web space | free website | Web Hosting | Free Website Submission | shopping cart | php hosting

Chang Cheh Special:
Chang Cheh talking
about Chang Cheh,
an interview by
Tan Han Chang,
Lee Dao Ming, and

Black and white photocopy of 
cover to Influence Magazine #13
173k | 360k

Tse Ching Kwun, from
Influence Magazine
#13 (April 1976),
translated by
Michael
Min-Chi Wong



KEY:
(#) indicates a link to a footnoted comment made by the translator
<#> indicates a page break in the magazine's original Chinese text
<missing a line here> indicates a line of text that was illegible to the translator
[green text] indicates a comment made by this web page's editor (Steven Feldman)
[brown text] indicates a comment made by the translator (Michael Min-Chi Wong)
blue text indicates a difficult-to-translate and/or questionable passage
red text indicates a comment found to be of great importance by this web page's editor


[Cover:]
Shadow Sound Magazine #13, Movie Quarterly
Influence, '64 Winter, '65 Spring (1) [In reality, April 1976] double issue

[Title page:]
Chang Cheh Special
Chang Cheh talking about Chang Cheh


Interviewers: Tan Han Chang, Lee Dao Ming, Tse Ching Kwun
Photography: Tse Ching Kwun
<6>
Two years ago, Chang Cheh came to Taiwan to promote his movie "Four Riders" (Hellfighters from the East). Right after that, he led his crew from the "Long Bow Movie Company" back to mainland China for filming; starting at that time, both his filming style and plotting began changing. At this period, Chang Cheh's movies' shift in direction has been an interesting subject. Hence, this is also the first question to start this interview . . .

Q: We realized, since you first came to Taiwan, even though your movies still usually use a form of disability or death of the main character as an ending, the mood is no longer as tragically grandiose and serious. Is this change due to the personal character of your main actor Fu Sheng, or is it because you are consciously trying to change the direction of your work -- making it comedic and not tragic?

A: Regarding this point, I'd say that I got to become a person who is more compromising. I am currently writing a column for the "Dai Wah Evening News" newspaper, the subject being hair, this time. Even though the reasoning for writing this subject was explained, it was presented in a very gentle manner; it is purely a discussion on the theory of human hair. Specifially, the discussion was about whether there is a relationship between the length and cleanliness of hair. It has nothing to do with worshiping Western cultures, it has nothing to do with feminization, it has nothing to do with personal characters. I didn't even mention the most basic point -- bothering other people's hair is a serious act of disregarding the personal rights of others. Speaking on this as a whole, the tendency for becoming compromising is there. For example, the two movies "Friends" and "The Generation Gap" have a very compromising tone. In the movie "The Generation Gap," it was repeatedly explained that the relationship between the main male and female protagonists is innocent -- they both ran away from home, people mistook them for having a physical relationship -- but this is a very compromising viewpoint. The question is, is the relationship between such people innocent or not? Right? Two people being in love together -- what does that have to do with innocence? Love itself already includes sex in it; this is very compromising right from the start. "Friends" was even more so, in the end . . . <missing a line here> The newer movies have an even more compromising tone; superficially, it might not be noticeable, but realistically they still have a bit of this . . . uh, I'm afraid it's "The Disciples of Shaolin" (The Hung Boxing Kid). "The Hung Boxing Kid" has the usual theme of my movies. It has a bit of the unrecognized genius, being in the middle of a lot of people -- in the middle of a town and city -- the feeling of being buried, the type of experience a young man goes through when he is trying to find his way; you can even say it's a tragedy of a man's struggle to climb his way up society. Other movies are all made with a compromising tone. At most, I've added some nationalism, right? So, my movies for the last two years have basically been like this, those that tried to delve in the human psyche. "The Hung Boxing" was probably the only one. All the other movies -- like "Five Shaolin Masters" (Five Exponents of Shaolin Boxing) and "Boxer Rebellion" -- don't have anything of this sort. As far as what they say about the position a person takes, they are all very vague idealistic things, very vague ideas. Some hot blooded youths did what they had to do for their country and race, etc, etc. . . . It really does not have anything solid. So when I fear any big mistake of compromising . . . really isn't a big mistake. So, speaking of Fu Sheng in "The Hung Boxing Kid," it has nothing to do with the actor. It's me who is being compromising.

Q: Is this compromising tendency caused by your visit to Taiwan?

A: Hmmm -- that's hard to say. Uh, I suppose it's yes? Or it might be because I am getting old?

Q: The subjects of your newer movies seem to have become broader in scope. They even include traditional fairy tales.

A: I don't know why you asked this question, but maybe my viewpoint is different from yours. I think whether the subject is broad or not has more to do with the business side of moviemaking than artistic value. Many people consider the artistic value, saying it should have a broad scope of subjects, but my view is different. I consider in terms of artistic value. Any type of subject is the same. Especially with the so-called modern movies, modern art -- what exactly is the subject? It is just a medium, a method; this medium, method, could be anything, and it doesn't matter. You paint a still-life, a cup, and a historical event. They signify a major difference in classical ideals. They don't even consider a cup worthy of being painted. What's the value of painting a cup? An artist must paint the coronation of an emperor, or the war at some random month and random day. But in terms of modern aesthetics, whether the subject is a cup or a war doesn't matter. The real purpose is to paint the cup or war to express the feeling of the artist. So, whether a movie shows a person going to the market to buy something, or a person going out to kill someone, really doesn't have any difference in its essence. It is only used in the movie to show the need to go out to express its idea and the feeling. In the next movie we need to show a person being murdered to express the idea and the feeling. So, if we say that the current direction of Chinese moviemaking is the movie market or some such, then the broad subject is correct. If we really talk about the art of moviemaking on artistic grounds, than it really doesn't matter. Whatever subject broad or narrow, even within the smallest circle, you can still show what you want to express.

Q: I find that your recent movies have a very heavy experimental feel. For instance, the three sections of traditional Chinese "ping" drama in "The Fantastic Magic Baby" (Child in Red), and the simplified fight scenes in "Na Cha the Great," and also your newest movie "The Hell," which is divided into three acts, with the deliberate addition of dance choreography. Are things such as that influenced by any outside factors?

A: These types of phenomena don't really have much meaning, speaking purely in cinematic terms. Maybe it's trying to satisfy changes in my personal interest or the urge to try new things; but for things that really influenced moviemaking in a decisive manner, I don't think this type of thing has anything to do with it. And these movies were made with the hope <7> of adding a feel of dance choreography. Using "Child in Red," for example, it was an attempt to fuse dancing together with traditional Chinese "ping" drama. The movie itself wasn't very successful. This so-called failure is because the technique for doing so hasn't matured yet. Not to say this will never succeed, but at least right now it hasn't been proven yet. For the case of "The Hell", the situation is similar. In terms of experimenting, "The Hell" was even bolder in this regard, even more so than "Child in Red." But basically, the technique is still not mature yet. There is another old problem with Chinese movies, and that is the artistic level of our whole society. Let's say you wish to combine cinema and dancing and "ping" drama. This requires some very beautiful and skilled dancers. With our current crop of artists in modern dance, qualified dancers are sorely lacking in numbers. Even for the most average dancers, you still can't find enough with sufficient technique to express your ideas. I think these types of problems require time to remedy.

Q: For foreigners, who say Chinese Martial Arts and dancing seem to have a very close relationship, is that view a pretty recent idea?

