Interview: Hong Kong Director Tsui Hark

Following up on his interview with legendary Hong Kong actor Andy Lau, our James Mudge also had the chance to throw some questions in the direction of the equally legendary Hong Kong director Tsui Hark, the prolific director/producer behind popular franchises like the “Once Upon a Time in China” series with Jet Li and the “Zu Warriors” series. His latest is “Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame”, now out on Region 2 DVD from Cine Asia.

James Mudge: Many congratulations on Detective Dee’s well-deserved wins at the Hong Kong Film Awards. Do you think the film’s success can help usher in a new wave of Chinese fantasy cinema?

Tsui Hark: I truly do hope so. Chinese films have been too serious in styles and contents. I hope entertainment films as Dee could make the audiences’ life more interesting.

JM: With Andy Lau, Tony Leung and Carina Lau, the film has a pretty unbeatable cast – are there any actors or actresses left that you’d love to work with?

TH: Yes, I do have a list of people I like to work with. I always put my favorite people into a film so we can share the experience in the special world of movie together.

JM: The film features some excellent special effects work, something you’ve been known for throughout your career. How do you feel about using computer effects rather than the kind of makeup, lighting, animation and wires seen in Zu Warriors?

TH: I’m never really specific on what kind of tools I use. I always think, in order to make a story interesting one dies to use every possible way. Make up, lighting, animation, and wirework are part of the film making when they are useful. One should not intend to avoid them.

JM: Detective Dee has been called yet another comeback film for you – what have you got lined up next after the new Flying Swords of Dragon Gate film with Jet Li?

TH: I’m working on a project called “The Taking of Tiger Mountain” which is based on a novel written in the 50s about a troop of 36 people fighting with 20 thousand bandits in an unfathomable depth of snowy mountains in northern China. The novel was based on a true story. It is a very good challenge for me to do a material that is so close to our time. The production is gonna be taking place in snow land which can cause a lot of technical difficulties in production.

JM: How have you found working in 3D?

TH: I’ve wanna to work with 3D for a long time. Originally, “The Phantom Flame” was planned to be a stereoscopic movie. But then, I could not find the source of knowledge so that I knew how to do it. After “Dee”, I was so anxious to learn how to do it. I traveled around to acquire the information and ways to learn. In the long run, I succeeded to form a 3D team. “The Flying Sword of Dragon Gate” is the right project for it.

The difference between 2D and 3D are as follows, The intention is to make the world more realistic on the screen. So, one has to give the audiences enough time to appreciate the realism brought about by this stereoscopic effect. Most of the time, the story is told with shots that are less extreme close ups because the audiences can imagine they are in the scene. Also when it comes to action, the shots are longer so that the shot would become more realistic in a way that the audience look at reality in daily life.

The cameras are heavy and there are some procedures in aligning the synchronization of two cameras during the shooting. After production the post is also followed by the intention of matching the colors of the two cameras. And the stereoscopic requirement to generate the depth and the volumes of the subject in the shot.

Somehow there’re some kind of similarities, Dolby sound to stereo. One has to be aware of how he sets the stereoscopic effect to the viewer like Dolby is set to make the audiences feel the sound travel.

In projection, screen size determines the 3D datas. . So, we have to process the stereoscopic tuning in the post with big screen in order to know the result more correctly.

I believe there would be a long way for 3D to develop to it’s next stage and more stages from now. But definitely it has brought to us a different view of the world on the screen for the audiences.

JM: I believe that the film itself is a remake, following on from other recent Hong Kong remakes of A Chinese Ghost Story, Painted Skin and Sex and Zen, and even Western remakes with Connected and What Women Want. Do you see a trend of remakes emerging in Chinese cinema as it has in Hollywood?

TH: I never believe in remake unless there’s a reason for it . I hate to see remake that turn out to be worse than the original one. “Flying Sword of Dragon Gate” is not a remake. It is another story that continues from the previous one.

JM: A lot of recent Hong Kong films seem to have been made with one eye on the lucrative Mainland Chinese market – has this, and the strict rules and regulations of the Mainland censors changed your approach to film making at all?

TH: Yes, there are always taboos. Those are the sensitive areas such as religious, racial, moral and political areas. For religious factor, Detective Dee originally had a monk playing as a villain. That was out due to the possibility of causing the objection of the Buddhists.

JM: Some critics have been predicting the demise of Hong Kong cinema for many years now – what’s your take on the current health of the local industry?

TH: I am optimistic about the creativity of Hong Kong film industry. I do believe that Hong Kong filmmakers are transitting from present situation to the next. I wish we could get out of this difficult situation to present greater vision.As for me, I always want to make a film on Hong Kong if I find a right story.

JM: Would you ever see yourself taking another shot at Hollywood?

TH: Yes, I’m waiting for a good script.

JM: Finally, in the early stages of your career, you were often referred to as Hong Kong’s Steven Spielberg. After more than 30 years in the industry, how do you think this comparison has held up?

TH: I think it’s so difficult to call someone as someone because that would never be a right comparison. I always think I’m a filmmaker to make films as long as possible. I cannot see myself as a comparison to the other filmmakers.

Buy “Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame” on DVD or Blu-ray June 27, 2011 on Region 2 from Cine Asia.