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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

School campus always sets the backdrop in the films directed by Adam Wong Sau Ping. Today, the film director is back to a school campus as he is participating in the artist-in-residence programme at Lingnan University for the 2nd term of 2018-19 to share what he learned in the film industry.


After graduating from Ying Wa College in 1994, Adam Wong studied Fine Arts at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. During the undergraduate study, he took a trip to the University of Iowa for a one-year exchange programme in the US.


Fifteen years have gone by since the graduation, Adam Wong has garnered two awards in 2013, namely the “Best New Director” award at The 33rd Hong Kong Film Award, and the “Best New Director” award at The 8th Hong Kong Film Directors Awards, with the acclaimed movie The Way We Dance. He is also known for other creations such as She Remembers, He Forgets and Magic Boy, both of which also depicting the lives and sentiments of young people in Hong Kong.


While in a reminiscent mood, the ambitious film director explained to us the importance of remaining pure and innocent at heart in his film-making career. He cited that he comes to the campus with a desire to learn instead of teaching like a veteran.


When did you become interested in film?


Having been influenced by my enlightening teacher and schoolmates in secondary school, I love to create and was determined to become a film director at the age of 16 or 17.  I was shaken to the core by the movie universe after watching Dead Poets Society and Summer Vacation 1999, I started dreaming of film directing. I just follow my heart as everything was relatively simple and straightforward by that time. We’re sort of innocent without caring much about career development.


Why did you choose to study Fine Arts?


I didn’t have much choice in Hong Kong, as there’s no such thing as trends to study film-making and my family could not finance studying abroad. To prepare myself for the movie industry, I planned to immerse myself in art. That’s why I chose Fine Arts as it’s a subject closest to the film study.


Why did you join the exchange student programme in the US?


When I was in my second year, I tried to figure out how to get into the film industry. And at that time there’s a student exchange programme and one of the offers was to attend film study and film production courses in the University of Iowa in the US, where a scholarship was available. Then I tried hard to improve my English for getting a good GPA. I got the offer finally. The study indeed broadened my perspectives and it was my first time to use professional filming facilities.


How did you get into the film industry?


After graduation, I joined a video distribution company but there’s nothing to do with film-making. Until 2002, I was transferred by my boss to his newly opened film production company where I was responsible for producing behind-the-scenes documentaries. Finally, it’s something relevant. Over the course of time, I relentlessly studied and worked on my own films. Not until the filming of The Way We Dance has started did I truly feel I was somebody in the industry.


Which was your most difficult period? How did you sustain?


It’s probably the decade between my graduation and the filming of The Way We Dance. I’ve tried to make some indie short films in my spare time using low-budget DIY equipment; I’ve quitted my job to focus on it; I even thought of giving up. Fortunately, I received some awards at ifva, which kept me going further and further.


After establishing a film studio with film producer Saville Chan, I came up with a five-year plan for a film. In case of failure, we might quit the industry. Though we didn’t get funded by that time, we’ve never stopped working on the screenplay, gathering research materials and elements, collecting feedbacks, and even casting more than 200 dancers. When opportunity knocked, we went out with a bang.


Tell us about your impression of Hong Kong students. How do they differ from those in the US?


Compared to my time, students nowadays are comparatively well-behaved and rule-following. They are highly knowledgeable with a broadened perspective and good at playing cinematic tricks, thanks to the comprehensive and profound art education.


When compared to students in the remote and quiet state, Iowa, though the majority were farmer boys who’ve never been to New York or outside the US, they’re highly educated. They love liberty. They are truly bold, unrestrained, full of insanity.


What do you think are the advantages for those wishing to join the industry in Hong Kong?


Nowadays, you could make a film with abundant resources and advanced technology. It’s good to see this film-making popularity is trending up. It’s exactly what I wanted when I was young. You have advanced technology, platforms to show your works, competitions to join, and social media to share your ideas.


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


Upon the completion of the movie Magic Boy, I was not happy with the result. While I was reviewing my film directing, I got the idea to put all failures and setbacks into teaching. On the other hand, I enjoy communications with students. It’s good for nurturing your mind and boosting creative thinking.


What are you currently working on? What is your next move?


I just completed filming the sequel of The Way We Dance and currently in the process of the post-production. After that, I’d like to relax and put my mind at ease.

Adam Wong