A: The relationship between Chinese martial arts and dance, I think, is only true for the performance arts aspect. When practical martial arts is concerned, it doesn't have to be related. Just as practical science and engineering are derived from theoretical science, the martial arts shown in movies are also derived from pure martial arts; the structure of performance-based martial arts derived from pure martial arts is clearly analogous to dance choreography, including juggling, performing tricks. In today's martial arts movies, pure martial arts do not play a significant role. I believe in terms of percentage-wise, it differs for each director, some more and some less, but not a lot as a whole. This is also something I found interesting once upon a time, when I was initially making "Heroes Two" (Temple of the Dragon), till I made "Shaolin Martial Arts." Even though "The Hung Boxing Kid" has Hung Boxing in the title, it really doesn't have much to do with that actual martial arts style. Almost until I finished making "Shaolin Martial Arts." I wished movies to emphasize on specific martial arts types, so I introduced a few of them in my movies. However, the ones that presented the martial arts styles well, I'm afraid, were just the three short films before "Heroes Two." I fear these are the only bits in a martial arts movie that served purely as an introduction to martial arts styles -- I guess there wasn't a big fuss with it. I don't think there were any other people who did this prior to me. I really have no idea. My guess is there weren't any, and this is the only example. In terms of making a movie like that as a whole, it's still not possible to do it. Of course, this type of thing doesn't really have much to do with moviemaking, it's just like "Child in Red." It was also my personal interest and whim at the time; I didn't really plan it to happen that way. It's because our taste towards Chinese Martial arts is more tilted towards enjoying performance-art style of martial arts, and less towards the pure martial arts styles, which gave the foreigners the impression that Chinese Martial Arts is closely related to choreographed dancing.

Q: Then what do you think about merging "ping" drama with martial arts?

A: When I started making martial arts movies, I started out trying to free the movie from the influence of stage plays. Prior to "Tiger Boy," there were already Chinese Martial Arts films. We all know a lot of such films were made in Shanghai, like "Burning the Red Lotus Temple." These types of films have been churned out consistently since then. Now we have Hong Kong. The Cantonese films are still making these movies, even the Mandarin movies occasionally make them; I remember Wong Teen Lum had made one like that. It's right before we make martial arts films. All these movies can still be seen on television, most often on Hong Kong television. The so-called martial arts are the classic Chinese opera type of fighting. When we started making movies, free from the influence of classic Chinese opera -- this type of movie making should have stopped a LONG time ago -- we began with replacing the fighting moves of classic Chinese opera and clothing styles and makeup. I think the reason for the popularity of the later martial arts movies has a lot to do with getting free from these influences, lest we be forever trapped. Just like the "Wong Mei" tune (a type of Chinese singing) at that same period, it made a movie not feel like a movie. So, just like "The Red Child", I am wishing for a new fusion of art forms, not going back to the old way -- it's this type of thinking. If we want to go back to the old way, there really isn't much purpose for doing so. This is different from rejecting the artistic value of Peking Opera. The artistic value of Peking opera is in the essence of itself. Taking just a little of Peking opera and putting it in a new form is different from both schools that it originates from.

Q: Then, for the three sections of "ping opera" you used in the beginning of "The Red Child," is the purpose of that because you think before you launch a new experimental work, you should educate the audiences . . .

A: You are speaking about the very beginning of "The Red Child"?

Q: Right, those three sections . . .

A: The purpose of the beginning of "The Red Child" is for a proof . . .

Q: Oh, for a proof . . .

A: Yes, for a proof. First I make two or three sections like this, exactly with the style of a "ping" drama, then it's the new form, which is the new form of film in "The Red Child." . . . This is just the idea. I was really copying my "Heroes Two." The meaning of "Heroes Two" was actually to introduce the martial arts style formally at the beginning of the movie. Then, later on in the movie, we get to see what this real form of martial arts became. I wanted to do this for "The Red Child" also, but "The Red Child" is a clear indication that I failed in conveying that.

Q: Isn't the main point an exercise to sharpen the audiences' artistic taste?

A: I don't think that's the main point. If audiences appreciate it, they mostly <8> would enjoy it themselves without any prodding, right?

Q: Did the movie fail because the length of the movie was too long, or . . .

A: No. I think it's because the movie itself wasn't mature. I feel this type of fusion hasn't matured yet. In other words, I didn't do a good job -- because there are still many spots in the movie that felt like it's hastily put together, and not digested into the whole. If we say the work itself is very mature, very complete, then it doesn't really matter how long the movie is. It won't even matter if there are some people who don't like it. First we have to judge whether the film itself is ready -- if the movie is ready -- then the strong criticisms will be together. All the strong criticisms in terms of martial arts movies can be there. It wouldn't matter.

Q: Will you eventually try to make a movie like "Boxer Rebellion," or the more recent "The Seven Daredevils"-type of big-budget movies? You feel these compared to your older smaller budgeted . . .

A: Compared to which ones specifically?

Q: For instance, like the "The Red Child," "Heroes Two," etc. type which features a smaller cast and crew versus those others -- do you think your style will change?

A: There won't be any changes if I am being honest and realistic; otherwise, a movie can escape the personality of its creator -- which is definitely possible -- unless everything one does is completely fake, completely false. When you see someone trying to do something with all his heart, there must be some of himself in the finished work -- there can't be without a bit of the creator.

Q: When making this type of big-budget movie, is it true that in terms of the movie there may be parts that are harder to deal with, unlike the smaller and more delicate movies that are easy to present your views? Like the medium budget movies you recently made are usually the best -- like "the Hung Boxing Kid," or the "Four Riders," or "Blood Brothers" (Chinese Vengeance) and the like. If the cast is too big, like in "Boxer Rebellion" or "The Water Margin," then you don't have full control. I don't know if you get that feeling?

A: Big movies are usually bad movies. This type of occurrence is pretty common. The degree of badness is different for different people. The worse the director, the worse the movie; if the director is more capable, than the movie is less bad. On the whole, no matter how capable the director is, when you compare his own body of works, only a handful of directors did their best work with a big budget movie. This is different from a representative work in the business sense. Such work may make the director really worried. But from my personal feelings of being a director, his movies are probably like that. The good directors can minimize the weak spots of the movies so that they are only slightly worse than his best movies; the bad directors make them much worse than their best movies. This seems to be the case. If this is the reality, then why do we still make big budget movies? Sometimes it is very difficult for people to make logical decisions before they decide on what movie to make -- I think VERY difficult. I suppose before one makes the decision to make a movie, it's based more on feelings and emotion than logic. I think a lot of directors have been in situations like this -- which is they don't think of a lot of practical things before they decide on a movie -- for instance, saying big budget movies are often bad movies; this is a very sound thinking, but it is not the initial way of thinking by a creative artist. When he is thinking about his movie, there must some reasons he thinks his film will turn out to be a good one. Sometimes, the smallest reason can turn into an impulsive decision. When making a movie, one won't even think about whether the movie is big-budgeted or small-budgeted -- one simply doesn't know, when it turned out than a big budget movie was to be made -- then psychologically, and the situation won't allow one to stop. I think the basic reason exists, but the length of the movie must have some limitations. So-called big budget movies can not avoid spending a lot of time on presenting the background and large-scaled scenes, and thus time spent on individual characters has to be trimmed, which often results in a weaker work. Take me, for instance. I probably belong to the less-talented group of directors, and thus the difference is quite major. The bigger budget movie that I would consider good -- I guess it's "Blood Brothers." Actually, if more time were spent on Chang Li and Ti Lung in "Blood Brothers," it could possibly be even better, and that is a fact. All the good parts in "Blood Brothers" were the scenes involving only two or three people. Besides this, all the other scenes before and after, are all bad. Of course, because of the subject matter for "Blood Brothers," if you don't present the rest of the story and the background, then you can't even get into the parts where there are scenes of those two or three people, right? Those bad scenes are quite possibly essential for the structure of the story. The best material must be very concentrated. It can spend more time in the movie to concentrate on it. Every time a movie gets to the point where you must go ahead and make it, you must keep in mind to be more careful this time, and not make the same mistakes again. Don't waste all your time on the large-scaled scenes -- but, every time, the same mistake is made, and in the end it's too late to regret it.

