Who Is Derek Tsang, The Hong Kong Director Of Oscar-Nominated Film 'Better Days'?
Hong Kong director Derek Tsang made history with his film Better Days, landing a historic nomination—the first Oscar nod for any Hong Kong film in 28 years
Hong Kong director Derek Tsang recently made history as the first Hong Kong-born director to have his work nominated for the Oscars. Better Days (2019) is the first film to bag a Best International Feature Film nomination in 28 years, and only the third ever Hong Kong submission to be acknowledged following Zhang Yimou's Raise the Red Lantern (1991) and Chen Kaige's Farewell My Concubine (1993), while Wong Kar-wai's The Grandmaster (2013) made it to the shortlist.
Tsang's name may not have been on everyone's radar prior to his nomination, but it's now the time to put this rising director on your list. We break down five things to know about the director and his Oscar-nominated film, Better Days.
Directing runs in the family
Tsang is the son of Hong Kong comedian, actor and director Eric Tsang with his second wife, Rebecca Chu. Tsang, his younger brother and his mother later moved to Toronto but Eric chose to remain in Hong Kong. Tsang eventually returned to Hong Kong after finishing his studies. Speaking to South China Morning Post, he said that he wasn't particularly interested in cinema until he was 16 when he started watching Wong Kar-wai films.
His father was initially worried when Tsang got into directing, thinking he was not able to make a living. But when his debut feature, Soul Mate (2016), came out with high praises from critics, Eric finally believed that Derek was heading in the right direction.
Part-time director, part-time actor
Being the son of a notable actor and director, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Tsang himself is also an actor. He made his acting debut in Men Suddenly in Black (2003) upon returning to Hong Kong, where he played a younger version of his father's character. He also made an appearance in a Canadian TV mini-series called Dragon Boys (2007) as well as the South Korean film, The Thieves (2012).
Power casting for 'Better Days'
His Oscar-nominated film is based on the Chinese young adult novel, In His Youth In Her Beauty by Jiu Yuexi. It centres around the theme of bullying, following a high school girl and a young thug who become entangled in a murder case. The movie was one of the most highly anticipated Chinese films in 2019 thanks to the popularity of its lead stars, Jackson Yee of the Chinese boy band TFBoys and Zhou Dongyu who previously starred in Tsang's debut feature, Soul Mate, for which she won the Golden Horse Awards' Best Leading Actress. She also ranked third in the Forbes China Celebrity 100 list in 2020.
Yee received critical acclaim for his first lead performance in Better Days, winning Best New Performer in the 39th Hong Kong Film Awards. Yee is also on the Forbes China Celebrity 100 list, taking the top spot in 2020. His band, TFBoys is often cited as one of the most influential acts shaping Mando-pop today.
Even before its historic Oscar nomination, Better Days has already been bagging awards. Some of these include Best Actress for Zhou Dongyu at the 4th International Film Festival & Awards in Macau and Best Film at the 33rd Golden Rooster Awards.
But the most notable is its award sweep during the 39th Hong Kong Film Awards, taking home eight awards including Best Director, Best Film, Best Costume Make-Up Design, Best Original Film Song, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography. Jackson Yee received the Best New Performer award and Zhou Dongyu nabbed the Best Actress award.
What's in the pipeline
Derek has a number of projects coming up, one of which is about the experience of South Asian refugees in Hong Kong. With the historic nomination of Better Days, we can expect more from the rising director.