Director courts youth with witty, wry movies

Updated: 2010-11-04 09

By Liu Wei (China Daily)

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Director courts youth with witty, wry movies
Hong Kong director Pang Ho-cheung is popular among mainland
 filmgoers for his storylines and wry humor. Jiang Dong / China Daily

Director Pang Ho-cheung does, indeed, have the perfect skin he is rumored to have. Clearly the dry and cold air of Beijing has not affected this Hong Kong native much.

"You do not know how many (face) masks I use," jokes the 37-year-old filmmaker, struggling to cover up his Hong Kong accent and sound like an old Beijinger.

"I am very much a Beijinger now," he claims. "Friends from Hong Kong often ask me for recommendations to the good eateries here."

For the past two years, Pang has been commuting frequently to Beijing, acknowledging, like other filmmakers, the importance of the populous mainland market.

"Even if I live in Hong Kong, I have to make co-productions with the mainland. That's the trend, so why not just base myself here?"

Barring the dry air, hard water and oily food, Pang has few complaints about Beijing, where he plans to produce four short films adapted from his novels and direct one feature-length film.

Although his previous films are all set in Hong Kong, Pang is popular among mainland filmgoers, especially the youngsters, who love his storylines and wry humor, and the fact that he never repeats himself.

His first feature was a black comedy titled You Shoot, I Shoot. The story revolves around a killer and a company director, both hit by the financial crisis of 1998. They team up to satisfy some customers' weird wishes to see how their enemies are eliminated. The second work Men Suddenly in Black is a hilarious tale of four men on the brink of marriage undertaking a planned sexual misadventure. In Exodus, a group of women with unfaithful husbands form an alliance to exact a murderous revenge.

As Hong Kong critic Perry Lam says, Pang "often demonstrates a Kafkaesque talent for seeing the absurd in the mundane realities of everyday life", and that is what draws young people in both the mainland and Hong Kong.

He is also active on popular online social networks, such as, the mainland's Facebook, and weibo, a Chinese version of Twitter.

Unlike other celebrities, his online network comprises mostly ordinary viewers with whom Pang engages like a buddy, talking about boyfriends and girlfriends, the generation gap and the hottest social issues.

He also has a wildly popular magazine column Love Underground Education, in a mainland magazine, wherein he posts sharp and witty answers to relationship questions.

He plainly tells a girl complaining that her boyfriend is always busy, that he is just making an excuse.

"George Washington did not forget the decoration of his house when he was commanding his troops and even summoned the workers to discuss it," he writes. "Who is busier than the US president?"

Pang readily admits that the social networks and columns help him understand what the mainland's youth are thinking.

For example, he says, he never knew so many youngsters were concerned about their partner's virginity.

"Most of them are the only ones in their families and spoiled by their parents," he says. "They find it hard to accept that there are some things over which you have no control."

Pang is the second son of a big family in Hong Kong. He recalls that every time his mother cooked chicken, he never got to eat the chicken legs, considered the most delicious part in local cuisine. One was reserved for the oldest son, and the other for the youngest.

"I learned very early in life that you cannot have everything," he smiles.

When he decided to quit his job to write scripts, he was 24, and earning decent money as an editor of a popular magazine. He remembers quoting from Japanese film maestro Akira Kurosawa that one has to become a director before he turns 25, to convince his girlfriend, but she just thought he was crazy.

Filmmaking, he says, has been a passion since childhood. At 14, he and a friend made a short film starring his brothers and mom, with a home-video camera.

In middle school he broke up with his girlfriend to see an Arnold Schwarzenegger film.

Writing the script was, for him, the first step to fulfilling his directorial dreams. He remembers a story from Martin Scorsese's biography: One of Scorsese' classmates in New York University said if given a good script he would made a great director, but their mentor told him, if he wanted to be a director, he should write the story himself. Nobody could give him a good script.

In 1997, Pang wrote Full-time Killer, which became a best seller and was adapted into a film, starring Andy Lau. In 1999, he used all his savings to shoot a 10-minute short film. That earned him a chance in 2001 to direct his first feature film, You Shoot, I Shoot.

Two years later his second film Men Suddenly in Black won him the Best New Director honor at the Hong Kong Film Awards. In 2004, the Tokyo International Film Festival even held a personal film exhibition for the director, who had just three works under his belt.

Many envy Pang's luck. Although he entered the film industry when Hong Kong cinema was struggling in the late 1990s, he managed to not just make films but also earn recognition.

"They (those envying him) do not know how many scripts I have written and how many projects I have prepared in vain," he says.

He also has to grapple with other issues on the mainland. His last film Love in a Puff was screened in some art theaters, but with cuts, to comply with censors in the absence of a rating system.

He knows that he may have to make more compromises, but is unruffled.

"Of 100 films, even if there are 25 kinds that cannot be made here, you still have the 75 kinds that can be," he says. "The problem is, all the directors now are making only the same five kinds. That is monotonous. For a filmmaker, the important thing is to let more people see your work."

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