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Candace Chong: The playwright who draws inspiration from a complicated world

A much sought-after talent, her plays enrich her life as much as the people she writes for, writes Janice Leung

 

When she writes, playwright Candace Chong Mui-ngam draws inspiration from where her mind flees to - the reality we all live in. By meeting different people and understanding their perspectives, she has been able to create plays close to many hearts. "My work is not just about myself," she says.

Chong's original scripts, including The French Kiss (2005), Murder in San José (2009) and The Wild Boar (2012), are feted for their depictions of the human psyche and relationships, through which she exposes the sinister side of humanity in situations where desires are suppressed and faith is put to the test by social values.

No problems are meant to be solved in the plays, though. "More and more I understand why this is a complicated world. Many things are not black and white," says the 36-year-old, who hopes that her plays give people a chance to reflect on problems and find a solution.

Michelle Krusiec and Alex Moggridge, above, star in Berkeley Rep's production of Chinglish, a Broadway comedy translated by Candace Chong

Chong studied psychology at Chinese University, which she says contributed tremendously towards her plays exploring human nature and behaviour, before starting her formal training in writing plays at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. In 2004, she received an Asian Cultural Council grant that allowed her to take a year off in New York. It was the first time Chong had been away from home for such a long period.

The year was an eye-opener for the novice playwright, not just because of the vibrant arts scene in New York. Chong, who later completed her master's degree in London, was able to step out of her comfort zone and think through the very question of what she really wanted out of her life or, as she puts it, "to trust and protect my instinct against all odds".

"Our instinct has disappeared gradually as we grow up. We have put so many burdens on ourselves that we don't get to face it," she says.

A four-time best-script winner of the Hong Kong Drama Awards and recipient of the award for best drama artist from the Hong Kong Arts Development Council in 2010, Chong is regarded as one of the most promising playwrights in town. Last year, she also penned her first libretto, Dr Sun Yat-sen, a three-act opera that looks at the human side of the father of modern China. And her translation for Chinglish, a critically acclaimed Broadway comedy about an American setting up business on the mainland, is expected to be a highlight of the Hong Kong Arts Festival next year.

The sought-after playwright merrily confesses that having part of her attention shift to her three-year-old son means she is working less efficiently these days, though she's not going to give up writing for the theatre. "This proves that I really love what I'm doing," she says. "I love my family so much, but there's also another kind of love that I can experience in art."

Chong's passion for playwriting has evolved over time. "When I started out, I always wanted to pen a great work. As I write more, I've come to realise that playwriting is a process that enriches my life," she says, acknowledging the sources of inspiration in her decade-long career. "All these encounters might have been manifested in my plays, but, most importantly, they have become part of me."

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