Director Yan Pak-wing was born in 1980 and “Hotel Soul Good” is his second directorial work, after “Vampire Cleanup Department”. He was also credited as writer in 6 movies.
Producer Yvonne Chuang is the founder and CEO of Plus One Motion Pictures Ltd and comes from a background in film distribution.
Yim Ka-yee has credits in several fields: writer (“Full Striker”, “Triad”), assistant director (“Journey to the West”) line producer (“Vampire Cleanup Department”). In “Hotel Soul Good” she had the double role of scriptwriter and producer.
On the occasion of their film “Hotel Soul Good” screening at “Udine Far East Film Festival“, we speak about revamping the Hong Kong genres, ghosts watching over you and working outside the China market.
First of all I want to say that I really enjoyed your movie, I thought it was funny, silly, sweet and thought provoking. Part of the enjoyment was because the experience reminded me of watching one of the Hong Kong movies from the 80’s and 90’s. How did you achieve this result and why did you want to give that specific flavor to your film?
Director Yan Pak-wing: Well, first of all I was born in 1980 and that was the prime time for Hong Kong movies of all different styles, comedy, ghost movies, and that is a style that influenced me a lot. In a way actually in these limited budget movies without any special effects to put in the movie, I found a style that allowed me to show the ghosts without CGI. This is a very interesting way for me to learn, I really enjoyed because nowadays movies have a lot of technology to help but I think this was a very good chance for me to try this style to present a ghost.
It seems that you are on a mission to revamp the genre of supernatural, vampires first (“Vampire Cleanup Department”) and now ghosts. Why do you like it so much?
Y P: I really enjoy making fantasy movies because as I said I was influenced, growing up, by those ghost movies in Hong Kong. It’s really a long time that we haven’t seen ghost movies in Hong Kong and I think the audience has the right to watch them and to have more choices and to enjoy these entertaining movies and maybe I should put my energy more into this quest.
And does your love for the ghost movies come to a cost in terms of distribution? Excluding the China market …
Y P: About the costs of this choice, Yvonne can tell you better than me.
Producer Yvonne Chuang: Yes, I come from a distribution background so I know how to do projections of the budget. At the time I was thinking: “I cannot depend on the Chinese market, because I want to do something to revamp the Hong Kong genres”. So, a ghost story is one of them (genres) and one that we can make with a lower budget. But it’s a ghost story and doesn’t have a Chinese market, so I was calculating the projection of the different markets besides China and came up with a small budget. Then I spoke with the director to try and cope with this budget, so that we can make a movie in order for the audience to have more choices in what one can watch, but we can still break even when we deliver the film.
Well, thank you for all that work, because we love ghost movies!
Now can you tell us something about the casting? There is a young generation and an old generation of Hong Kong actors in the movie, how did they collaborate with you?
Y P: For the main character I had in mind Chrissie Chau, an actress from Hong Kong which is getting mature and when I watch her movie “20+1” …
Y C: She would like to be 20+1, but she is actually 29+1!!
(They all laugh)
Y P: Yes, sorry “29+1”! (he laughs) I thought her performance was really good in that movie. I really wanted her and also Louis Cheung who is a comedian in Hong Kong, he performs a lot of comedy roles in Hong Kong movies, so I thought he might have a good chemistry with Chrissie so we put them together and in the end, they worked really well.
For the older generation, you know, Richard Ng had worked with me also in my last film “Vampire Cleanup Department”, he is a good teacher to me, in every shooting time he taught me a lot. When I was young he was my idol, I watched all his movie and comedies.
Must have been exciting, working with your idol!
Y P: Yes, a lot, of course. I really enjoyed working with some elder actors, they really have so much experience that, as a young director, I really don’t have. So, if I want to bring back the 80’s and 90’s style, I really need that and that is why I chose many of them.
Can you tell us about this project from the point of view of the scriptwriter?
Writer Yim Ka-yee: I actually played double duty here; besides being the scriptwriter, I was also the production manager, so my experience is in both roles. When you are a scriptwriter you can be very creative but then when you are production manager you must think about practical aspects, how to execute it right. I learned to find a balance and carry out both duties correctly.
About this script, I also had experience of losing somebody very close to me, a family member, so I had to deal with grief, like anybody else when you’ve lost somebody. But you also have this feeling that the person that left you is always hanging around watching over you. So, I wanted to transfer this feeling to my script to share that emotion, that is the idea.
There is a very important line in the movie that says: “No matter what happens, remember to smile”, and probably that is the main message that I wanted to convey to the audience watching it. There are lots of struggles in life and you have to deal with them head on, with your smile.
About the production, did you encounter any major obstacle or was it a smooth process?
Y C: I think the main obstacle was at the beginning. When I had this idea, I actually spent quite some time thinking about which director to choose to direct the movie. I’ve known Anthony for some time, at that moment he was busy shooting “Vampire Clean-up Department” so, although I had him in mind, I knew he was busy. After I searched for a while, I couldn’t find a suitable director, so I waited until he finished with “Vampire” and then I gave him a call and I asked him what he was up to next, as he had finished shooting. And I told him I had a concept ready to go and if he would like to come up and discuss it. He agreed to read it and he liked it, so we started a cooperation. After he came on-board, everything went really smooth, we came up with more complete story lines and then – because we had the story lines – we could approach the cast. Most of the cast were very satisfied and liked the movie and the concept, and everything fell in place.
So, was it easy to cast them?
Y C: Yes, that was very easy. I think at the beginning is always difficult to pick the right Captain.
And what was the reaction of the public to this new wave of supernatural films? How did it perform at the box office?
Y C: Box office is OK. We had a lot of good word-of-mouth about the movie so far, we did a lot of Meet-and-Greet and screenings and I don’t dare saying we broke the record but I think it is almost breaking the record. We had both cast during the Meet-and-Greet with us for 51 Greetings and every time we saw that the audience just loved the movie and loved the cast and also we had lots of bloggers and critics in the audience.
Can the three of you tell me about your next project?
Y P: I think I will follow my path making some more fantasy movies. I like unrealistic worlds so I would like to create an unrealistic setting. So maybe it will not pass the censorship again (he laughs)
Well, you can just say at the end that it was only a character’s dream!
(They all laugh) Oh, that doesn’t work anymore!
It must be overused!
Y C: But it still very lousy, isn’t it? I was talking with some filmmakers, just because you must pass the censorship you have to twist the script and show that it was a dream, or a mental problem, or hallucinations. It’s just bad!
Thank you for not doing it!
Y C: I always say to filmmakers: “Try to make a good script that works, don’t think about the market and don’t twist your own script”
Y P: This is really a good thing that she won’t force me to have these fake endings, I cannot do it!
So, to answer your question, next time it should be this fantasy movie again but the most important thing I learned from this project and from Yvonne is how to touch the audience’s heart, how to bring the important message to the audience. Yes, I learned a lot in this project.
Y C: I will continue to bring in the young directors and then try to bring back again old Hong Kong movies genres, bring in the energy. Maybe another ghost movie?
Y K: I was just talking about my next project and maybe it will be a very Hong Kong style movie about gangsters and triads. But the head gangster will not be in his prime, a sort of gangster crisis or something about his career having a problem. It would be a dark comedy.