Q: The reason why "The Hung Boxing Kid" was so good, maybe that's also because you went deeper into the character, while "The Boxer Rebellion" skimmed over, in this regard?

A: You are right. The only fun thing about "The Boxer Rebellion" was using the boxers to represent the red guards, and I would like to make this point public. Using the Boxers to reflect the Red Guard is not exactly meaningless; at least why there was this urge, how the youth was used to achieve personal gains. The reason for starting the Boxer was very little, if we look at the historical records. Many members of the Boxers enter the city, and they all looked to be kids at around eighteen or nineteen. Just <9> like the red guards. It's using the youths' love for their country, or that might not be love, but actually the need for emotion release, or even the rebelliousness of youth, which is the mentality to cause trouble and start fights. This got used by smart politicians to further their needs. When using a collective group to be a subject, you often forget about the individual. So, the main characters in "The Boxer Rebellion" are all just an idea and not real people, no matter whether it's Fu Sheng, or Chik Kwan Kwun, or the other characters.

Q: It seems like your personal work always emphasizes individualism. Is the idea of society one that you don't find as important?
<9>
A: I feel that just about every artist is individualistic. People can have many faces -- like what he thinks about societal problems -- and even have their own ideas about nationalism and country/race, hoping he could contribute. This is a facet, a facet of being a man. Being an artist, he is a person too; that's why he has human problems. Speaking only about art, he must be individuated, as art is purely personal and individualistic.

Q: Having just talked about big-budget movies, we noticed that big-budget films don't always make money. Do you find the chances of a big-budget movie making money lesser than a small, well-crafted film?

A: There is no real answer to this question, because moviemaking is about being hopeful and optimistic, even though it's often wishful thinking. Once a big-budget movie makes a killing at the box office, they say: Ah, big-budget movies do have a better chance to make money. Later, when a big-budget production bombs, they say: Ah, we shouldn't have made a big- budget film, because it was too risky. When a film did very bad business, they say: Ah, it's all because of the poor weather; it rained for the last few days and nobody wanted to go see films. When a movie did great, they say it's because all other movies out in the market were bad, which accounts for the business. People in the movie business always come up with excuses to explain matters or console themselves. Actually, I don't think it's possible to guess the public's taste; they are more fickle than the weather. When we see that the weather is excellent at 8:30 a.m., we go out to shoot the movie for outdoor scenes; but then it starts to rain when we are ready to shoot, right? We didn't get the necessary scenes finished, and had to come back. The taste of the audience is just like that, unfathomable.

Q: But it seems that for your movies, there is always a basic market, even when a few fail economically; after awhile, there will inevitably be some that are financial successes. You are one of the few directors that top the charts for top-grossing movies often. Do you feel that you are capable of guessing the taste of the movie-viewing public?

A: It's hard to say. Maybe this is not an art. Not only is this not an art, I often tell younger friends -- and there are a lot of young people who have worked with me and become directors -- I tell them, don't think about whether the movie you are making will be financially successful; you must not dwell on that line of thinking. I feel that whenever you spend too much time worrying about that, the result will be the opposite of what you want. Many people in the movie business like to find excuses for themselves -- this movie was a blockbuster because of this, that movie was a top-grosser because of that -- and they combine all these factors together to make their own movies; but in the end, the movie does poorly. For instance, "Heroes Two" did really well a little while ago, so they say if you make a movie about Shaolin, it will be a money-maker; so a lot of Shaolin movies were made -- and people are still making them even now. But how many of them really made money? If you look at the records, then you will see. So, I feel that when you are doing something, the most important thing is sincerity and that you did it from your heart. I believe there are a few so-called box office record-holder directors -- or those that make the better films out there -- that, when they are making a movie, I can't say how great they are, but I believe they are more serious when doing it than others are. They put themselves fully into the act of moviemaking. Once the notion that "this kind of material will guarantee box office returns" appears, they themselves "get out" of the whole experience, just like the idea of "getting into character" and "getting out of character" in acting; once the thought of making money comes, the director immediately "gets out of character," which is why I often advise younger friends to not think about it. Once the director "gets out of character," he is no longer sincere, and does not put himself into the movie, so the chance of success becomes dangerously low. There are often directors who think a movie must be a blockbuster because his previous two efforts were failures -- or other reasons -- and this film often turns out to be a failure as well. Examples of this are way too numerous, which is why I think if you want a movie to do well, the best method is not to think whether it will make money -- maybe that's the key.

Q: You just mentioned that there weren't enough scenes with Ti Lung and Chang Li in "Blood Brothers." Do you think this is the failure of the script writer or because of other factors? Also, this movie used "flashbacks" to structure the whole film so that the style seems to be quite unified -- but is that overstating it?

A: As to why I decided to use "flashbacks," the reason was to simplify the story. It's because if you want to clearly explain the plot in the beginning of "Blood Brothers," it would be too complicated; and explaining the history will clearly be storytelling -- not advancing the plot. Even though "Blood Brothers" used a well-known story, I basically treated it as a love story. Most people view Ti Lung as the adulterous male and Chang Li as the unfaithful wife; even when we were casting, when I cast Ti Lung as Ma Sun Yee, and Chang Li as the wife, people were really puzzled over why we cast those two actors in such roles, because conventional thinking is that we must find an adult movie actor (2), willing to do nude scenes and pornographic scenes; the other role would require an evil-looking person -- one who is bad to the bone (3) -- but I used two actors who usually played good guys. So I hoped that by using the "flashback" technique, I could make the introduction simpler. Even though this was the intention, the result <10> still wasn't clear enough. Of course: I have my own problems; and it's the fight scenes. On the one hand, this is something I am very familiar with. On the other hand, it has become a heavy baggage, which is to say, no matter what happens, the movie must have a significant amount of fight scenes in it, or else I will run into unimaginable trouble.

Q: Is this because of box office success? A direct result?

A: Yes. I fear that there aren't any other directors that had my experience. I can say there aren't any in the whole world. Weren't we talking about "Four Riders," just then? "Four Riders" first premiered as a midnight show -- that is, before the actual opening date; it was screened at 11:30 p.m. (4) a week or two prior to the opening, which is a Hong Kong tradition -- and I went to the showing! I usually attend these midnight showings, since I want to see my movies in the setting of a real movie theater, and midnight showings have the least impact on my regular schedule. Right after watching the showing of "Four Riders," I was surrounded by the audience. They said: "We don't want to see you making this type of film. We want to see the type of film you usually make. We don't like this type of film." This is an experience that I don't think too many other directors share, and this is the bad part of being a celebrity, just like people wanting to see Ling Po when she is cross-dressing as a male. They make certain demands of you, and these are all dead set. If you don't satisfy their expectations, you get into trouble. So, I have to devote a significant amount of screen time to fight scenes, and I am telling the cruel and painful truth here: the inclusion of fight scenes is to ensure I will keep making movies. If you completely sever from the audience, it will be hard even if you have 10,000 hopes to fulfill in moviemaking, because you won't be able to make anymore movies. In the business of moviemaking, it is not for the intellectual minority to enjoy, it's an impossibility; because . . . <missing a line here> . . . can accomplish by itself, but it can't be done for movies; moviemaking requires a lot of people, a myriad of technologies, large sums of money, and capital, so you must have the support of the public. Or else, you cannot do it. You can't do it out of personal enjoyment for the use of the few intellectuals. In order to not alienate the public, I must satisfy what they demand of me -- so every movie has to be like that.

