. My assistant and driver always offer to go out to buy groceries for me, but they’re missing the point—I like picking out every single item myself. Just the other day I spent an entire afternoon trying to pick a little bowl for the bathroom.
“Vulgaria” opened in all major cinemas on Aug 9.