Why Pang Ho-cheung, Love Off the Cuff filmmaker, is Hong Kong cinema’s true renaissance man
The 43-year-old writer, director, producer and actor is preparing to make his first English-language film and is juggling half a dozen or more projects he wants to direct – after which he thinks he may retire
There was a time when a Pang Ho-cheung movie sequel was as rare as hens’ teeth.
The maverick Hong Kong filmmaker was happy to push any button with his offbeat contemporary comedies on sex, violence and Cantonese profanity – from the snuff-film humour of You Shoot, I Shoot (2001) to the porn-inspired youth drama AV (2005), the grotesque murders in horror flick Dream Home (2010), and the sex-with-a-mule gag in Vulgaria (2012). The one compromise he wouldn’t make was to repeat himself – or so he claims.
“I never make sequels,” the 43-year-old Pang reiterates. “When the film company asked me to make a sequel to Men Suddenly in Black (2003), I turned them down and they ended up finding another director for the project. I refuse to follow up on every single film that I’ve made.”
That’s a statement that rings hollow with the opening in Hong Kong cinemas this week of Love Off the Cuff, which follows its April 11 premiere as the Hong Kong International Film Festival’s opening film. Coming after 2010’s Love in a Puff and 2012’s Love in the Buff , the third instalment in Pang’s popular romantic comedy series sees Miriam Yeung Chin-wah and Shawn Yue Man-lok reprise their roles as bickering lovers Jimmy and Cherie, this time tackling commitment issues from the cosy home they cohabit.
“I’m making a sequel not because I need to make money. It’s more like the five of us – me, Yeung, Yue, Cherie and Jimmy – have become friends,” says Pang, who adds that the weight on his shoulders has grown ever heavier as the series has progressed.
“When I wrote the first film in five weeks, I didn’t feel any pressure,” he says. “I really like the characters from the first film, and it took me two years to write the second film. It then took four years to write the third, during which time I’d repeatedly told myself that I should just stop. But I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about the story … If and when I make the fourth film, it’ll mean that I need to surpass the first three.”
While the three-year gap between the release of Love Off the Cuff and his last film, Aberdeen (2014) marks his longest hiatus yet as a director, recent years have seen Pang swap directing for film production.
Pang has produced Chinese art-house film Dog Days (2016), the acclaimed prison drama Apprentice , which was Singapore’s submission for the 2017 foreign language film Oscar, and some other Chinese-language films – bawdy comedy SDU: Sex Duties Unit (2013), erotic youth drama Lazy Hazy Crazy (2015), and the new, Hawaii-set A Nail Clipper Romance – all of them films he could just as well have directed. But one thing he says he’s learned over the years is that it’s possible to let go.
“I used to think that I have to be the director of every project I developed, but now, I just want to loosen my grip and let others have their try. I can take a step back these days. I no longer insist that a story I developed – and like a lot – must end up becoming ‘a Pang Ho-cheung film’.
“I have only 24 hours a day, so I can only pick maybe two out of 10 projects that I really like,” he adds. “I’m now happy to let another suitable person direct from my script; it’s not like I have never directed a movie before.”
Curiously, Pang’s recent executive producer credits have included several obscure American productions. Those who follow industry news would know that that’s all part of preparations for his first outing as writer and director in the West: an English-language adaptation of the fantasy story Lieland, from Israeli writer Etgar Keret’s 2012 book of short stories Suddenly, A Knock on the Door.
“I’ve been planning to direct my first English-language film for the past two or three years,” says Pang. “But I’m not familiar with the production process of English-language movies, and I don’t want to have my very first experience only when I’m directing there. So these producer roles – in which I help to line things up, with both investment and the whole conceptualising process – are at once work and a learning process about the US film production model.”
Before his Hollywood detour, Pang says his next directorial effort will be a thriller based on a low-budget UK-Puerto Rico co-production, The Caller (2011), about a woman who keeps receiving calls from a mysterious stranger. He is currently overseeing the extensive rewrite of that English-language film for a Chinese-language remake.
“This whole thing happened out of the blue,” he recalls. “That movie was on TV one time when I was clipping nails and my wife [producer Subi Liang] was browsing the internet. And then we stopped doing what we did and kept watching it until the end, which shows you how effective that story is in drawing the audience in.”
Pang estimates he has “six or seven” projects he’s developing and plans eventually to direct. Included among those are a historical war movie set in China for which he’s been researching and writing the script for almost 10 years; and a television series developed from his 2014 romantic comedy Women Who Flirt and based on some of the eccentric tales from his own short story collection, The Strange, the Mad, and the Floral Dress.
“This is one project that I really want to direct: I want to direct all of it by myself. I’m quite interested to find out how it would be like to shoot six episodes in one go. I think it should be fun – but also very scary. Woody Allen has made six episodes [for Amazon’s Crisis in Six Scenes], and he swore that he’s never going to shoot another series. It’s tough – a bit like shooting six movies,” he says.
The versatile Pang is also due to co-star with fellow filmmaker Derek Tsang Kwok-cheung ( Soul Mate ) in madcap comic film The Hell Bank Heist, which is set to start shooting in a few weeks’ time. Pang is refining the script with the team behind the film, but stresses that he will otherwise concentrate only on his acting duties on that project.
“I’ve often been thinking that I will retire after finishing all of those six or seven directing projects,” Pang says, somewhat unexpectedly, near the end of our interview. But you only need a glance at his most unpredictable career path to know he will probably change his mind halfway down the line.
Love Off the Cuff opens on April 27
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