Q: The reason the public forced you to provide them with the type of things they want you to do is because you'd been giving that to them, which is to say: what they forced you to give them is the direct result of your having allowed them to make that decision by having given them what they want (5) . . .

A: Correct. This is just like the simple Chinese proverb of "trapping oneself in one's own cocoon" -- the most simple, most complete ego. Once you see what works, you immediately start building the cocoon. When you are done with the cocoon, they will tell you to keep it this way.

Q: Is there any other method to use, or some other thing to take the place of this, let it renew . . . make another cocoon, and then try to change the old one?

A: Yes. You don't want to change it completely; you are just varying it a little bit -- and they won't come.

Q: They won't come?

A: Isn't that the case? The classic example of "they don't come" is "The Red Child": they didn't come. Another type of this is, they came, but they criticize you for it. The classic example for that is "The Four Riders." "The Red Child" and "Four Riders" didn't completely abandon their source genre: the martial art film -- they were only little changes, weren't they? In the case of "Four Riders," my intention was to try to show how war affects people psychologically. Of course, the main subjects are the psychology of the youth and the feeling of emptiness after the war; originally, this was what I wanted to make the movie about, and using the Korean War as the background -- fight scenes are not non-existent in there -- there are fights, but that is not the Chinese Kung Fu-type of fighting that the public was hoping for. In "The Red Child," I wanted to make the fighting more dance-like, make it unlike the regular type of fighting, so I used the fairy tale and a mythological setting. This type of intention started from "Na Cha the Great." "The Red Child" was a little bit more so, but in the end, even "Na Cha the Great" wasn't well received.

Q: "Na Cha the Great" was somewhat well received, wasn't it?

A: Not well enough. So, the most traditional type is the fight scenes featuring Chinese Kung Fu -- like in "Five Shaolin Masters," which was the most well received. The constraints and expectations the audience put on you are your own doing, so I can say, "I've trapped myself within my own cocoon," which is to say I've trapped myself in my own particular brand and style of filmmaking. Take King Hu, for example. His films are all very similar. All the fights and moves are similar -- with a background always set in the Ming dynasty -- he isn't afraid of change, is he? Then, is this right or wrong? Hard to say. You don't know if it is right or wrong. Insiders like us have watched every single King Hu movie, since we are in the same business -- just researching and studying each other's techniques. Let's see, from "The Dragon Inn" up till now, it's been the same formula; there has to be a sense of dissatisfaction, right? We can say he doesn't have to make every movie just like "The Dragon Inn," but why is it always the same? He is not an uncreative person, and he is not weak in many other aspects either; he is pretty good and skilled, so not everything should be just like "The Dragon Inn." Let's look at it another way. If he made a movie that is not like "The Dragon Inn," would the audience still acknowledge him as King Hu? It's because the "King Hu" accepted by the general audience is like that.

Q: Do you think King Hu feels the same way, and that that's why he made movies like that?

A: Yes. That's why I call it "being trapped in one's own cocoon": once you've tied yourself up, it's like this.

Q: If this is the case, making movies in China seems to set up a situation in which a person can only make the type of movies he is most . . .

A: It is already pretty good if one has his own "cocoon."

Q: Oh, right, that is, ha ha . . . concerning what you've said about <11> audience reactions, is there a difference between Hong Kong and Taiwan?

A: The audience's demand for the "cocoon" is probably pretty consistent between Hong Kong and Taiwan. Ho ho ho . . . then those that have the "cocoon" are already better off -- at least they have a cocoon. I believe the most miserable ones are those with many different cocoons, such as the people who see others' coccoons and immediately want to appropriate them, but after appropriating them finally realize they're not their own, and end up doing a very poor job trying to imitate them -- ultimately deciding that they failed, which leads to their appropriating another coccoon from someone else, which in turn results in another failure.

Q: There aren't that many people with a "cocoon." Not only are they good, they are few in numbers. There are only one of two. . . . We were just talking about big-budget movies, and I started thinking about directing scenes with crowds. This is not only found in big-budget films, it is also found in medium-budget films. Can you give us your opinion on the techniques of directing crowd scenes?

A: Here's what I think. I might not be the worst Chinese director when it comes to dealing with people's characters in movies -- at least, not near the worst, right? Real and fake, since we are dealing with fictional idealized people and not real characters, we can employ superficial illusory tricks, so that it looks like we are dealing with a person with real character. I discovered that Fu Shing [Fu Sheng] and Chik Kwun Kwan [Chi Kuan Chun] can come out totally differently playing a character; David Chiang is different, Ti Lung is different, Wang Yu is different, but those are all illusory tricks, not really because of anything else. The so-called big-budget movies -- like the seven people in "The Seven Daredevils" -- I have to make different from each other. Even though big-budget movies are not as good as the delicately crafted smaller films, at least I didn't fail completely. Maybe because of that, we didn't reach the point where nobody wanted to watch the film, where the movie is so bad that it's unwatchable; maybe there are still one or two things good about it, there are a few scenes that are okay, etc. On the subject of the problem of dealing with group scenes [scenes with multiple characters], when there are three to five people, or even five to seven people, I can still do a passable job, but barely; "Four Riders" and "The Savage Five" are the cases where I did a marginal job, making the main cast seem like they have their own characters. But in reality, it was just the illusory tricks I just mentioned, like the appearance, small demeanor, some conversations, etc. I'm not really capable of compositing many characters in this manner.

Q: Even though your films are famous for their machismo, when it comes to dealing with romance between males and females, I feel they are better than pretty much everybody else's, like the romance between Fu Shing and Chan Ming Lee in the "Hung Boxing Kid," which was very delicate. . . .

A: I consider myself a great romance director, too. Unfortunately, nobody else appreciates it. Ho ho ho. . . . I remember making "The Generation Gap" with David Chiang and Chan Mei Ling. That was a good effort, too. I also feel that "Blood Brothers," with Ti Lung and Chang Li, was pretty good. Also, I don't think most of the romance directors are given enough time. That's because they are more formulaic, while I am not formulaic. But nobody seems to appreciate it. Too bad. If I lengthen the romantic scenes, the audience will become bored. Ho ho ho. . . .

Q: The romance between Fu Shing and Chan Ming Li in "The Hung Boxing Kid" seems to be more traditionally Chinese, while the relationship between Chan Mei Ling and David Chiang in "The Generation Gap," on the other hand, felt more superficial, so we can't identify with it. . . .

A: Maybe there is a little bit of distance between them. If we look at the situation between David Chiang and Chan Mei Ling, that's pretty close to the case of youth in Hong Kong. The reason you felt it's not good enough probably has to do with my compromising; if you want to do things that way, you have to go the distance, but it was only done halfway in the end, because I had to make their relationship pure and innocent -- maybe that's why.

Q: In "Four riders," there is a relationship between Chang Li and Chan Kwun Tai, even though it's short, but the love between the nurse and him . . .

A: That's why I often want to devote a little time in my movies to romance. It was the same with Chang Li and Chan Kwun Tai in "The Boxer from Shantung," which I also think is okay. So, you have to fit the romance in using the most efficient means that the "cocoon" allows.

Q: Also, what about the relationship between David Chiang, Ti Lung and Lee Ching in "Have Sword will Travel"?

A: That was more one dimensional, because Lee Ching's performance wasn't good. But David Chiang played the type of character I really like -- which is a youth down on his luck, getting a little bit of warmth from love, or maybe not even love, just some emotional warmth, but always mistaking that for love.

