With Full Strike, Ekin Cheng and Josie Ho want to give badminton the big screen treatment
Actors Ekin Cheng and Josie Ho were looking for a different kind of project. They found one in a genre-defying film about badminton
Derek Kwok Tsz-kin's latest screen offering is about badminton. Even the filmmaker himself admits it's a bit odd. "It may sound like a silly idea to make a film about badminton," reads the first line in his director's notes, but it goes on to explain that Full Strike makes sense to him because in the sport, a game can turn in favour, or against, the players in a millisecond. Full Strike, therefore, is about the unexpected.
That is also why Ekin Cheng Yee-kin and Josie Ho Chiu-yee came on board as its two leads; to be involved in a project that is different.
"Movies should be diverse, but, in recent years, a lot of films in Hong Kong had to appeal to market tastes. As an actor, I want a unique plot," says Cheng, adding that badminton was already an interest of his. "There used to be just the zombie and ghost genre, movies about the triads, and about cops."
And Full Strike is more than just a film about badminton (had they done that, people might wonder why they don't just watch a live match instead, says Cheng), it's a drama revolving around a band of reformed thieves who are being coached by a disgraced elite badminton player to try to win a tournament. There are also scenes peppered throughout the film that make references to the various classic genres - including horror and crime - of modern Hong Kong cinema, adds Cheng, who is best known for his roles in the triad franchise Young and Dangerous and in the martial arts comic-book film Storm Riders in the 1990s.
Co-star Ho, who co-founded 852 Films, the company that is producing Full Strike, says she wants the movie to change people's perception of badminton: "The foreigners would always laugh at us for playing a nerdy, geeky sport." She remembers how Ping Pong, a 2002 Japanese film based on a manga about high school table tennis players, made the sport look "so cool". Director Fumihiko Sori slowed down sequences to accentuate the dramatic moments of a game. "This is what we hope to do for badminton. We hope that some day the sport will get a similar treatment," says Ho.
That Full Strike was shown at this year's Osaka Asian Film Festival is a step towards that goal, and the filmmakers are working to get global distribution.
Ho and Cheng both play badminton for fun, but to prepare for their roles, they were coached by Ling Wan-ting, who played for Hong Kong at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Ho enjoys the challenge of getting into character, especially when her roles are complex. Her portrayal of a prostitute in Naked Ambition (2003) won her best supporting actress at the 2004 Hong Kong Film Awards. She then went on to play a closeted lesbian in Butterfly (2004), and in the Pang Ho-cheung-directed Dream Home (2010), she delivered what critic Paul Fonoroff, writing for the South China Morning Post, described as a "bravura performance" as a murderous aspiring homeowner.
Portraying a knife-wielding killer wasn't enough, apparently, because Ho wants to get even crazier.
"I've done quite a few in recent years, but I want to push the boundaries and see how crazy I can get," she quips, adding that she enjoys films that are "twisted" and full of dark humour, citing Little Miss Sunshine (2006) and Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights (1997), which stars one of her favourite actors, the Oscar-winning Julianne Moore. "I think she's a very crazy female actor. I'll never reach her level."
As for Cheng, the actor-singer wants to have a go at scriptwriting. "Actors are very passive," he says. "You have to wait for the right script. I might think about writing my own. I like to see movies that aren't formulaic."
Whether Full Strike will strike a chord with the local audience is yet to be seen, but Cheng and Ho are confident that it will do well, not least because of a freak incident during a location shoot in a supposedly haunted Yuen Long school earlier this year. One night while filming a scene in which the characters are having hot pot together, a bat flew overhead and pooped on the crew. Later, actress Susan Siu Yam-yam said that bats are a symbol of good luck.
"So if it pooped on us, that means we must be in for some good fortune," says Ho.
Full Strike opens on May 7