Art Imitates Life
Award-winning cross-media creator Kearen Pang’s oeuvre reflects the foibles and follies of human nature.
Fresh from winning the award for the best director of a foreign language film at the 2017 Nice International Filmmakers Festival in May with 29+1, her film directorial debut, Kearen Pang’s artistic career has come fully of age.
Twelve years after she scripted, directed and starred in her one-woman play 29+1, which went on to become one of the most popular shows in contemporary Hong Kong theatre, the actress-playwright made her film directing debut with a skilful adaptation of her successful stage play. The sensitive and uplifting movie opened her heart to wider audiences.
The story of 29+1 revolves around two women on the cusp of the dreaded ‘30’, whose different lives and worldviews intersect serendipitously, but eventually find a new direction in life. The drama about life, expectation and disappointment found resonance among a legion of female fans who were experiencing the same angst as the characters.
“I was 29 when I wrote the play. I had been playing different stage roles for a while and began to wonder what it would be like to write my own script. I wanted to write about a topic that’s close to my heart and turning 30 was a watershed moment. It was one of those things the girls around me were obsessing about, and I had my fair share of views. It took me six months to write, and I staged my first solo show in 2005.” Since then Pang has not looked back. The story about two women at life’s crossroads has been rerun eight times in Hong Kong and staged in Beijing and Macau with a bit of fine tuning and updating as time goes by. The screened theatre version was shown in cinemas in 2015, with the feature film debuting this year.
In between the reiterations of 29+1, Pang kept busy with other plays. She has produced and acted in award-winning plays and wrote her first screen script for Isabella with co-director Pang Ho-Cheung which went on to win the 2006 Berlin International Film Festival Silver Bear Award. In 2009, CNNGO.com listed her as one of “The Hong Kong Hot List: 20 People to Watch”, describing her plays as “full of subtle drama and stealthy sentimentality that creeps into audiences’ hearts”.
Pang is adept at instilling her plays with an emotive feel that makes the audience look at the foibles and follies of human nature with a touch of empathy. “I like to focus on life, experiences and human nature. I am fascinated by the flaws and the dark side of humanity, and they underscore the thematic plot of my work. The characters develop along the way, with hope and resolve at the end,” she said. “The source of my creative output comes from my past, my observations and my imagination. I keep my senses open to receive what the world gives me. As an actor, I am tuned in to the audience which helps me to empathise with them or elicit empathy from them when I write or direct.”
Pang’s love of the dramatic arts started at a young age. “I went to the movies with my father every weekend from the age of eight, and we would watch two to three in a row. I was engrossed and fantasised about being an actor. I trod the boards for the first time in a school drama and was the only Form 1 student selected to take part,” she recalled. The school was St Mary’s Canossian College and the play Hansel and Gretel, and they made the Young Post. Upon graduation, she enrolled at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts to get traditional training for drama. “I wanted to explore the beauty of the art and found my calling in the theatre.”
And it’s to the theatre Pang will return next March when she stages a rerun of one of her other solo plays at the Academy. But before that happens, she has a rendez-vous with her alma mater on 9 December when she will be supporting the Academy Ball, one of the institution’s major annual fundraising initiatives. Sponsored for the third time by Jaeger-LeCoultre, proceeds from the evening and the watch auction will go a long way to support the development of performing arts students and emerging talents in Hong Kong. The Swiss luxury watchmaker has a close affinity with the world of film, sponsoring the best artistic film festivals around the world, including Venice, Shanghai, and San Sebastian. It also pays tribute to the creative talent of filmmakers by annually awarding the Glory to the Filmmaker Award. With her newly minted best director award under her belt, Pang has certainly earned her stripes for a place on the international stage.