Friday, July 21, 2017

Eric Tsang and Wong Chun talk MAD WORLD and a lifetime in film NYAFF 2017

Eric Tsang and Wong Chun
On July 12th, a couple of hours before Eric Tsang received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the New York Asian Film Festival, I sat down with Mr Tsang and Wong Chun, the director of MAD WORLD, for a discussion of the film and Mr Tsang’s career. Along with the myself, Mr Tsang and Mr Chun was translator Frank Djeng, and Jared King, the Unseen Films resident expert on Hong Kong cinema. Jared helped craft the questions and acted as my wingman stepping in to clarify my hazy recall. Jared also reached out to his friend Kenneth Brorsson, the man behind So Good Reviews and Podcast on Fire, who helped by giving us more questions which nudged us into how best use our limited time.

What follows is an edited version of what transpired during our fifteen minute talk. Because the answers from Mr Tsang and Mr Chun bounced between Chinese and English I’ve had to edit some of their answers for readability.

I want to thank Emma Griffith and everyone at Subway Cinema for setting this up, Jared for coming along for the ride, Kenneth Brorsson for help with the questions, John DiBello for help in the final edit and especially Mr Chun and Mr Tsang for taking time out to talk to some crazy fans who got to meet one of their favorite filmmakers.

Steve: Where did MAD WORLD come from?

Wong Chun: So, the idea for MAD WORLD came from Florence (Chan), the screenwriter. She saw a TV news story about a middle-aged man killing his father who had been his long-term care giver. But the the news never explicitly explained why he killed him.

So Florence was intrigued by that idea and wanted to know, you know, what would lead, you know, a sibling or to kill his or her own parents. So that's how the, the fruit of the project started.

Steve: Was the actual story about have a son being released from a hospital?

Wong : Uh, no, not really.

Steve: So that was just created for the film?

Wong : Yes. Florence was kind of interested in writing a story about depression, at first. But she did all of the research and found out that bipolar disorder is on the rise in Hong Kong.

And at the same time, we knew nothing about it, and we have some really serious misconceptions about it. And she started to think that maybe that's something a little bit more urgent for us to talk about, so she started a project and combined the two things together into one story.

Steve: I’m curious if there are situations where children are being released into the care of parents they don’t really know. Is this something that happens frequently in Hong Kong?

Wong : Uh, I wouldn't say that. The film is kind of a specific case but actually, I would say there some cases, 'cause the father is a truck driver driving between mainland and Hong Kong. And usually these kind of drivers spend very little time with their family, so they usually have some issues between the guy and their families. And when the driver's issue combines with the mental illness issue, that's where the story came.

Steve: How did you come to cast Eric?

Wong : Actually, the script was tailor-made for him. I mean, the character was tailor-made for him. And of course we have watched all his films. We have seen all his acting in comedies or in gangster movies. He had some really good caring characters in films of the '80s or early '90s like COMRADES or ALAN &ERIC: BETWEEN HELLO AND GOODBYE and we wanted to bring back that type of Eric Tsang acting to 2017.

Steve: Were you happy to get a meaty role like this? You're primarily known, especially here in America, as a comedic actor. Jared and I watch tons of Hong Kong films so we've seen everything you can do, but for many people you're not thought of as this deep heavy actor.

Eric Tsang: As an actor, of course I want to try something new, or something rare. I've been a comedian for over 20 years and I’ve always wanted to do a serious role, but not something that's too sappy, you know, too tragic.

I usually try to avoid starring in a film that requires a sad character. But I was very impressed by Florence's script and the director's intention in the project, the passion and the dedication, and so on. You know, that's why I decided to take on this character.

Steve: You are a man who nurtures up and coming filmmakers in Hong Kong. I can't believe the number of films you've produced or starred in just to make sure a project gets made. How important is it for you to nurture the up and coming filmmakers?

Eric: So, I was a newcomer, too. At the time when I was a newcomer, I wanted to have a mentor or someone who could guide me in my career path or my acting career. So now that I've become sort of, like, a mentor myself, I wanna help newcomers. I feel it’s my chance to help new talent, new directors achieve their goal.

And also, I want to find someone who can sort of inherit a seat in terms of the Hong Kong film industry -- we are aging, so we're desperately looking for new talent and new people. And when I look for new talent, I don't look for just technical excellence. Their own personality, their own character are all very important to me, and I feel that I found that in Wong.

Steve: When you put the film together you weren't overly melodramatic. Hong Kong films tend to wring everything out of every bit of emotion. Of the things I absolutely love about this film, is that it doesn't go overboard. It's really realistic. I have friends who have parents and kids who have mental illness and based on what I've seen with them, you've got it right, you didn't give too much. Was it difficult to make that choice not to make it more melodramatic, but make it more serious, make it more real?

Wong: It wasn't that difficult, but you've asked a very good question. That made me struggle for a few years from the writing to the shooting and editing in how I should portray the story and the characters.

But the most important point was that when we wrote the story we heard a lot of real stories from real people. And so, for me this was not only a drama that we created, but it's also reflecting some real experience from real people.

So, I have a very strong feeling of respecting the people who, who gave us their story. And, and this kinda feeling gives, gives me a restraint to execute everything. I didn't have an intention to make it too melodramatic anything. So, it wasn't that difficult, but that was the top -- I mean the number one question in my mind when I was doing every scene, when I was doing every part of the film.

Steve: You've done everything...

Eric: [laughs]

Steve: What is your favorite type of movie to do? Do you prefer to do comedies? Do you prefer to do dramas?, You're in several films this year. You're in this. You're in the VAMPIRE CLEAN UP DEPARTMENT, You're a villain in VILLAGE OF NO RETURN. So, you've got silly and you've got drama. Which would you prefer to do or you don't? Or do you just wanna do everything?

Eric: I feel this is the best part that I've held in making movies, you know. You experience different lives. You know can act in different roles. You can become different people, you know, not just in drama, not just action, but also comedy. And to me that is, you know, that's by far the happiest part.
You know the one thing that makes me very happy about it, is to experience different lives. So, I was like, maybe I'll be doing a few comedies now and then, "Oh, okay, now I switch to dramas." And then after a few dramas, "Okay, now I switch to action."

So as far and it doesn't really matter what kind of genre I'm acting in, as long it is a good character, I would be more than willing to be involved in the film.

You can work as different guys. You know, you could be a bad guys Well, you could be anything.

Steve: Are you going to direct more? I know you produce, you direct, you write.

Eric: Never know, because once we've got a good screenplay, once something happens, then you do it. So, don't plan it. The change will come. Because for now I won't repeat my work.

Steve: Does your son (director Derek Tsang) come to you for advice?

Eric: No, no, no, nothing. You know, this is much better for him. I enjoy that, that he could do it himself.

Steve: I have to ask you this. You've done over 300 films, in various forms. You're getting a lifetime achievement award, which is long overdue. What would be the one role or what would be the one thing you'd want to be known, remembered for?

Eric: So, yeah, I mean, I, I, I really don't know. I've done so many things, I've done so many roles, you know. Um, I do serious roles to show audiences I'm not just a comedian. I do, uh, acti-, I do gangster roles to show I'm not just a dramatic actor, or I do other roles to show I'm not just a gangster. So, I try to give audiences new impressions of myself.

A new perspective on myself as an actor, so, the one thing that I hope they remembered most is the roles that I've played. To me this is the best part of my artistic career that I hope that people will remember me, for the roles that I've done.

I mean, you know, different people like different roles that I play. Some people like me being a gangster, some people like me being a comedian so, like, that's what I hope, my hope is that people remember me for all the different roles that I've played, not just one, single role.

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