Cover Hong Kong director Fruit Chan reflects back on his 40-year career in the film industry (Photo: Hong Kong Arts Centre)

In this exclusive interview, prolific Hong Kong director Fruit Chan gets candid about his career, South Korea and what he learned about himself over the years

If there’s anyone who reflects the everyday lives of Hongkongers in his movies, it’s Fruit Chan. The Hong Kong Second Wave director is a triple threat—filmmaker, producer and screenwriter. Chan became a household name after making Made in Hong Kong in 1997, which earned him several local and international film awards.

Since then, Chan has continued to work on movies that showcase the ordinary lives of middle-class Hongkongers. With 40 years of experience under his belt, Chan remains one of Hong Kong’s most prolific directors.

This year, he’s participating at Hong Kong Art Centre’s first-ever New Waves, New Shores: Busan International Film Festival in Hong Kong to assist budding filmmakers from the city and South Korea and exchange cultural dialogue. In addition to his movies screening at the independent film festival, Chan will also be participating in a masterclass with renowned South Korean screenwriter, Chung Seo-kyung.

Ahead of the festival—which starts on November 25—Tatler sits down with Chan to talk about his 40-year-long career in the movie industry and what he has learned about himself all these years.

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You’ve been in the Hong Kong film industry since the 1980s. How has it changed?

Of course, there are a lot of changes and the changes are significant. However, 40 years have passed since the 1980s, and everything has begun to stabilise. In the past, the movie industry in other countries was still developing. Hong Kong has had Cantonese and Mandarin movies since the 1960s but the movie industry didn’t take off until the New Wave in the 1980s where we saw a lot of new directors. 

The Hong Kong movie scene is affected by many different factors right now. Maybe it’s time to take a break and hope it may revive in the future.

You’re an all-rounder—director, screenwriter, producer and editor. Do you have a preference?

I prefer being a director for sure. I started making independent films, and then I switched to doing mainstream movies. To make independent films, you have to understand everyone’s responsibilities and do all the work. Sometimes you have to take care of other positions and you can’t rely on people.

You’ve also made films across multiple genres. Do you have an affinity for a certain one?

Hong Kong directors need to make a wide range of genres. I don’t have a preference for the kind of film that I make. Usually, I am attracted by the story at first and then I consider the market, but I can’t guarantee that the movie will be popular.

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You’re offering a masterclass at the New Waves, New Shores: Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) in Hong Kong. Tell us how you first got involved with BIFF.

I got the opportunity to participate in the Busan International Film Festival when independent films first emerged in Hong Kong. It was a very interesting time. About 20 or 30 years ago, Korean movies were developing and many young filmmakers appeared. Young people will go to film festivals to watch movies, just like Hong Kong in the 1980s.

The film festival is able to give audiences some new ideas and expand their horizons. Because at that time in Hong Kong, mainstream commercial films were popular and there were not many opportunities to make independent films. So when I participated in the film festival, I saw many different independent films and filmmakers.

New Waves, New Shores: BIFF in Hong Kong is the first of its kind. What’s different about it?

It's a pity that the Korean filmmakers are not able to come to Hong Kong because of the pandemic. This is one of the few independent film festivals in Hong Kong.

I also went to the independent film festival in Seoul two years ago. I had no idea they are still doing independent films projects since the mainstream commercial films are already very popular there. Unlike South Korea, Hong Kong is all about mainstream commercial films, so I was fascinated to see that independent films are doable in South Korea. Even if mainstream commercial films are popular, independent films still have a place to grow, and their government will support them. That’s quite different from Hong Kong.

Your movie, Public Toilet is showing at the festival. Parts of it were filmed in South Korea. How did that cross-country production come about?

Busan welcomed people to shoot movies at the time. Of course, cultural differences were tough and the filming procedures were a bit cumbersome. However, the Busan government was very supportive. One of the lead stars of Public Toilet, Jo In-sung was just a model at the time and this was actually his first movie. I remember a scene in which he drove a car but the car went upside down. Fortunately, he didn’t get seriously injured. Now, he’s a really popular actor.

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Your other movie, Dumplings is also screening. It’s your first horror movie. Why did you decide to venture into the horror genre?

This was an opportunity by chance. At first, [film director] Peter Chan asked me about it and I contacted [novelist] Lilian Lee and asked her what story she had. She gave me a lot of books. I saw the story of Dumplings and decided to work on it.

How different is Dumplings from your latest horror movie, Coffin Homes?

Coffin Homes is very different from Dumplings as the former is a crazy movie, almost like a cult movie. It was difficult to make everything perfect without a huge budget, but I try my best to make the movie better. It was still nice that I can do a project that I like.

What have you learned about yourself over the years?

My style has changed a lot, and I realised that I am a die-hard fan of dark humour! Sometimes, I want to stop putting this element in my movies, yet I can’t because the storyline always develops naturally by itself.

As the New Waves, New Shores film festival is a cross-over between Hong Kong films and South Korean films. What can the two learn from each other?

I believe that the Hong Kong film industry should now learn from the Korean film industry. We have watched a lot of Korean movies, which are developing very fast, even better than Hong Kong’s movies. They are very successful so the Hong Kong film industry should take notes.

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The New Waves, New Shores: Busan International Film Festival in Hong Kong runs from November 25, 2021 to January 16, 2022. For more details on the lineup and tickets, please visit hkac.org.hk.

 

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