Ding Sheng is a Chinese film director and screenwriter, born in Qingdao, Shandong. His works include “Little Big Soldier”, “Police Story 2013” and “Railroad Tigers” all of which starred Jackie Chan. In 2013, he directed “Saving Mr Wu” while his latest project sees him giving a go at John Woo’s classic, “A Better Tomorrow”.

On the occasion of the film “A Better Tomorrow 2018” screening at Far East Film Festival, we speak with him about the pressure of remaking a masterpiece, Jackie Chan and Andy Lau, filming at home and the karma that links him to Hong Kong cinema.

Let’s start with the inevitable question. How the idea to remake this classic came about?

Actually “A Better Tomorrow 2018” was strongly wanted by the investor, I personally wouldn’t have thought the time was right to remake a classic that is still so close to us in time. The investor had spent a lot of money to buy the rights to remake it and when he came to me with this proposal I was buffled and I was also working on other projects, but then I thought that it had to be me to do it.

In this process, did you feel the weight of the original source and also the previous efforts at remakes, and some responsibilities towards Woo’s classic?

I knew that few people before me had tried and failed and many thought it was a next-to-impossible task but I wanted to take this risk, and looking back at the result, I am quite satisfied because I made it to the end of this difficult task. Anybody, not just me, would have found it difficult because the original movie is excellent, it’s a 30 year old film that is exceptional and still modern, it’s timeless. Before starting to work on this remake, I tried to understand what to leave and what to take out and when I clarified that, I used it as my starting point. Also, first of all, I had to forget the old film, otherwise I couldn’t have done anything.

Could you tell us what in the making of this ambitious project was the biggest challenge and – on the other hand – what was easy and rewarding?

For me, this is not a film that you can categorise as a crime or police one, it is a film about relationships between people, about male friendship and feelings and therefore, in designing the movie, I didn’t place the action in a prominent position. Action is my speciality and for me it’s easy but showing the feelings and the interior world of the characters in a subtle way, just with a glance for example, that was a bigger challenge and it’s where I had to put the biggest effort for this film. The rewarding part was when it has been released, because the pressure I had while making it was constant and only at the completion I could relax. But having chosen to make this movie, I also have to accept the consequences. 

And was filming in Qindao – your hometown – a way to ease some of the pressure?

Yes, it was indeed. At least in that respect, I had some very pleasant moments, I was at home and everything around me was very dear to me. I was educated as a painter, that was my original trade and art, and for the filming I choose many landscapes and sceneries that I had painted before, in my years as a painter. It is really true that home gave me courage, because, in many situations, it compensated for all that pressure.

I was wondering if you had a chance to show your work to John Woo or if you talked with him about it.

I don’t know if he has seen it because I don’t know him, but I am sure that at some point he will watch it and I’d really like to have his feedback!

You might not know John Woo personally but you have worked a lot with two Hong Kong mega stars, Jackie Chan and Andy Lau. Can you tell us something characteristic about each of them?

They are two actors I truly and utterly respect, two excellent professionals. With big brother Jackie Chan, I made three movies and about him I can say that he has the greatest respect for everybody, every single person, this is something that I need to learn from him. He is a complete artist and he keeps challenging himself, doing things that he’s never done before. His big heart has really influenced me and I am trying to follow his example. In fact if you see, my films are all different, I try to move on, always, like him. About Andy Lau, I worked with him in “Saving Mr. Wu” and his acting skills really amazed me, he has a huge talent. The communication between us has been extremely easy, we were on the same wavelength about many subjects and about the aesthetics of the movie. We were talking the same language, cinematographically speaking. With both Jackie Chan and Andy Lau it has been a very pleasant experience.

Do you think you will maintain this Hong Kong cinema connection that seems to run through your past works in the future ?

This karma that links me with Hong Kong cinema always happens naturally, beyond my control, because in my career, I have collaborated with many figures of Hong Kong cinema, like Andy Lau and Jackie Chan and we are now very good friends, but they are also good teachers for me, we meet often and we talk about work. I will definitely carry on collaborating with them.

Are you already working on your next project?

My next film is in preparation now but it will not be with Andy or Jackie. We will start filming this year. It’s an action movie with a high content of technology and it’s a police story.

On paper I am an Italian living in London, in reality I was born and bread in a popcorn bucket. I've loved cinema since I was a little child and I’ve always had a passion and interest for Asian (especially Japanese) pop culture, food and traditions, but on the cinema side, my big, first love is Hong Kong Cinema. Then - by a sort of osmosis - I have expanded my love and appreciation to the cinematography of other Asian countries. I like action, heroic bloodshed, wu-xia, Shaw Bros (even if it’s not my specialty), Anime, and also more auteur-ish movies. Anything that is good, really, but I am allergic to rom-com (unless it’s a HK rom-com, possibly featuring Andy Lau in his 20s)"