Pang Ho-cheung is an unlikely hero. Nerdy and not flashy, he could be overlooked in a crowd. But to look past him would be to miss his self-assuredness and inner drive.
His films are technically polished, but often too raw for auds to be entirely comfortable with them. They are peppered with Cantonese profanities and sometimes ludicrous situations — like filmmakers who must have sex with a mule to get their movie financed in “Vulgaria”; or a quartet of deadbeat Hong Kong cops who travel in disguise to Macau to get intel on hookers in the recent “Sex Duties Unit,” which Pang produced (he also wrote the novel on which the script was based).
And while the 40-year-old multihyphenate is justifiably held up as one of the brightest next-gen talents in Hong Kong, it’s a low-margin industry that hasn’t seen many fresh faces since Wong Kar Wai, Johnnie To and Stephen Chow. Like To, Raymond Wong or Wong Jing, Pang is essentially a local voice, fond of the idiosyncrasies that come with the Cantonese culture.
Mainland Chinese censors still like to pretend criminal gangs don’t exist, cops are all competent, and religion and ghosts are only for the unenlightened — and many of Pang’s films don’t get released in China.
So it seemed like another slap in the face to the beleaguered Hong Kong biz when he decamped to Beijing and set up a production office a couple years ago. There, he made 2012’s “Love in the Buff,” a sly story of Hong Kongers lost in China, as follow-up to his Hong Kong-set romance “Love in a Puff.” It cleared censorship and was a mainland hit with $11 million at the B.O.
But he returned to Hong Kong to make “Vulgaria,” a satire of the local movie industry, in which a producer tells a film-school class the lengths he was willing to go to get a gangster’s adult film produced.
Pang notes he also makes films that aren’t about sex, and cites “Aberdeen,” a social drama featuring three generations of a family, as an example. It co-opened the recent Hong Kong Film Festival with Fruit Chan’s “The Midnight After.”
The helmer, who broke into the biz as a screenwriter, says he does not set out to provoke. “I don’t intend to put sex, bad language and bizarre situations into my movies. But I don’t want to specifically eliminate them during the brainstorming process.”
Pang, who says he learned acting while working for H.K.’s low-budget ATV, is set to co-star in “Miserable World,” to be directed by Derek Kwok, in which a disaster wipes out all but two men on Earth. “If I am to be labeled by critics,” Pang says with a sparkle in his eye, “I hope it is for my range and diversity.”