Nansun Shi: 'It's not about inferiority or superiority - it's about how good you are at what you do'
An articulate ambassador for the big screen in Hong Kong who stands in no man's shadow, writes Winnie Chung
On a panel at the Doha Tribeca Film Festival last October, Nansun Shi was asked if she had ever been treated differently from men and if there was discrimination in the industry.
"I've never felt inferior. It's not about inferiority or superiority - it's about how good you are at what you do," the producer told her audience. "In film production, it's about teamwork and each person is just as important as the other."
And, in the annals of Hong Kong's film history and its international reputation overseas, Shi's name is one that stands in the shadow of no man. More than any other women - and most men - in the industry, Shi has been the face that filmmakers worldwide see at the forefront of Hong Kong films.
A canny producer and articulate ambassador, the veteran is a regular on international film panels and festival juries. At home, she has been an ardent advocate of a more systematic and professional industry as well as a fervent, yet diplomatic, bridge between the industry and government.
Shi describes herself as neither aggressive nor overly ambitious. Rather, the adjectives she uses are "responsible" and "loyal" towards the industry she feels has brought her so much.
Armed with a degree in statistics and computing from the Polytechnic of North London in the mid-1970s, Shi's first foray into films was as a television programmer with TVB. Although it wasn't film production, the work taught her one important thing: listen to what your audience wants.
It wasn't until she joined the independent film unit Cinema City as "housekeeper" that she finally got to work on her first film, the runaway hit Aces Go Places. "We were so lucky then. A lot of us didn't have a lot of experience, but it was fine. People were paying us to make mistakes and to learn," she says.
Her role, as she sees it now, is to help pass on the knowledge that she has amassed through her three decades in the business. "I'm not so highfaluting as to say I can help everybody, but I would like to help somebody just as others had helped me before," says the executive producer of hits such as Infernal Affairs and The Flying Swords of Dragon Gate.
While she has taken a giant step for women in the industry, Shi's has been a lonely road. "I don't think there are enough women in powerful managing positions to feel any change in the business. There are very few women directors and not many experienced producers. There aren't really enough of us to cause a statistical change to say if it is better or not," she says.
But Shi is beginning to see changes in other parts of Asia, such as Taiwan, South Korea and even the mainland, where more women are beginning to make their mark on the industry as producers and directors.
"I hate to generalise, but women sometimes see things in a different way to men. And there are more women in other positions, such as line producing, wardrobe or continuity, because they are more organised, more considerate and able to communicate more pleasantly."