The critically acclaimed Hong Kong director discusses her latest controversial film
Ann Hui is one of the most critically acclaimed directors to emerge from the "Hong Kong New Wave." She directed her first film, The Secret, in 1979 and has been making groundbreaking movies for the Hong Kong cinema for over twenty years since. Some of her most acclaimed works include Summer Snow, The Way We Are and Night and Fog. Her latest movie, All About Love, is based on the true story of two pregnant lesbians, who were lovers in their teens, and are reintroduced to each other at a Mother's Choice conference after ten years apart. The film stars two of Hong Kong's most beloved actresses, Sandra Ng Kwan Yue (Golden Chicken) and Vivian Chow (Heart to Hearts). We recently had a chance to speak with director Ann Hui about her latest film; its controversial subject matter, working with Ng Kwan Yue and Chow, modern love and her role in the "Hong Kong New Wave". Here is what she had to say:
To begin with, Can you talk about the genesis of this project, how you learned about the story, your initial reaction to it and the process of making this film?
Ann Hui: Well that was four or five years ago and at that time I was trying to do a series of TV films about woman, about contemporary Hong Kong women. I thought maybe that I should include one story about lesbians in the series. So I asked the screenwriter whether or not she had a (lesbian) story. After a while she came back and said that she had a story about two lesbians who met at Mother's Choice, which is like social service for unwed mothers. She said that they met again, they were lovers about fifteen years back, at Mother's Choice, both pregnant. The story started from there, how they got pregnant and how they got together again. It's a real event and I thought that scene should be a very unconventional story about lesbians. So we discussed that further and then she wrote a screenplay about four years ago. There were no investors because the subject matter is very non-commercial and it was only last year that an investor tried to pitch me some stories. I told him this story and he said he would like to invest in it and that is how it got shot.
While it is not a commercial story it does deal with some very universal themes, doesn't it?
Ann Hui: The situation in Hong Kong is quite different. This subject would be banned in mainline China by the sensors. Because now the Hong Kong industry actually depends on the Chinese market for the mainstay of its income, it's actually a very bold step for my boss to get the Chinese market to invest in it.
What has the reaction to the film been like so far?
Ann Hui: In Hong Kong it's very strange because at first we had a very good reception at some special screenings. When it started it got a sort of below average box office. Then about two weeks later the critics started criticizing it for its lack of similitude. So it seems that the reaction is very mixed.
Can you talk about some of the themes that you liked in the story that you were excited to experiment with in this film?
Ann Hui: I just wanted to treat the subject not as the usual sob story about social injustice. I mean I was trying to adjust universal themes a part from lesbian themes. Showing that even lesbians have to have commitment and loyalties to their love. Criticizing some of them for lacking a general human quality rather than specializing on lesbian's sufferings and stuff like that. So I liked the subject matter and also because it is treated as a light comedy.
Was it your choice to make the story into a light comedy or was it written that way in the script?
Ann Hui: It's not a real slapstick kind of comedy but it is a light comedy. Not a sit-com. I think we agreed automatically because actually the situation is quite funny, like trying to get rid of the father of the child so that hey can get married.
Can you talk about working with your lead actresses, Sandra Ng Kwan Yue and Vivian Chow? What was that experience like for you?
Ann Hui: We worked very well together. Vivian is a little bit over conscientious and Sandra is maybe a little over relaxed. I think Vivian is a bit nervous because she hasn't acted in a film in over twelve years. We got along and I gave them a lot of freedom but they stuck pretty close to the script. I just wished that we had improvised more. We stuck to the script very closely. I think because we had very little time on set. We were scheduled to finish the film within twenty-six shooting days. I found that we really needed to rush. We didn't have time to do different versions of the same thing but I always regretted that afterwards. If we had taken more time the actors would have been even more relaxed.
You mentioned that Vivian has been absent from acting on screen for many years, do you know what it was about this project that excited her enough to jump in front of the camera again?
Ann Hui: I don't know? You see it is very strange because you probably know that she was the number one dream girl of teenagers twenty years ago. She was one of those pure, young girls like Liz Taylor was when she was young. She has that image. Even until now she has that image. In her previous roles she has never done love scenes or things like that. But when she read the script she said that it was a very interesting script and she just accepted the role on the spot. I think judging from the reactions actually, a lot of her diehard fans don't like her doing that. Because I think otherwise we would have much better box office and I think it is a cultural thing.
From what you've said it seems like you're a pretty brave filmmaker to make a movie like this, would you agree with that?
Ann Hui: You could say that. But there is no use congratulating your self if the box office isn't good. It's like some kind of consolation prize.
Finally, for those who are not familiar with it, could you explain what the "Hong Kong New Wave" was and how you were involved with it?
Ann Hui: Well what they called the "Hong Kong New Wave" was a group of young directors in their late twenties or early thirties who started making films after a very short TV career. They called them "new wave" because before that most of the films were shot in studios and they were mostly Kung-Fu costume dramas. There were very few contemporary dramas. We shot almost all of our films on location, speaking Cantonese dialect and most of the stories were based on newsreels and news events. So they called us "Hong Kong New Wave" but the stories can be of from different genres. They can be crime stories, dramas or comedies. But they do have this very realistic base so they do called us "new wave" but only for a few years and then some of us began making Kung-Fu. All of us got into the mainstream and some came out again after a while.
Do you like that title, "Hong Kong New Wave," or have you found it a burden to live up to in your career?
Ann Hui: I don't mind either way but I think ultimately that label helped us because it is good for the promotion of our movies. It's like a group and then you have an immediate signature that is easy to recognize.