Pang Ho-cheung's film Women Who Flirt adapts a Taiwanese dating manual
Director used book as source material
Pang Ho-cheung's latest film, Women Who Flirt,is based on a book. It's not unusual for a director to do that. Yet the source material, Everyone Loves Tender Women, by Taiwanese author Luo Fu-man (aka Lover Man), is not a novel but a self-help manual of sorts.
That kind of book may seem an odd choice for a screen adaptation, but 41-year-old Pang says the way he came across the guide piqued his interest in exploring what was inside.
"Five years ago, when I was at an airport waiting to catch a plane, I happened to be near a bookstore, and I saw a girl moving very quickly past it," Pang says.
"She was running to catch a plane and suddenly turned back, picked up a book on display in a bookstore, and bought it before running off again.
"She caught my interest, because she managed to notice that book even though she was in a hurry. I also became curious to find out what the book was about. So I went over to the bookshelf, and saw that it was Lover Man's Everyone Loves Tender Women."
The bestselling title contains instructions for women who want to come out winners in the dating game.
"I wanted to find out why the girl was so fixated on buying it. So I bought a copy myself to read on the plane," he says.
Pang says he covered the book with a piece of paper so that people didn't see him reading it, but quickly understood its appeal.
"I found it interesting to find that the girl had wanted to know how to get a man to love her, how to successfully flirt with a man, and how to make him attracted to her. I was so intrigued, that I bought the film rights for the book," says Pang.
The filmmaker says he's sometimes been asked why he bought the rights to a work that has no story. "That's exactly why I wanted to do it," he says. "If it was a novel with a love story, it might have been boring. But this way, I have the freedom to create any story I want."
In the film, mainland star Zhou Xun plays a woman who wants the man she fancies to see her as more than his best friend. She's pushed by her gal pals to try out various outlandish flirting techniques to change his mind.
Though Pang began his career making comedies that had a strong masculine focus - his directorial debut, You Shoot, I Shoot (2001), had no main female character, and his second film, Men Suddenly in Black (2003), was about four men who aspire to cheat on their wives - he is no stranger to works that feature female protagonists.
For instance, there's 2006's Isabella, with Isabella Leung Lok-sze, and Dream Home (2010), which saw Josie Ho Chiu-yee dominating proceedings, both in front of the camera (as the film's lead actress) and behind it (as its principal producer).
Critics have pointed out that the director is inclined to focus on the dark side of women in his films. "But I am looking at the dark side of humans," he says. "Ironically, because I'm interested in women, I make movies in which the main characters are women; then I end up being accused of depicting the dark side of women," he says.
With Women Who Flirt, Pang and his writing partners Jody Luk Yee-sun and Zhang Youyou take the idea that flirting needs to be taught to some women, and run with it in a way that's thoroughly amusing. Rather than rely on demonstrating the flirting techniques described by Lover Man, the writers drew on their own observations.
"When I talk to my scriptwriters, they won't say they've done it themselves, they'll just say, 'I have some friends who do this or that'," Pang says, laughing.
Pang considers scriptwriting to be a collaborative process involving the convergence of various points of view.
"Sometimes, when you work alone, it's very boring. I need to argue with someone; I like to have someone to argue with. I say to the other people, please don't follow me. You can have a different opinion. You can argue with me, I don't mind."
In Luk (who has writing credits on five of Pang's films) and Zhang (who edited his first book to be published on the mainland), he has collaborators who can work that way.
"Everyone thinks, 'Oh, you needed to have two women writers to provide the female point of view in the story'," he says. "But above all, I wanted both Jody and Zhang to be my creative partners."
Pang says he didn't feel the need to have people around to add a feminine perspective, as he already has one.
"I do a lot of stuff from the female point of view. I think sometimes my [way of] thinking is very female - more so than male - because I always care about the female characters, and want to explain why they think a certain way," he says.
For example, in Love in the Buff, the 2012 follow-up to Love in a Puff (2010), which starred Miriam Yeung Chin-wah and Shawn Yue Man-lok, Pang wrote a lot of the dialogue for Yeung's character while Yue's character's dialogue was created by Jody because "she is more like a guy - I mean in a creative sense", he says with a laugh.
Pang says Zhou is ideal for her role in Women Who Flirt, as the character possesses a masculine nature: "She always talks like a man, and you will treat her like a brother. She's not a typical girlish character.
"I noticed that Zhou thinks like a man. That's why her role is not to teach people to flirt, it's to learn how to do so. It's very close to her character in real life," he says.
Women Who Flirt is showing now