Good luck girl
Pang Ho-cheung productions are on a roll. The clever rom-com Love in the Buff was one of the delights of the Hong Kong International Film Festival, and went on to prove a huge box office success here and on the mainland. Its tales of Hongkongers transplanted to Beijing also wowed critics and audiences at the Far East Film Festival in Udine, Italy, and the New York Asian Film Festival.
The three festivals have also featured special screenings of Pang's soon-to-be-released Vulgaria, once more to much acclaim. But this production is a different beast entirely. Whereas Love in the Buff combines humour with some biting social commentary, there's nothing really subtle about what's going on in Vulgaria. It points an often savage finger in the direction of the local film industry and quite a few of the characters who dwell therein.
But it is also deliriously funny and acutely aware of the realities of the world it portrays - and the reaction to both films is again a great advertisement for the universal nature of comedy.
Both productions reveal a filmmaker at the height of his powers. If viewers sense a fresh impetus in Pang's work, a clue to its source can be found by glancing down the credits as they roll.
'I am quite a lucky person,' writer Jody Luk Yee-sum says. Pang called her out of the blue last year, and in the 12 months since she had gone from being a relative unknown to one of the hottest screenwritersin town.
'I had met Pang Ho-cheung before. It was back in 2006 or 2007 when I published a book called I Made it Before 25. He bought a copy and found it interesting,' the 32-year-old says. 'We went for coffee and talked about my writing, but it didn't amount to any work. He waited about five years and then suddenly he rang and asked me to work on Love in the Buff.'
Luck might indeed have played its part, but Luk has certainly paid her dues. I Made it Before 25 was based on her own life experiences, as a private investigator, working behind a bar in Lan Kwai Fong, and as a film extra. All the while, Luk had been writing, as she has been doing since she was eight years old.
'I admit things have been a bit different for me than what they normally are for Hong Kong girls,' Luk says. 'It's all about taking chances. Like being an investigator - I happened to know someone who, at that time, was in that industry. I had begged him for work for two or three years, and one day he rang out of nowhere and said they had a vacancy, but I had to work in Taiwan. It only took me five minutes to think about it, and I was off. Since I was a kid, instead of asking 'why', I would ask 'why not?''
While that job didn't see Luk dabbling in the juicier side of the business - she was dealing more with background checks and intellectual property theft than chasing cheating spouses - it did enable her to satisfy some of her curiosity about people, their habits, and how they interact.
That Luk has been able to translate that curiosity into something more tangible is a credit to her skills as a writer. But she claims that the scriptwriting, too, hasn't come as easily as it might seem. 'In the workplace, Pang is very strict. But he is also very knowledgeable and willing to teach newcomers,' says Luk. 'So the experience is great. But you suffer, too, because if you haven't done this kind of thing before, you are never really sure what your work is like.'
For Love in the Buff, Luk moved to Beijing. Pang, who is based there, wanted her to experience at first-hand what the characters (played by Miriam Yeung Chin-wah and Shawn Yue Man-lok) would go through as they moved from Hong Kong to the capital. 'I spent 11 months in Beijing on my own, no family, doing something I had never done before. But I treasure the experience,' says Luk. 'The director wanted me to gain an insight into what that is like.'
The explanation goes a long way towards explaining why many of the funniest moments in Love in the Buff feel so real. And so it is again with Vulgaria, which follows the often ribald trials and tribulations a second-rate producer must go through to get a film made.
'Vulgaria took us 12 days to do,' Luk says. 'When we started there wasn't even a script, so we did everything in 12 days. It really captures that atmosphere, too. In 12 days, we did the script, the shooting, everything. I still don't know quite how we made it.'
When it comes to her ability to find humour in a situation, Luk says it is a skill that stems from her upbringing. 'I think humour is genetic. I have very funny parents, and a funny family. We have made jokes about each other since I was a child - real black humour.'
Now entrenched in Beijing and working with Pang on a number of script ideas, Luk says she hopes the release of Vulgaria - which stars Chapman To Man-chat, Dada Chan and Jim Chim Sui-man - will help lift some of the gloom she has watched descend on her hometown. The international reaction to the film has filled her with confidence.
'Everybody knows that Hong Kong people are not happy right now. I hope Vulgaria will bring them some laughter and will relieve some of the stress in society. I want them to forget that for a while and just laugh for 90 minutes.
'To see an international audience react the way they have in Udine and New York is really wonderful. It shows that even when things are different culturally, if they are funny, they can be funny for all kinds of people.'
Vulgaria will be released on Aug 9