Q: Looking at your movies, it seems you place great emphasis on the shifting views of the camera and not much on the planned adjustment of the camera.

A: I never plan my shifting camera angles.

Q: But how about the adjustment?

A: In terms of camera adjustment, of course there is some basic planning involved: that is how one scene transitions to the next. What is the main idea I want to convey in this scene -- how do I hope to film this scene -- there of course has to be some thought there, but detailed planning on the use of camera -- I never did that.

Q: Never?

A: Never. I didn't do that even when I was a rank amateur, just beginning directing.

Q: Then, why does it seem like you are so good and proficient at doing this that sometimes it's strange?

A: Maybe I am getting better at doing this now (6), but I never did it when I was a rank amateur. I am not an inherently calm, detail-minded type of person; it's just not me. That's what I think.

Q: So, improvising plays a big part in your way of making films, then?

A: Right. Improvising plays an important role. The end result is always different from the original script. Always different.

Q: If that's the case, will the original ideas of the script be different from the filmed version?

A: The basic idea should still be similar -- that's what I think. And <12> the way I approach writing scripts is I first come up with the basic idea before I begin writing the script -- just like that. And it has always been like that -- the basic idea won't change. What gets changed are just the details while the filming is in progress. The basic idea remains the same; what gets the overhaul are the dialogue, fight scenes, stunts -- or maybe even dividing up the scenes -- these sorts of things.

Q: Most of the crew you've used are basically the same all through the years. For example, your camera operator has been Kung Mo Yik, script writing has been a collaboration with Ngai Hong, and same thing goes for editing. . . . Does that have anything to do with the type of movie you make?

A: Maybe that's because I am too individualistic; everything comes down to my own opinion. Because of that, it's best that I work with people I know best. Basically, this is a weakness and not a strength. Maybe that is really a strength. I don't know; it's hard to say. In general, a few heads together is better than just one. But in my working habit, only one head works better -- always just one head.

Q: Then, even when you are working with Ngai Hong, you are the main guy?

A: He is not the only person I collaborate with while writing scripts. He's just the one I work with most of the time, the reason being: I've tried several other people, but I just can't work with them in a stable manner. In the case of "The Seven Daredevils," the script went through several rewrites by different people, but I am the one who did the final rewrite, even though most of the original script from Ngai Hong remained. That's because the way he writes characters comes closest to the way I do.

[Note: There are a couple of trouble spots in the next few paragraphs of this translation: 1) the use of a word which can alternately mean vapid/hollow/empty or unapproachable; 2) another use of a word that can mean clear/understandable or approachable. The second meaning in both these cases was rarely used, but I chose to use it because the first meaning didn't make much sense in translation. If you can find someone to find a better translation for these two problem words, it would be great.
Note 2: at least one of the interviewers became kind of a jerk at this stage of the interview. Read on and you will see.]

Q: For the actors that you often use -- David Chiang, Ti Lung, and more recently, Fu Shing -- to the audience, David Chiang seems to represent your ideal type of hero, or maybe the more wandering, unapproachable [this word can also mean empty or hollow, but I don't think that's the intended meaning here] sort; while Fu Shing was often portrayed as a romantic youth, or the immature teenager type. Between these two people, Fu Shing might lack the unapproachable quality, while we can see in David Chiang's movie a more unapproachable/hollow feel; Fu Shing's movie was purely romantic, plus some of what I guess is a little bit of social commentary. What do you think of these two actors?

A: There are no two people who are exactly the same, right? In the case of David Chiang, his strength in the beginning was that he's not the cheerful, happy, energetic type; maybe he acted in cheerful energetic roles later on in his career, but I still think his best moments are not the cheerful, energetic roles. In the case of Fu Shing, he is completely cheerful and energetic. He doesn't have the air of melancholy surrounding him like David Chiang -- that type . . . is David Chiang's typical role of unappreciated genius. I often wanted him to play that sort of character, and that's why it became like that. This type of trait is no longer as strong in David Chiang, now. This trait of David Chiang's didn't get inherited by Fu Shing: it's completely unsuitable for him. That's why the person who most exemplifies this type of role nowadays is Chik Kwan Kwun. The whole appearance and style of Chik Kwan Kwun is exactly the opposite of David Chiang's, while Fu Shing is much closer to David Chiang in this respect. But in reality, the trait I just mentioned is currently best personified in Chik Kwan Kwun. When it comes to acting in unpretentious and upbeat roles, David Chiang will never be as good as Fu Shing. When he tried to act unpretentious and cheerful he always looked a little forced, while Fu Shing felt completely natural in these roles (7); but David Chiang's melancholic feel is absent in Fu Shing. So they're different in this respect completely, each has his strengths and weaknesses.

Q: So, this is also why your more recent films are different from your work in the David Chiang era; the movies back then had a more depressing tone -- they were a little tragic -- while the recent films have a lighter air. Perhaps it's because Fu Shing is acting in them?

A: Let's take "The Hung Boxing Kid" as an example. Fu Shing played the main character, but the dejected feeling is portrayed by Chik Kwan Kwun.

Q: Right, right, right. If there was no Chik Kwan Kwun, then . . .

A: If there was no Chik Kwan Kwun, "The Hung Boxing Kid" would not even have succeeded. So, when I began to work from my original ideas, I was probably right on this point. The reason why I created Chik Kwan Kwun's character was because Fu Shing can't portray that feeling; that feeling must be achieved through another person. Superficially, I think maybe other people have this feeling too: that is, Fu Shing and Chik Kwan Kwun's relationship to each other is quite similar to the partnership between David Chiang and Ti Lung, earlier. But actually it's not. Chik Kwan Kwun doesn't resemble Ti Lung, and Fu Shing is different from David Chiang, too. This is because, in the original partnership, the approachable side was Ti Lung. David Chiang didn't play the approachable side. That was played by Ti Lung. Now, it's the opposite: Fu Shing played the approachable one, while Chik Kwan Kwun represented the unapproachable one.

Q: But Ti Lung was nowhere near as approachable as Fu Shing. Now, is that bad? That is, not being as approachable?

A: Umm, not as approachable. But when you compare David Chiang with Ti Lung, Ti Lung was the more approachable one.

Q: In this case, you often come up with a plot from the few types of characters you picked from your pool of actors. Is that what happened?

A: Ah, that is right. And the choice of actors also hinges on my original plans. Proverbs say, "it's easy to amass three armies, but hard to get even one good general." A good actor is extremely hard to find. Once you have an original idea, if you try to find an actor who completely fits the role in your idea -- and he has to be good -- that's even harder. Often, with my ideas, maybe a single actor won't be able to do the job -- but it's possible to do it with two actors, instead. Of course, if we totally disregard the special qualities of an actor and force him to portray your idea, it's not impossible; but doing things this way, the chances of success are not high. If you cater too much to an actor's inherent qualities, you run the risk of your original ideas not being conveyed. <13> As a means of compromise, use your original ideas and see how to swap actors around to make them work.

Q: Even for historical movies -- let's say "Boxer Rebellion," "Marco Polo," and "The Seven Daredevils" -- that were based on actual historical records, where even the characters are real historical figures, are you still able to use your swapping-around-of-actors method?

A: As with "The Seven Daredevils," the final decision was made really late. Why? It's not that we can't find the actors; it's because of the final rewriting of the script. We must have the script finalized before we know what actors to use -- and this happens often.

Q: All these actors were personally trained by you. Do you think discovering and nurturing actors is an important part of the job of being a director? How do you judge if a person has the potential to be a good actor? We find this sort of thing very interesting.

