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[Interview] Artist-in-residence Adam Wong shows how his film directing career takes off

[Interview] Artist-in-residence Adam Wong shows how his film directing career takes off

A school campus is always the backdrop for films directed by Adam Wong Sau-ping. And, today, he is back on campus, this time to take part in the artist-in-residence programme at Lingnan University in the second term of 2018-19 and share his knowledge of the film industry.


After finishing at Ying Wa College in 1994, Adam Wong went on to study Fine Arts at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. As an undergraduate, he spent time at the University of Iowa on a one-year exchange programme and found that a very rewarding experience.


In the 15 or so years since he graduated, Wong has picked up notable awards including that for Best New Director at both the 33rd Hong Kong Film Awards and the 8th Hong Kong Film Directors Awards in 2013. This was for the highly acclaimed movie The Way We Dance, though Wong is also well known for other works such as She Remembers, He Forgets and Magic Boy. Both these films vividly depict the lives and sentiments of young people in Hong Kong.


While looking back on the last few years, Wong explained the importance in his film-making career of remaining pure and innocent at heart. He noted too that he is coming to the Lingnan campus with a desire to learn rather than to seem like a veteran of the industry.


When did you first become interested in film?


I was initially influenced by an inspiring teacher and by my schoolmates in secondary school. They helped me realise that I love to create and, with that insight, I was determined to become a film director from the age of 17. I was shaken to the core after watching two particular movies, Dead Poets Society and Vacation Summer 1999. They got me dreaming about directing films and I just followed my heart. Everything was relatively simple and straightforward from then on. In a way, I was sort of innocent and didn’t think much about career development.


Why did you choose to study Fine Arts?


At the time, I didn’t have much choice in Hong Kong. There was no such thing as a university course on film-making, and my family couldn’t afford to pay for overseas study. To prepare myself for the movie industry, I planned to immerse myself in art. That’s why I chose Fine Arts; I felt it was the subject closest to the world of film.


Why did you become an exchange student in the US?


In my second year, I was trying to figure out how to get into the film industry. At the time there was a student exchange programme, and one of the options was to attend film-making and film production courses at the University of Iowa, which was also offering a scholarship. I made a big effort to improve my English and get a good GPA and, in the end, I was successful. Going to study in the US certainly broadened my perspectives and gave me a first chance to use professional standard filming facilities.


How did you later get into the industry?


After graduation, I joined a video distribution company which unfortunately had nothing to do with film-making. Then, in 2002, the boss transferred me to his newly opened film production company where I was responsible for producing behind-the-scenes documentaries. Finally, I was doing something directly relevant to my ambitions. From that point on, I relentlessly studied every aspect of the business and started to work on my own films. But not until the start of filming for The Way We Dance did I truly feel I was somebody in the industry.


Which was the most difficult period for you?


It was probably the decade between graduation and the filming of The Way We Dance. I tried to make some short indie films in my spare time using low-budget DIY equipment, and I even quit my job to focus on that. At times, I felt like giving up. Fortunately, though, I received some awards at ifva, which were a real source of encouragement and made me keep going. 


After establishing a studio with producer Saville Chan, I came up with a five-year plan for making a full-length film. Though we didn’t get funding straight away, we never stopped working on the screenplay, gathering research materials, collecting feedback, and even casting more than 200 dancers. When opportunity knocked, we were ready to make a splash.


How do Hong Kong students differ from those in the US?


Compared with my time, students nowadays are comparatively well-behaved and ready to follow the rules. They are very knowledgeable, have a broad perspective, and good at using various cinematic tricks, thanks to the comprehensive arts education many of them can now enjoy. 


When I think back to the students in the remote and quiet state of Iowa, the majority, though highly educated, were “farm boys” who had never been to New York or outside the US. They would talk about loving liberty and, at times, were unrestrained and full of “insanity”.


What are the advantages for anyone wanting to enter the film industry in Hong Kong?


Nowadays, if you want to make a film, resources and advanced technology are more generally available. It is good to see that interest in film-making is on the rise. It’s exactly what I wanted to see when I was young. You now have advanced technology, platforms to show your work, competitions to enter, and social media where you can share your ideas.


Why do you want to teach and be an artist-in-residence?


After completing the movie Magic Boy, I wasn’t happy with the results. I thought it was time to review my approach to directing, and I had the idea that teaching others would also help me see where I could improve. Besides that, I enjoy interacting with students; it is good way hear other viewpoints and make you think more creatively.


What are you currently working on as your next movie?


I have just completed filming the sequel to The Way We Dance and I’m currently doing the post-production work. After that, I’d like to relax and put my mind at ease for a while. 

Adam Wong