×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Shoot-first helmer’s act hard to follow

Chan's reputation not easy to live up to

HONG KONG — A host of upstarts were supposed to follow in his wake. The splash made by Fruit Chan’s attention-getting 1997 directorial debut “Made in Hong Kong” created high hopes that Hong Kong’s independent movie scene was finally about to blossom.

But no such luck: four years on, Chan remains one of less than a handful of indie directors in the city whose projects get easily greenlit. Other aspiring independents found their projects stalled in the decade-long downward spiral of the Hong Kong film industry. Once anointed the leader of a potentially hot new creative pack, Chan has found few following in his hard-won footsteps.

If it’s lonely out there, it doesn’t seem to have hindered Chan’s work. His latest film, “Hollywood Hong Kong,” screened in competition at Venice, and will open the Hong Kong Intl. Film Festival later this month. When it screened at Sundance earlier this year, Stateside observers noted that Chan’s talent and experience distinguished him from much of the international indie crowd. “After the screening at Sundance, people came up to me and said ‘That was a real movie!’ ” Chan remembers. “Maybe there were too many student works in the rest of the festival.”

Fiercely self-reliant, Chan, 42, writes his own scripts, but often prefers them incomplete. He waded into some of his most successful works, such as 2000’s “Durian Durian,” with no script at all.

Wary investors

This high-wire approach has caused investor hesitation in the past. But as Chan’s seven-film track record becomes increasingly high profile, willing funders are becoming easier to find. “Hollywood,” for example, boasts French, British and Japanese co-producers — a far cry from Chan’s debut, shot on leftover film stock salvaged from other studios and financed with $80,000 coaxed out of friends and relatives.

A former line producer, Chan endured this low-budget hardship to avoid a greater misery: being told what to do. “My style of independent,” he says, “is really independent.”

His go-it-alone nature is reflected in his choice of subject matter. Coming up? “Public Toilet,” a film inspired by a news report about a boy born in a Chinese latrine.

That’s a departure from Chan’s other fascination, the huge growth in prostitution in mainland China. In “Durian,” a young woman from provincial China comes to Hong Kong (which is still legally and politically distinct from mainland China) as a prostitute — and returns home spectacularly rich by local standards. But her relatives think she has been running a legitimate business, and Chan works deftly to reflect the uneasiness she feels about keeping this myth alive.

Hard-edged pic

“Hollywood,” meanwhile, isn’t nearly as delicate. Its central character — also a prostitute — seems immune to any moral qualms. She arrives in a Hong Kong squatter village and creates an electric chaos — especially for the neighborhood pork butcher and his equally obese sons — that leads Chan to experiment with a very fleshy sort of black comedy.

Fresh approach

Too much preparation could spoil these productive forays into uncharted territory. But Chan’s latest project finds him toying with the idea of compromise. He wants to film his next examination of the world’s oldest profession in Vietnam, Russia, and, he hopes, North Korea, for another take on the way the money-first mentality of these nominally Communist nations has so quickly corroded traditional morality.

Of course, all this travel costs money, and Chan’s potential backers are asking for a finished script before shooting starts. The director is doing his best to comply with their requests, but his independent nature means he can’t give any guarantees.

“When I have finished a script, that usually means I’ve also finished filming,” he grins. “I say I really want to let them read something first — but sometimes I just can’t obey.”

More Film

  • 'The Dirt' Review: A Mötley Crüe

    Film Review: 'The Dirt'

    A long time ago, the words sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll carried a hint of danger. The lifestyle did, too, but I’m talking about the phrase. It used to sound cool (back around the time the word “cool” sounded cool). But sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll has long since passed into the realm [...]

  • James Newton Howard Danny Elfman

    New Trend in Concert Halls: Original Music by Movie Composers — No Film Required

    Movie and TV composers are in greater demand than ever for, surprisingly, new music for the concert hall. For decades, concert commissions for film composers were few and far between. The increasing popularity of John Williams’ film music, and his visibility as conductor of the Boston Pops in the 1980s and ’90s, led to his [...]

  • Idris Elba Netflix 'Turn Up Charlie'

    Idris Elba in Talks to Join Andy Serkis in 'Mouse Guard'

    Idris Elba is in negotiations to join Andy Serkis and Thomas Brodie-Sangster in Fox’s fantasy-action movie “Mouse Guard” with “Maze Runner’s” Wes Ball directing. Fox is planning a live-action movie through performance capture technology employed in the “Planet of the Apes” films, in which Serkis starred as the ape leader Caesar. David Peterson created, wrote, [...]

  • Zac Efron Amanda Seyfried

    Zac Efron, Amanda Seyfried Join Animated Scooby-Doo Film as Fred and Daphne

    Zac Efron has signed on to voice Fred Jones while Amanda Seyfried will voice Daphne Blake in Warner Bros.’ animated Scooby-Doo feature film “Scoob.” It was revealed earlier this month that Will Forte had been set to voice Norville “Shaggy” Rogers, while Gina Rodriguez would be voicing Velma Dinkley. The mystery-solving teens and their talking [...]

  • 'Staff Only' Review: Cultures And Values

    Film Review: 'Staff Only'

    Marta (Elena Andrada) is 17, from Barcelona and alternately bored and mortified to be on a Christmas vacation to Senegal with her estranged dad, Manel (Sergi López), and annoying little brother, Bruno (Ian Samsó). For her, the freedoms of imminent adulthood, such as the occasional poolside mojito, are tantalizing close but still technically forbidden, rather [...]

  • Rocketman

    Candid 'Rocketman' Dares to Show Elton John as 'Vulnerable,' 'Damaged,' 'Ugly'

    Elton John movie “Rocketman” dares to portray the singer’s personality early in his career to have been, at times, “ugly,” Taron Egerton – who plays the pop star – told an audience at London’s Abbey Road Studios Friday, following a screening of 15 minutes of footage from the film. It is a candid portrayal, showing [...]

  • Ben Affleck

    Ben Affleck's Addiction Drama Set for Awards-Season Release

    Warner Bros. has given Ben Affleck’s untitled addiction drama an awards-season-friendly release date of Oct. 18. The film, which has been known previously as “The Has-Been” and “Torrance,” is directed by Gavin O’Connor and stars Affleck as a former basketball player struggling with addiction, which has led to him losing his wife. As part of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content