A young, old romantic
Director Patrick Kong's one true passion is romantic dramas and he stays faithful in his new productions
Patrick Kong Pak-leung makes the kind of films he likes to watch. "I don't like war or action films. I don't like sci-fi. As a viewer, my interest is in love stories, ones involving relationships. My favourite director is Woody Allen. So when I became a film director, I also directed love stories mostly."
Kong has made eight romantic movies in the past eight years or so. His latest is A Secret Between Us, about a young couple who drifted apart after a tragic sequence of events in the girl's life, but reunite in happier circumstances years later.
A scriptwriter before he turned his hand to directing, Kong's portfolio seems heavy on romantic comedies, including the film he first worked on - Shu Kei's Love, Amoeba Style (1997), about two young men involved in separate love triangles. He made his directorial debut in 2004 with My Sweetie, a romantic comedy he co-scripted.
Two other rom-coms are in the pipeline: The Best Plan is No Plan, which is due out in October, and another scheduled for release in 2014.
But many of Kong's movies are more likely to leave audiences teary-eyed rather than have them rolling in the aisles.
Take, for example, the second film he helmed, Marriage with a Fool (2006), which offered a new take on this ancient institution.
Backed by investors - who, he says, like him because he doesn't go over budget or schedule - Kong made a film about a young couple who had been married for just one year but were already having affairs.
"They talk about wanting a divorce. Their relationship is very complicated. At the time, it was so different from the usual love story."
While Marriage with a Fool starred young idols Stephy Tang Lai-yan and Alex Fong Lik-sun, the movie did not have a "happy ever after" ending, says Kong, who also wrote the script.
"For the market, it was very unexpected. For me, I think it's a real story, it feels real - it's the first that gives my point of view on love and relationships," the director says.
"Fortunately, the box office was very good for the film. And the comments were also good enough. It gave me more confidence to [make more films with] these kinds of stories."
It was a considerable advance from his debut, My Sweetie, which, he concedes, garnered an indifferent reception from critics and at the box office.
And as he developed greater confidence in his filmmaking prowess, Kong decided to make A Secret Between Us.
Some of its plot developments may strike viewers as overly melodramatic, even far-fetched. But Kong is adamant that, as with many of his offerings, it is based on a true story. The film is special, he says, "because some parts of it are the real story of me … Like the background, the childhood parts. It's me. Since it really happened in my life, I can say this movie is more personal than the films before."
And, because he was so eager to make this movie, Kong was willing to compromise on the budget. "I [did] things like cut my own payment. But I think it's good … the fact is I want to make this movie before I turn 40. I feel I'm still young," says the 38-year-old.
With age has come a willingness to take risks. "I'm not a new director anymore. I wanted to shoot a movie with newcomers. So I held an audition. The male and female leads, it's their first time appearing in a film," Kong says of Edward Ma Chi-wai, a model, and TVB actress Angel Chiang Ka-man.
"I auditioned more than 30 people for each role. They were mostly models, new TV stars. But Edward and Angel were the best."
They were pretty raw, and didn't really know how to act, the director says. "But I like this attitude ... The two characters need to be down to earth."
Kong, who also writes film criticism under the pen name Yip Lim-sum, says his priority is the female lead because the woman's character is always stronger than the man's in his productions. This is because the audience for his films is mainly made up of "OLs [office ladies] and students. My audience is more than 70 per cent female. Women like my movies more than men." Besides, the director adds, "My thinking is more female-minded, so I always choose an actress who I feel represents me!"
Kong believes the time is right for romantic films. "I observe the Hong Kong movie industry. [In the past year,] there were many 'hardcore' comedies, many sex comedies or foul language comedies. I think this trend will be over soon.
"If you look at the history of Hong Kong cinema, when the movie industry is not doing well, mainly Category III films will be popular - because the budget for making them is small and there are talking points that will attract moviegoers. But I think that the trend will be over this year."
The industry also reflects moods and movements in society, he says. "When people are unhappy, they feel more sentimental and we should shoot a movie that's touching, more 'back to basics' - a movie that talks about people's lives. So I thought, this year, I wanted to film a work like A Secret Between Us."
A Secret Between Us opens on Thursday