ANN HUI On-wah is that rare breed of person who is able to be passionate about her work without being deadly boring. She laughs a lot and always has a ready smile. When she talks about film directing it is obvious that she loves her job, but it was not her first choice of profession. Born in Manchuria, Hui came to Hong Kong when she was young and studied literature at the University of Hong Kong. 'After graduation I wanted to be a teacher and I began a master's in literature, but I got so bored that I went to watch movies all the time,' Hui says. Her supervisor noted her absence - and her preference for movies over books - and suggested she study film. In the mid-1970s, there were no film studies courses in Hong Kong, but she came across an advertisement for a scholarship in the United Kingdom. She spent the next two years at the London Film School. While she was there she got to know some of the big names in the industry and on her return to Hong Kong she began directing documentaries and dramas. After four years working for TVB and RTHK, she crossed over to film. 'It was a logical and easy move,' she says. In 1979, she made her film debut with The Secret, which was nominated for one of the 10 best films awards at Cannes. But it was not until 1982 that she earned international recognition with Boat People. Boat People was shown at Cannes and voted best film in the Hong Kong Film Awards. Hui finds herself championing the oppressed. 'It's a kind of a social duty for me. Films need to be shot for these people. I'm middle-class, but I find that lifestyle very, very boring and self-centred. That's why I started making documentaries.' In 1995, her film about Alzheimer's disease, Summer Snow, received a Silver Bear at the Berlin Festival. She collected another best film award at the Hong Kong Film Awards with Ordinary Heroes (1999). This year, the Hong Kong Film Critics Society voted her best director for Visible Secret and her latest film, July Rhapsody, which looks at contemporary Hong Kong through the eyes of a school teacher, this week received seven nominations, including best film and best director, at the Hong Kong Film Awards. Twenty years ago, a lot of directors worked their way through the ranks of the industry through apprenticeships, but increasingly young local directors are coming through film school. 'It is an indication of an improvement that everyone is a trained professional. The same is the case with actors,' she says. But it takes more than good credentials to succeed in the film world. Those who make it are the hardy ones who refuse to give up despite constant setbacks. 'In the real world of films, the people who have the persistence and the stamina to undergo any amount of hassling will be the ones who achieve a lot,' she says. And Hui has another word of caution for wannabe directors: it is not all creativity and light. 'You have got to be able to talk the language of business. To tell your investors the relevant points about whether the budget is reasonable for recruitment or whether it will have public appeal.' Film directing may sound like a glamorous job, but takes hard work to get to the top of the competitive industry. 'I don't think it is a job that is very desirable for young people - unless that is what they really want to do.'