The Inquisition: Filmmaker Heiward Mak

The director, soon to turn 30, ponders her future ahead of the festival premiere of her fourth feature film

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 August, 2014, 12:04am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 August, 2014, 12:10am

48 HOURS: Given that it's a television film commissioned by RTHK, do you consider Uncertain Relationships Society your fourth full-length feature after High Noon (2008), Ex (2010) and Diva (2012)?

HEIWARD MAK: I'm not really sure because it hasn't been officially released in cinemas, although there's a director's cut that will screen [on August 12, 15 and 17] as part of the Summer International Film Festival. I'm very grateful that the Hong Kong International Film Festival Society accepted my film even though I submitted just a rough cut at the last minute.

How did this project come about?

At the beginning, I was looking to make an inspirational teenage movie. The film as a whole may be more family-friendly and approachable for a mass audience than my previous works. The subject matter of Uncertain Relationships Society is less adult-orientated than any of those films.

How old are your protagonists?

The oldest is 25 or 26. The story begins in 2008, when the characters are 17 or so, and ends in 2014. Many of the actors here were also in my first film, High Noon. There's a line in that film that asks: "What will we be doing in five years?" And this is what we've done. It's a gift to both myself and the actors.

You worked with big-name producers in the past, such as Eric Tsang on High Noon and Chapman To on Ex and Diva.

How does it feel to be operating on your own now?

I've wondered whether it's a certain type of producer that I needed, but I've since come to the conclusion that it's irrelevant. It has more to do with the topics I want to depict in my films. To be honest, I suffered from a severe case of depression after the release of Diva: my weight was down to 39.5kg at the time.

Was your condition related to the pressures of work?

Well, not exactly. It's more about my deliberation about the type of films I want to make. What was I doing? I felt I'd fallen into a black hole, and the sensation of not knowing what I was doing felt really weird.

Have you recovered now?

There have been some recent relapses. My emotions weren't quite stable after making Uncertain Relationships Society, because I wanted an even bigger change in my career. I went through a big change three years ago when I started the production company Dumb Youth, which allowed me to try artist management on top of my usual tasks of shooting feature films, short films and commercials. But I'm very much looking forward to returning to film directing now.

Do you have any idea what your next film will be about?

There are so many topics I want to film, such as youth prisons, wheelchair basketball, a news media war and so on. While it's nearly impossible to look for funding for most of these subjects, I do care a lot about them. It's never easy for me to find investors.

When I first met you in 2008 around the release of High Noon, you commented that time would tell if you're just lucky, as some people suggested. What has time told you since?

I definitely had a fortunate start to my career ... I mean, at least nobody threw tomatoes at me. Luck is decided by what you believe in and how you make your decisions. I don't think it's misfortune that I made two unsuccessful movies, because they're the results of my own choices. The reason I wasn't more prolific is my battles with depression. I'm not going to pity myself. I'm an extremely hard-working person, but it doesn't mean I'll always come across the right opportunities.

What have your options been like?

If I were open to taking up mainland Chinese productions in the past two or three years, I would have my own car and apartment and be enjoying a handsome salary by now. The problem is that I wouldn't be able to face myself if I had to shoot a 90-page story with 30 pages of product placement. As I can't allow myself to do that, I turn to smaller-scale projects like Uncertain Relationships Society. It's down to choices rather than luck.