A: Whether it is an important part of the job of being a director, I don't know, but I think this is very important in China. If we have a lot of talented actors that are readily available, then this may not be an important skill. This skill becomes purely a matter of judgement -- which is judging who should act in a specific role -- but that is only judgement on evaluating talent. The case right now is that the person who fits the role doesn't even exist, so you even have to create the actor yourself -- which is often the case.

Q: Then, how do you make the judgement -- let's say you have David Chiang here now -- how do you discover him among so many other people?

A: Maybe it's a hunch, I don't really know the answer to this. That said, often when you are thinking of making a certain movies, you suddenly meet a person and you feel that this movie has a role that is a perfect fit for this person -- which is what really happens sometimes. Other times, you see a person and you think up the kind of movie that might be tailor-made for him -- so that may be the most suitable. These two possibilities can both happen, sometimes even while you are watching a movie made by other people. As a hypothetical example, the reason I noticed David Chiang was because back then another director made another film -- David Chiang wasn't in that movie, and I didn't discover David Chiang from that movie -- one day I was chatting with two other friends, saying that one of them's usage of a certain actor for a particular role in that movie was totally wrong. As the conversation went on, we got to: Ah, I just saw this person who might work for this role. So that's how we got to David Chiang. Of course, this movie has nothing to to with me, and I won't go and remake that movie, but this is how I come to realize David Chiang can play this type of role. So, we came to the conclusion that it's possible to write certain type of roles for him to act in. That was the reason why I wrote the "Have Sword Will Travel," "The Wandering Swordsman," etc. series of films: the motive came from an external source. So are a lot of factors that are the result of pure chance. (Fu Shing was because of Fong Sai Yuk, and he also made some other movies -- but clearly the main movie was "Heroes Two.") Prior to this, the other movie of importance was "Friends." At the beginning of "Friends," I didn't think of him as a very stable person, but the subject itself became a very suitable character for him to play unconsciously.

Q: Originally, in "The Water Margin" novel, the character of Yeen Ching the Wanderer was not like this, but you turned him into a David Chiang type?

A: There may be two reasons. The first one is that there never was a Yeen Ching the Wanderer, right? I am not saying the none of the people found in the novel existed in real life -- maybe none of the people in the novel existed -- it's that there wasn't an actor at that time that fits the profile of Yeen Ching the Wanderer. Trying to locate him in the pool of actors -- the others being even more ill-suited for the job -- maybe David Chiang was the closest one, so when we used David Chiang in the role. It's unavoidable to add a bit of David Chiang himself into the role -- and not a pure Yeen Ching the Wanderer. Secondly, I myself always have a penchant for the "negative," that is, I always go the route of negative and less, not the way of positive and more. Let's say for the same type of person, I always spend less time portraying him going the positive and affirmative way than the negative and pessimistic route. I think that's what happens -- it always becomes like this unconsciously.

Q: Is this because of some of your earlier experiences, of due to some other factors?

A: I think that has to have some relations. Because I am basically not very affirmative of myself. For instance, I think criticizing myself is much more enjoyable than criticizing others. I don't believe there are many other directors who are willing to say they "trapped themselves with their own cocoon;" I have a blast criticizing myself. I often think, there's not much future in Chinese film making, I myself am not a very good artist, and that current Chinese movies are over-rated -- or I should say those who are currently involved in the business of Chinese movies have over-rated their work. I often feel this perspective is very lacking in humor. Of course, there are those without self-confidence who are completely lacking in evaluative skills -- which constitute the opposite extreme -- who say all our Chinese movies are dog fart [same thing as bullshit] and that if we could learn from foreigners, that would be great. Of course, this is also wrong; but over-estimating ourselves is also lacking in humor. It's like treating all of us as maestros, right? So basically, I have a pessimistic view more often.

Q: What do you think about female characters? It seems that females in your movies are usually given the task of comforting the defeated or down-on-their-luck heroes. Are they are often more passive, or act as followers?

A: Right, right.

Q: Then, you never had the intention of using a female as main character?

A: Maybe that's because that's what I think females are intended for?

Q: So, that's why you never made a movie with a heroine?

A: I don't think I have; I hate this heroine thing.

<14> Q: Isn't there a bit of that in "Golden Swallow" (The Girl with the Thunderbolt Kick)?

A: That's like using Golden Swallow as a symbol. I really hate this heroine thing. Why do I hate it? It's because of reading traditional Chinese novels, watching old Chinese Drama/Opera, and finding therein way too many heroines: Mu Kwai Ying, Fan Lee Fah, Sister Thirteen, etc. -- so I have a basic aversion to the idea.

Q: We just had a question about your choosing actors? This reminded us that when you began making "The Hell," you were prepared to hire Lam Wai Mun for the role. Was that your original intention?

A: Lam Wai Mun had personal problems, but I believe he has made some progress in this regard. We are pretty good friends -- pretty good friends. He was very worried about his going over to the United States to perform. Whatever happened with that, I don't know, but he was like that: worried -- so he couldn't devote much effort to the movie. Maybe this is a loss for "The Hell." Of course, "The Hell" itself was not a success -- as we've seen. Maybe it would have been better with him. It's possible that it would have still failed, but we shall never know. The bottom line is that we failed anyway. The reason we didn't work together had nothing to do with any differences of opinions or arguments between him and me. He is one of the few people that I enjoy chatting with. I enjoyed our conversations. As regards dance choreography, modern dance, or even the treatment of movie characters, we have very similar views. Take "Na Cha the Great," for example. There were many instances when our opinions were exactly alike even before we discussed them. The only thing we disagreed about is that he felt that dance belongs on the stage; he thinks dance as shown in movies is lacking in completeness when compared to a stage performance. It is my opinion that all the advantages of the stage can be preserved onscreen, but the movie medium can do what the stage cannot. This was the only disagreement; there was nothing else we argued with each other about.

Q: Do you also think that he would have been a good choice for acting in your initial concept of "The Hell"?

A: I think he's very suitable for my initial concept of "The Hell," but the character in "The Hell" is different from him now. The reason for that is because we had to use another actor. Originally, the role was intended for him, but now we have Poon Kin in the role, and they are completely different from each other, so the acting method and character came out completely different.

Q: Another question: what do you think of all those young people that are studying moviemaking at foreign countries so they can work in the movie industry? Any special feelings about that?

A: I feel that there are too many difficulties.

Q: What kind of difficulties?

A: If we are talking about working out there in the West, asians don't have many opportunities. We have almost never seen an asian really being given an opportunity out there in Western filmmaking. Occasionally, there will be a movie which requires an asian to be in a prominent role. . . . and there is the famous Wong Jung Jim, but I don't consider that a real opportunity. For those asians playing prominent roles in movies, those were all a one-time deal: right after that one movie, they always act like crap. That's because the actor was fresh in that one movie, thereby providing a curiosity factor. Wong Jung Jim later wanted to become a director, but he never succeed -- he didn't even get anything done. So, asians working in the movie industry out there in the West have only a very miniscule chance. As for those that went to foreign countries for film school and returned for work -- if we are speaking of those that just recently left -- I will say pessimistically that we don't even know if Chinese moviemaking will still be here when they return.

Q: You have a very pessimistic view about the future of Chinese movies.

