Stanley Kwan is one of the most prominent and path-breaking filmmakers in present day HongKong .He alongwith Jacob Cheung and Wong Kar Wai made the strongest impact in the late 80’s and early 90’s. He assisted the “new wave” filmmakers i.e. Ann Hui, Yim Ho And Patrick Tam. He directed his first film “ Women” in 1985. Kwan has always focused on women in all his films.His masterpiece “Rouge” is about the paradox of human existence in a city which has no history.His “ Full Moon in New York”, IT IS THE CITY OF New York which imprints itself in the minds of the three female characters. “Actress” is a biography of China’s greatest silent screen actress Ruan Lingyu who died because of the rumours spread by the then media. His another major work is “Red Rose, White Rose”, an adoptation of a Shangai story by Eileen Chang. Till date he made 15 feature films along with few short(Ttoo happy for Words, Two Sisters), documentaries and also directed a short play. In this candid interview, this exuberant director came alive with subjects hitherto unknown to most of us………..
Filmbuff : Tell us something about the classic era of Hong Kong Cinema?
Stanley : For the last several years, I can tell you that the average production number is less than 50. It’s therefore hard to compare with the classic era of Hong Kong cinema. In mid 80’s-90’s there was at least 300 films were made per year. So, the difference is huge. Because, the local market cannot afford the production, the mainland market is expanding. Most of the Hong Kong film people have to get money from the Mainland China. If that is so, they need to adjust the subject accordingly which means the subject must cater to the needs of the people of mainland besides being suitable for the Hong Kong people. Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan are too different culturally. So, it’s difficult for a Hong Kong filmmaker to impress all the three. So, there is a dearth of popular subjects for home.
Filmbuff : Who were the classic directors of the 70’s and 80’s?
Stanley : I assisted directors like. They used to work for T.V. They had their own units. They made T.V serials. It was a wonderful experience for the audience and also for the young filmmakers. So, from the early 80’s, all of them moved to the film industry. At that time, I had the opportunity to work with these rarely talented directors.
Filmbuff : What kind of subjects usually they choose to make films?
Stanley : The way they used to make films is totally different from the Studio system. In studio era, they made suspense thrillers, some musicals. But the filmmakers of the80’s and 90’s are different from their predecessors, some of them studied from New York University, London Film School. They gave up indoors. They used to shoot on location, mostly on social issues, on reality.
Filmbuff : What is the present scenario of Hong Kong cinema?
Stanley : I belong the third wave of filmmakers of Hong Kong. After assisting my seniors, I made my first feature film in 1985. It was about a divorced woman. Then came “Love Unto Waste”(1986) and “ Rouge” (1987).
Filmbuff : Who are the other contemporary directors?
Stanley : Wong Kar Wai, Ching Siu-tung, Lawrence Ah Mon and many others.
Filmbuff :What about Wong Kar Wai?
Stanley : He started as a scriptwriter. The main theme of his films is about time and relationships.
Filmbuff : What is your point of departure from Him?
Stanley : He has series of films mostly on a similar kind of theme. But, for me, it is the characters of my films, which get preeminence. Watching Wong Kar Wai, it seems that the moods are memorable. I give importance to the characters.
Film Buff : How did globalization affect Hong Kong cinema?
Stanley : Basically, Hong Kong has a very commercially oriented cinema industry. The film industry here promotes stars with packages. They call Hong Kong as “Eastern Hollywood”.
Filmbuff : Do you get to see any Indian films in Hong Kong?
Stanley : No, very rarely. Only during my days as a student, I only saw films of Satyajit Ray. Sometimes we see them in festivals or if any art house center does retrospective of any directors, actors or actresses. Even then, it’s rare!
Filmbuff : Do you think Wong Kar Wai’s films are more successful in the international circuit?
Stanley : Well, people in Hong Kong always complain of not understanding his films. But foreign audience love him because of the atmosphere in his films, the music, style must be very appealing!
Filmbuff : You mentioned, your film, Rouge was a blockbuster in Hong Kong?
Stanley : Not in Hong Kong, in Asia and Europe. It is my first film, which got a European distributor. Wong Kar Wai’s “ Days of Being Wild” had seven big stars. After grabbing the foreign market, the festivals, people started recognizing Him, Days of being wild became a sort of classic.
Filmbuff : Like Ray’s Panther Panchali?
Stanley : Yes. The new filmmakers when they make their first film, they make personal stories. But usually the tradition is to make multi-starer, commercially viable films.
Filmbuff : But you tried to strike a balance between home market and international festivals?
Stanley : Yes. I do try. But it’s very hard, really.
Filmbuff : Is there any parallel porno industry there in Hong Kong?
Stanley : No. But there are different categories of films because we don’t have censorship problem like Mainland China. Unlike China, the censorship doesn’t begin from the script reading session. We do have censorship but not before the completion of films. Just like India. But, in Mainland, Film bureau starts operating from the pre-production stage of a film.
Filmbuff :Just like Iran…
Stanley : Yes. Absolutely.
Filmbuff :What is the scenario of Chinese Film Industry?
Stanley : Its sad to say, over 70% of the population live in countryside. They are farmers, very poor. Films are like mirage to them.
Filmbuff : So, who are the viewers?
Stanley : The Chinese people are over 13 billion. So, even if 30% of the people watch a film. It’s declared to be a hit. They have gone for markets. They are of two extremes. They say they make 250 films per year but actually the industry has been supported by the production of 3-4 films. These few films are made by a few directors, which actually supported the box office figure. Half of the films have not seen daylight. The condition is thus quite dismal. But the young filmmakers of China are quite smart. They know the tricks about how to raise money from foreign funds, overseas distribution system, how to deal with festival people etc. But the government still has reservations about certain subjects like Cultural Revolution. In this respect, Hong Kong people get more independence than Mainland. On one hand, Chinese people want commercialization, on the other; they don’t provide creative space to its filmmakers. That’s ridiculous!
Filmbuff :Which International Film Festival at present do you think promote young cinema?
Stanley : Rotterdam is very energetic. Not only the film people but also the whole city has certain kind of vitality about it. Also it’s a new city. Not only film people enjoy films here but also commoners are equally enthusiastic. They are really film buffs. The policy of the festival is to promote young filmmakers.
Filmbuff: Do you think older generation promotes young filmmakers in Hong Kong?
Stanley: Yes, of course. It’s the tradition of Hong Kong.