In this exclusive interview with Tatler, Hong Kong director Barbara Wong Chun-chun discusses the inspiration behind her new romance movie, "Don’t Forget I Love You", her personal growth and female representation in the film industry
In Barbara Wong’s Don’t Forget I Love You, life is a beautiful gift to be cherished and spent with people who love you unconditionally.
With a similar theme of memory loss to her famed 2013 work, The Stolen Years, the Hong Kong director's return to the big screen, is a captivating take on classic romance, which follows the life of a young girl called Xing Yue (Gulnazar), who falls in love with Lu Yao (Jasper Liu), a musician with anterograde amnesia—a condition in which a person is unable to create new memories and recall the recent past.
The film progresses into many layers of the relationship between the two, including happy moments and pain that the couple experiences, along with things that they learnt about themselves, growing as individuals. While stories of lost love and memories aren't anything new, the way that the movie draws the audience into the minds of the characters makes it stand out in the genre.
“My new movie is more than just a moving love story that offers soul-wrenching scenes for a good cry," Wong says. "It's also a timely reflection on the most important lesson we learnt from the pandemic: live in the moment."
Tatler caught up with the Hong Kong director to talk about the inspiration behind Don’t Forget I Love You, the unforgettable filming process and her personal growth as both a person and a filmmaker, along with her thoughts on female representation in the film industry.
Read more: 11 Hong Kong Film Directors You Should Know
How did you get started in the filmmaking industry?
I never dreamt of becoming a movie director. It wasn’t until I graduated from The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, that I began to have an inkling of what I wanted to pursue aside from acting. There had been quite a few major TV stations and theatres approached me, but I felt like my physical appearance didn’t meet the conventional acting industry standards of “good” height or looks at all. I didn’t want my passion and talents to be wasted in small roles, so, eventually, I thought of directing as well.
When I was studying films in New York, I didn’t have any ambitious goals in mind as many other aspiring directors did. I only focused on making connections, interacting with talents and learning filmmaking techniques. It was a very rewarding experience overall and that’s when I decided to begin my career in the field.
What was the reason for making memory loss the main theme of Don’t Forget I Love You?
The movie plot was in part inspired by my own experiences caring for my father who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, and I wanted to tell people an important message: live in the moment and let go of things you can’t control. One of the main reasons why people are feeling trapped in life is because they can’t let go of the past and don’t appreciate the present.
I also thought about emphasising the importance of looking at things from different perspectives when writing the script. Suffering from memory loss isn’t as bad as you think; forgetting can be good in some way that helps us delete unpleasant memories and treasure every moment in life.
What are some of your favourite scenes from the movie?
I often asked Gulnazar and Jasper to improvise their lines because I wanted to bring out their raw emotions and enhance their performances.
There were many moving moments that brought me to tears, including the scene where Jasper had already forgotten about his relationship with Gulnazar and played a piano accompaniment for a singer. We didn’t tell Gulnazar what would happen in advance and we were able to film her real emotions when she saw Jasper playing a special song that’s full of heartfelt memories shared between them. That was beautiful.
Are there any special filming techniques you’d like to highlight?
My filming style of improvisation required a carefully structured multi-camera setup. I wanted to film the action and capture the actors’ emotions as detailed as possible from different angles, so the process was quite challenging for me as I had to make sure every scene was captured in the way I wanted, while keeping the production on schedule. It was not easy to film during the pandemic but eventually, we managed to run the whole project smoothly.
How do you feel you grew, not just as a filmmaker but as a person throughout the years?
I feel like I have become a more mature person and I have more of a vision about the kind of movies I want to produce. As I grow older with more hands-on production experience, I’m now able to think strategically and overcome challenges in a positive way.
During the filming process of Don’t Forget I Love You, there were times when we struggled to find new filming locations as the original ones were forced to close due to the pandemic, but at the same time, I found myself being more flexible and thinking more creatively when searching for alternatives. As the old saying goes, an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.
You’re also known for movies filmed from the perspectives of women on themes such as womanhood, love, and sexuality. What do you think is the importance of examining women’s issues in your work?
From Women’s Private Parts (1997), a documentary that follows women in all walks of life as they challenge gender expectations and navigate sexual relationships; to Girls (2013), a comedy that celebrates female friendships, women’s issues have always been an integral part of my work. I will continue to do what I’m doing, using my artistry to promote a more diverse female representation in the film industry at local and international levels.
Over the years, I noticed there has been a significant gender imbalance in the industry where men often outnumber women in all aspects of production. I’m really hoping to see a more diverse landscape in the coming years with more women involved in the filmmaking process.
That’s not to say the movies directed by men aren’t good enough, but it would be great to see more diverse casts and stories to be shared from a female perspective on the big screen. Actresses these days are capable of independent, powerful roles, too. It’s time to recognise female talents in the industry and the skills they possess.
What’s next for you?
I have a bunch of plans in the pipeline and one of them is a new female-centric movie project which I’m very excited about. While I can’t reveal much about the plot, it’s an interesting movie that follows the life of a wedding celebrant as she navigates career setbacks, social expectations and marriage problems.
"Don’t Forget I Love You" is now showing in selected cinemas across Hong Kong