A: My basic opinion is, art is extravagant excess. Any time the arts are in full bloom, they are just providing extravagant excess -- like in the Tang dynasty, the Victorian/Elizabethan age, and the reign of Louis XIV in France. They were always providing extravagant excesses. If we want to make good Chinese movies, we have to turn them into extravagant excesses. But now not only can we not afford to be extravagant, we are penny pinching when it's impossible to be any more frugal, yet we still need to cut more costs. There is no market for that today. There won't be a market for that tomorrow, either, so we get a smaller and smaller market. I talked about this a few years earlier, but nobody believed me. Some people were happy about that back then and said: Ho ha -- Singapore is banning violent movies now. I don't agree that they are really banning violent movies at all; they are trying to root out all the Chinese movies. Because I am in that kind of environment, I have a lot of contact with that kind of thing, so I understand what it's really about. Now, it's already very clear that all of the southeast asian countries are boycotting Chinese movies. The reason is, they want their citizens -- regardless of whether they are Chinese immigrants -- to feel that they are Singaporean, Indonesian, and Thai, and to all forget their Chinese roots. That's why they are anti Chinese movies. That's their basic policy, and this policy will be enforced. When, in the end, the market of these movies is only Hong Kong and Taiwan, how will you still be allowed to be extravagant? The so-called low-budget productions, are relative, not exact. When Americans talk about low-budget, that means they are not using stars that cost a million dollars and there won't be large scenes that require tens of millions to mount -- that's what it means. They didn't say that even the celluloid has to be used sparingly; they didn't say the movie should use specially-made wardrobe and -props; when a movie should be made at a specific location, we can't go there because of the cost -- they weren't cutting costs to this degree. If this is what movie-making has come down to, then you can't even make a movie. Nowadays, when I make a movie, I am spending money that should not have been spent. Earlier -- right outside -- they gave me a running tab. "The Seven Daredevils" has not begun filming yet, but we've already spent over two million dollars on it -- which should not have been spent -- that is, in today's movie marketplace, we can't afford to spend so much money. A film that hasn't even started filming yet has already cost over two million in pre-production. When a marketplace that doesn't allow for this kind of spending, doing things this way can't continue for long. <15> Under the present conditions, everything is so bare-bones that it's ridiculous. If there comes a time where everything is so ridiculously bare-boned, nobody will want to watch this type of film. (8)

Q: You are saying, then, that good movies can only be made when the country and its people are rich? Or do you mean the market?

A: We can't really say our country and people are poor now, can we? That is to say, when we only have such a small market, the movie industry will suffer.

Q: These two markets cannot support the movie industry?

A: I don't think they can.

Q: But we can't have no movies; we still have to have movies. There are still people in these two markets who would want to watch movies.

A: They can go watch foreign movies.

Q: A lot of people only watch Chinese movies!

A: When there are no Chinese movies to be seen, they will watch foreign movies. There is another type, and they will have Chinese movies that are suitable for them; but those that really refuse to see foreign films, I believe, are a very small minority. For those that absolutely refuse to see foreign films, there are Chinese films that are suitable for them. Those so-called suitable Chinese films are those old Cantonese films. This is just a hypothesis; maybe it's the same with Taiwanese films. The fact is, there aren't any Mandarin films like this.

Q: Then, is there hope of opening up new markets?

A: I don't think that is an easy task. We can look at this two ways: First, there never has been a country where its movie industry thrives on the support of foreign markets -- none. When Japanese movies were doing well in foreign countries, they did well back in Japan also. Even though American movies are distributed globally, their base market is still within the U.S. When the Japanese movie industry ultimately failed in its domestic market, it failed internationally also. So, I don't believe any country's movie industry can survive on foreign markets alone. They must have no problems within their own country. Then they do well in foreign countries. Secondly, the gulf between the East and West will close one day, but we are not at that stage yet. Japanese films thrived in Western countries, but only for a short while. Chinese movies -- right now, or the Kung Fu movies from awhile ago -- have already seen their day -- or maybe their time has not come yet. We don't know. But the basic survival of a movie industry cannot depend only on a period, because the West's interest in the East -- like it's interest in Japan and it's interest in Chinese Kung Fu -- I don't believe it's 100% curiosity -- but it's nothing better than curiosity. Even when they can see Japanese movies and Chinese Kung Fu any time they want, they still prefer to watch Western movies.

Q: Can it stay that way for long?

A: It's impossible for them to prefer Eastern films over Western films for a prolonged period of time.

Q: Do you think that if the Eastern film industry can support itself by the Eastern market, it might survive?

A: If Eastern movies want to play a role in the West, they can't rely on the West. They must be able to support themselves in their own market. But, occasionally, there will be a film that is especially suitable for Western tastes that will succeed. This basically needs to have the support of its own country. If its own country won't support it, there won't be such occasional movies, because there won't be any movies made. Movies always need a very wasteful extravagant environment, which let them make better films. This approach might have a chance in the Western market, but you can't consistently rely on that for reliable support.

Q: Then, do you think your movies are right for Western tastes, even though they still consider your films to be Kung Fu movies?

A: There is an occasional chance, but we can't say it will definitely succeed; a few directors who have more oriental qualities have that happen occasionally, but there are no guarantees. So-called collaborated [multi-nationally produced] movies, so far, have been complete failures, because they have none of the strengths of oriental films, and also none of the strengths of Western films. Even today, their [Westerners'] feelings of superiority and sense of accomplishment won't allow them to accept our notions and ideas of Chinese Kung Fu and many other things in the East -- they still have this view of us as having long braids [queues]. In the context of this type of thinking, if it failed in the East than it will fail in the West also. In the end, it becomes a mess. You will see that all the movies made as collaborations between the East and West have been failures.

Q: Basically, you think that Taiwanese and Cantonese films, using the older filmmaking methods, cannot support the movie world.

A: With the size and budget of that kind of Taiwanese and Cantonese film, there really isn't much incentive to make such films. What I just said is like this: let's say there's a young man. He is ambitious about making movies, he just returned from a foreign country where he studied filmmaking for five or six years, but at this time the only types of movies that can be made are the Taiwanese and Cantonese films. Isn't that a major let-down? That is what I mean, yes? Of course, there will be a lot of people in the movie industry who will continue to make Taiwanese and Cantonese films to make a living. If they don't need to rely on this business as a sole source of income, they'll naturally move on and do something else. If, hypothetically speaking, movie-making has come to this, then my personal feeling is this is what will happen. Of all the things I've considered not to be done in my whole life, none of them are as tough as this. That is why I say, why go to the United States and study movies for four years? Just to come back and make these terrible films? On the other hand, they could have stayed in U.S. after four years of film school to continue working on their craft, but work is hard to come by. Those are my feelings on the subject.

Q: In this case, do those people who want to join the movie industry now -- when the time comes, maybe a year or two from now, or maybe four or five years from now -- all switch jobs to another business?

A: I think some of them will go to another business, some will make stuff like Cantonese or Taiwanese films, and others will be absorbed by other countries. This so-called absorption by another country does not mean advanced countries, but rather the third world type. You can already see this tendency. Some went to work in Singapore, some others went <16> to Indonesia, some to Thailand -- to help those countries make their own movies -- acting as their consultants, strategists, planners, and designers.

Q: Others think things will improve after the worst has come. Do you think the Chinese film industry will be like this? For instance, the American film industry has been pretty poor in general since the mid-60's, but last year, the cumulative box office of the U.S. has been the highest since 1946. That's because they've found a new direction, and built a new structure around that.

A: Like the failures of American movies and Japanese movies, the failures were because of the movies themselves, not because of the market; our movies currently do not have such a strong propensity toward failure, but the problem is with our market. The market for American movies has always been there. People just weren't playing to see them. In the new age of movie-making, people will still come back and watch. Our problem is not the new age of moviemaking, but the rapidly shrinking market.

Q: This phenomena where the market disappears -- did anyone in the movie business guess that we will come down to this -- where there is almost no market left?

