Yan Pak Wing studied film at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts and the University of Melbourne. On the occasion of his debut film, Vampire Cleaning Department in Art Film Fest Kosice, we speak to him about his career, his choices in the movie, the current status of HK cinema, and many more topics.
Tell us a bit about the path that led you to Vampire Cleanup Department. How did the cooperation with Chiu Sin-hang came to be?
As I remember when I was a little boy, I watched a Hong Kong movie called “Mr.Vampire” with my family. I was totally influenced by this film, and started asking how can this production contain a lot of entertaining elements, scary romance and comedy within 90mins? I think, at that point, I fell in love with Vampire movies. So, when I graduated from film school ( the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts) , I started up this Vampire movie concept with Chiu Sin Hang.
Hang is one of my best friends from Film School, so we cooperate well. We know each other very well, we do argue, but we prefer not to argue in front of people, try to be well-prepared, professional and responsible as new directors. Therefore, during the production, we always have at least 3 hrs extra conversation to summarize and analyse our performances every single day.
How did you came up with such a “crazy” script? Particularly, why did you choose to parody so many films and concepts? (“Karate Kid”, “Ghostbusters”, the jumping vampires, etc).
Haha, this is a hard question. I don’t know how to explain how my brain works, it just happened. I mean, we didn’t aim to parody many movies, maybe those movie just influence us, I am not sure.
For Chinese traditional MaoShan’s magi , I love talking about the relationship between the master and student, so, when we thought about the fight teaching scene, we did take this “Karate Kid” scene as a reference, in order to communicate with the stunt director.
As for “Ghostbusters”, this is kind of embarrassing. I remember I was really enjoying this movie when I was a boy, this is a very good movie, but I totally forgot everything about it, so when someone tells me that my movie looks like” Ghostbusters”, I am surprised. We just wanted to make a team to fight vampires, so I am not sure why it looks like “Ghostbusters”.
Lin Min-chen has a rather tiring role, particularly because she has to keep her hands tense through most of her time in the film. How did she felt about that? In general, how did you guided your actors in the film? Did you allow improvisations?
Yup , I think for Lin-Min-Chen, this is quit a challenging role for her, especially since this is her first movie. But she is good and hard-working. We communicated in person during the pre-production period , and tried to analyze deeply Summer’s arc. Although she is not good in Cantonese, she has a very good sense about acting. I told her the good news that there is no dialogue for Summer, so she just had to focus in her acting.
We allow improvisation, but not much. We prefer practicing a row play during the pre-production period, so that everyone in our crews know what is going on. However, some good actors like Chin Siu-ho, Siu Yum-Yum … they are experienced and good at improvisation, so, for the benefit of our movie, sometimes I would say: why not?
The battle during the ending is probably the most impressive scene in the film. Can you tell us a bit about how you shot it?
Um…haha, actually we run out of budget for this ending. No time, no money. So, as I remember, the shooting was kind of a disaster. We have to cut-down a lot of comic scenes in order to focus on the fighting with the big boss, focusing on the teamwork and also the romance between Tin & Summer.
So I am very happy that our crew members were very focused in finishing this ending. I think this is a very Hong Kong style team spirit, we have to be fast and flexible to all the problems during the production.
The film features a number of HK veterans (Chin Siu-ho, Eric Tsang, Richard Ng). How did you manage to cast them? In general, what was the casting process like? Are there any differences in the way the veterans and the newcomers work?
In general , the first step is I propose some actors to the producer and we have a meeting to discuss which option is better, and try to meet them in any way to inform them about our choice. After all, producer and director will finalize all the cast 2 months before shooting.
Chin Siu-ho is my idol, as I am a big fan of “Mr. Vampire”. So, it was an honor for me that he could join this movie. I think he is an icon of Chinese Vampire Movies, and I told τηε producer that we can’t be missing him from a Vampire movie.
About Richard Ng, he looks smart and clever to me, and very suitable for the character of Chung. This character is opposite to Chin Siu-ho’s role, and I was sure this would make a good chemistry for the two actors. As I remember, when we met Richard Ng in a Chinese Yum Cha resturant, we tried hard to explain how our movie works and about the movie world we created, with vampires in it. Richard Ng had his own vision, and he was willing to share with me. I think he is one of the smartest actor I ever met.
Eric Tsang is my master in cinema. He brought me into this movie industry, I admire his passion in making movies. I am so happy that he could join our movie, and that is very honoring for me.
What is your opinion of the current situation in HK cinema?
HK cinema is not as good as in the 1980’s and the 1990’s. I have a feeling that Hong Kong audience has lost their confidence in watching local movies, because countries like Korea, China, Thailand, India…etc got better at making films. This is an uphill battle for all Hong Kong movie makers, it is time to change, we have to focus and find the way back to the audience’s heart.
Which are your favorite filmmakers and films? Do you enjoy the ones that feature Chinese vampires?
I have a lot favorite filmmakers like Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard and Miyazaki Hayao. My all time favorite movies are “Jurassic Park”, “E.T.”, “Castle in the Sky”, all fantasy films.
What are your plans for the future?
I plan to develop more good movies for the audience, especially fantasy movies. Not only for Hong Kong audiences, but also for everyone in the world, hopefully. I will try my very best to do it in my lifetime.
Thank you Panos for your questions