Vincent Chui Wan-shun
Vincent Chui Wan-shun's Three Narrow Gates - a self-described 'political thriller' revolving around a pastor, a policeman and a journalist uncovering a conspiracy involving corrupt officials in Hong Kong and on the mainland - marks Chui's return to independent filmmaking after his foray into the commercial mainstream two years ago with Love is Elsewhere, a teen-oriented romance starring pop idols from local entertainment behemoth Emperor Entertainment Group.
'It's not as if I haven't done anything beyond independent films before,' says Chui this week, before Three Narrow Gates began a two-week run at the Grand Cinema at the Elements mall on Thursday. 'I've been doing commissions from RTHK and music videos. In the current climate, it's nearly inevitable [non-mainstream filmmakers] have to work like that. It's not an ideal way of working - it's not like [off-centre musical combos] Tat Ming Pair or Beyond, who could bring their attitude in [TVB pop show] Jade Solid Gold; now it's impossible.
'People don't even call you a sell-out these days when you do something commercial; it's as if they accept it as normal these days,' says Chui, who made four features before Love is Elsewhere and helped found film collective Ying E Chi.
How much has Love is Elsewhere affected your approach towards filmmaking - if at all?
I've learned how to focus on the filmmaking aspect of my work while on set. With commercial films, you've so many people around, it's quite difficult for a director - but you get to sharpen your ability to stay focused on what you should be doing. It leaves me in good stead when I return to independent filmmaking again. I think the question [about crossing over to the mainstream] doesn't stem from the size of the production - every film demands that filmmakers juggle with the resources at their disposal.
I've also learned a lot from working on a commercial film like that - and I enjoyed the fact I could work on that level. But the atmosphere in general disturbs me - whenever a big investment is involved, financiers tend to look at it from a purely commercial perspective. It's like big money equates co-production [with mainland companies]. But what about the local market?
Then again, it's the same for nearly every industry now. Even newspapers - you have to become more commercialised and show you're business-driven, or side with one side of the political divide if you want to succeed.
So what's the challenge of making this 'political thriller', as the film is described in the publicity material?
It's not exactly a thriller - you would [need the] resources to deliver the thrills. I want to look at how people react to the knowledge that such conspiracies are in action. Independent films rarely touch on topics like this - you have maybe [Gordon Chan Ka-seung's] A1 Headline; US television has a lot going too. There's no reason why there's such a lack here - maybe people are not interested?
I've always loved films of this genre: All the President's Men and In the Heat of the Night left a great impression on me, and so did The Insider and Ken Loach's thriller [Hidden Agenda, about British collusion in the murder of a civil rights lawyer in Northern Ireland]. Since I was doing independent films, it's natural I should be doing something the mainstream is not doing, and such films are what Hong Kong cinema should produce.
How did the film come into being?
The idea first emerged in 2004, and we had an Arts Development Council grant shortly afterwards. I was spurred on by [legislator] Raymond Wong Yuk-man's story when he left Commercial Radio [Wong cited 'political pressure' for his decision to leave his job as a presenter of the sharply critical programme Close Encounters of a Political Kind]. It wasn't until 2007, when I was artist-in-residence at the University of Hong Kong's Department of Comparative Literature, that I relaunched the idea - the students [there] helped me a lot by contributing their own ideas.
Why did you cast Wong in the film?
He plays a radio commentator who leaves his job when he is pressed to shape what he says on air. He gives the role a more realistic sheen.