A: People in the movie business are among those who are best at deluding themselves. Even now, there aren't a lot of people like me who admit this is what's really happening -- they always say they will have a way to get out of this; if I do this and that then problem will be solved -- they are all like that.

Q: If we recall twenty years ago when Chinese movies first appeared in Hong Kong and Taiwan, the market at that time was still only Hong Kong and Taiwan. Is it possible to go back to that route?

A: Back then, our Taiwanese and Cantonese films survived for quite a period of time. Now that we've evolved and improved, however, it's very painful to go back to the older ways, right? At the time, you could watch very bad movies and make very bad movies, but you were quite satisfied with them; now, you can watch much better movies and make much better movies. When that is no longer possible, you're forced back into making worse movies and watching worse movies. I believe that's a very hard thing to stomach.

Q: Changing the subject, is it possible to use the government to help -- that is, to make government-sponsored films to survive?

A: One needn't wait for that day. This is my pessimism at work again, because nothing can survive on "charitable support" -- nothing. Whenever an industry requires charity to survive, that industry is dead; if movies need to be supported by sponsorship, then don't make movies anymore -- why make them?

Q: When you make period films, it seems you don't spend attention to details.

A: Generally speaking, when I make period films I don't pay attention to details of historical accuracy. No only am I historically inaccurate, I go out of my way to "make it inaccurate." Let's say that the costumes should be like such and such for a certain period. What's the relationship between the costumes in "Vengeance" and the costumery of the early days of the Republic of China? There is no relationship; I only took the general feel of the costumes from the early Chinese Republic, and made them into clothes that I thought would work. Is the final result early Chinese Republic? Of course not. The long hair shown in the movie, filmed in the slow-motion style, made it what I wanted, ho ho ho. . . . so I don't pay any attention to this at all. The typical Qing [Ching] hairstyle where the frontal scalp is completely shaved -- I don't do that at all. Can I claim ignorance for not knowing this is the way it was done? Of course I can't; it's impossible not to know. I follow my taste -- whatever I feel is right, feel comfortable with, feel is good -- then do it that way. I never care if the details are historically correct or not.

Q: Do you feel that this way of not paying attention to details and small things has any impact on the main idea?

A: This really isn't not paying attention to details, it is "doing it even if you know it's wrong and inaccurate." This is not the same as paying attention to the details or not, right? It's not ignoring the details, it's looking at the problem at a completely different angle. For instance, I feel the plot is something that I can change on a whim. Going out to buy a cup and going out to kill a man makes no difference at all -- it depends on what I want to convey at the moment; if it is to kill a man, then I will have a man killed; if it is to buy a cup, then we go ahead and purchase a cup. I don't pay too much attention to it. The historical stories I made, the ancient facts I present, are to convey a modern feeling I have. I am not trying to present how the historical figure feels, what its meaning is; I only present my feelings, my own meaning. So, Lip Ching in "The Assassin" is a tool I used. Using a historical figure as a tool -- using his story as a tool -- this story can convey an idea. For example, when Shaw Brothers asked me to make "The Golden Swallow" back then, my first reaction was I didn't want to make it. Make "The Golden Swallow"? For what? Golden Swallow is a tool, a fantasy that's on Wang Yu's mind. Golden Swallow represents a type of noble emotion, while the prostitute represented a base emotion; actually the prostitute treated him very nicely, while Golden Swallow didn't treat him like that. It's like a lot of people who, many years from now, will think of their first love. They beautify their first love, thinking that it was all that, when in fact their first love wasn't really that great. So, in the end, the basic idea of "the Golden Swallow" was to say that he had given up real life for a fantasy -- that is, love in real life is very important for him, but he doesn't feel it; he exists in a fantasized love. So, that is basically the whole idea of "The Golden Swallow." Under this meaning, from "Golden Swallow" to Lip Ching, they are all -- as small as "Golden Swallow, as big as Lip Ching -- a tool, a method; not the objective.
<27>
Q: If we take a single movie and treat it as a complete work of art, do you think this approach -- even if you know it's inaccurate -- effects the perfection?

A: I think it's probably quite far from being perfect. The hard part about making movies is that it requires tremendous organization skills and necessitates a lot of calm logical thought to make them work, artistically. But personally, I am not the calm, meticulous planner-type. This weakness often makes my films look unbalanced, uneven. That is, sometimes the movie is better, sometimes it looks a little rough on the edges. Oftentimes, it's in between: the movie was completed, but I've lost my creative impulse. In the end, I am only forcing myself to finish up the movie, because I've put all my effort and imagination into a new creative idea. It's often like that. That's why it's hard to find someone who is good at all aspects of movie-making. They're really hard to find.

(end of interview)



Notes (brown indicates translator, green indicates editor):

  1. This is the year according to the Taiwanese government. The Republic of China was established in 1910 or 1911. Just like Japan, their usual calendar year follows the year of their emperor being in power. Taiwan's year just follows the year the "Republic of China" was officially established. The year according to A.D. is only commonly used among the Judeo/Christian/Muslim (??) folks. [return to article]

  2. The word he used was literally "meat bombs," which is a more polite way of saying porn star -- "meat bombs" meaning they show a lot of meat, i.e. boobs, and "explode" into orgasms/moaning/etc. . . . "meat bomb" itself is a derogatory term, so "adult movie actor" would approximate the term he used, but I think "porn star" is more direct. [return to article]

  3. What he said was just "one who is evil and deceptive," but repeating the word evil sounds repetitive. [return to article]

  4. These 11:30 p.m. showings are called "midnight" shows when translating literally from Chinese, even though they really start a half hour earlier. [return to article]

  5. Basically, what he is trying to do is to explain how the public taste in the previous success of a certain director dictates the type of film he makes. Once the director makes a few films in the same genre using the same techniques/styles, and the audience accepts it (it becames a box office success), the audience tends to not accept the director if he tries to do something different. Thus, the audience traps the director into a certain "mold," and once the director gives in to this type of "audience pressure/expectations," the mold of the "cocoon" mentioned in the followup questions is set. [return to article]

  6. I don't think he ever got any better. I suspect that it had more to do with the proficiency of the Shaw Brothers cinematographer(s) with whom Chang Cheh came to work. Watch any of his post-Shaw Brothers Ocean Shores films -- like "Attack of the Joyful Goddess" or "The (Nine) Demons" -- or a Baby Venoms film -- like "Hidden Hero" -- and you will become aware all too quickly of the painfully poor positioning of the camera in the majority of the scenes. [return to article]

  7. I hope that Chang Cheh isn't trying to imply that Fu Sheng is less pretentious than David Chiang in every way, shape and form -- because, personally, I find Fu Sheng to be as pretentious as Jackie Chan, sometimes -- but then, maybe I am mistaking simple mugging for pretension. [return to article]

  8. What he is saying is that, under the conditions in which films are currently being made, the budget is so low and the production values so bad that nobody would want to watch such crap. [return to article]




BIBLIOGRAPHIC ENTRIES:

Han Chang, Tan, Lee Dao Ming, and Tse Ching Kwun.  "Chang Cheh Special: 
     Chang Cheh talking about Chang Cheh."  Influence Magazine (Taipei, 
     Taiwan) no. 13 (April 1976): 6-16, 27.

Hanzhang, Dan, Li Daoming, and Xie Zhengguang.  "Zhang Che on Zhang Che: 
     An Interview."  Influence Magazine (Taipei, Taiwan) no. 13 (April 
     1976): 6-16, 27.




Submit your website to 40 search engines for FREE!


This page first created 10/24/00. Copyright Steven Feldman, 2001. Last update: 1/19/02.