Hong Kong film-maker Fruit Chan leaves politics to others now

Post-apocalyptic thriller The Midnight After (above) will be one of the five films by Fruit Chan to be shown at the festival.
Post-apocalyptic thriller The Midnight After (above) will be one of the five films by Fruit Chan to be shown at the festival.PHOTO: 27TH SINGAPORE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
Post-apocalyptic thriller The Midnight After will be one of the five films by Fruit Chan (above) to be shown at the festival.
Post-apocalyptic thriller The Midnight After will be one of the five films by Fruit Chan (above) to be shown at the festival.PHOTO: 27TH SINGAPORE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

Fruit Chan will receive an honorary award at this year's Singapore film festival, where five of his films will be screened

Hong Kong film-maker Fruit Chan, who will be receiving an honorary award at the upcoming 27th Singapore International Film Festival, is known for making realistic films about his native Hong Kong with strong socio-political overtones.

However, he has no interest in making a film about the current political landscape in Hong Kong, which has become extremely divisive in recent years amid growing tensions with Beijing.

Speaking to The Straits Times in a telephone interview, Chan, 57, says in Mandarin: "Now, there is plenty of public interest in politics and there are many shows online and on TV that are about politics too. So they already do the job.

"Back then, I made those films because people were too apathetic about politics and I wanted to get them talking about social and political issues. Now, I don't need to."

  • BOOK IT / 27TH SINGAPORE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

  • WHERE: Various venues, including the National Museum of Singapore, The Arts House and the National Gallery

    WHEN: Nov 23 to Dec 4

    ADMISSION: Ticket sales will begin on Oct 28

    INFO: www.sgiff.com

As a tribute to him, this year's festival will screen five of his works, including Durian Durian (2000), which looks at the life of a mainland Chinese prostitute working in Hong Kong; and Little Cheung (1999), about a nine-year-old boy living in the triad neighbourhood of Kowloon just before the Hong Kong handover.

He will be coming to Singapore in December for the festival to receive the honorary award that recognises individuals who have made exceptional and enduring contributions to Asian cinema, especially in their countries. Last year, the recipient of the same award was Iranian film-maker Mohsen Makhmalbaf.

Chan is known for staying true to reality, filming on location and featuring non-actors.

As his early films often portrayed marginalised communities, he reportedly had to resort to shooting scenes using hidden cameras at times. He did that for several of the street scenes in Durian Durian, for example, as the streets where he got his actress-prostitutes to walk were manned by local gangsters in real life.

He muses: "I was lucky that we never got into trouble. In fact, there were many instances where some gangsters decided to help us with our film. Some of them knew what we were doing and agreed to be filmed without compensation.

"Maybe they felt like we were giving them a voice."

He adds: "But if any of them started scolding you, then you would run."

These days, his working life is less adventurous. Earlier this year, he went to China to direct the romance-suspense film about mysterious murders and long-kept secrets, Kill Time, which stars A-listers Angelababy and Ethan Juan.

"After working as an independent film-maker for so long, anyone would want the opportunity to have a bigger budget to make films, never mind if they are more commercial," he says of the film, which was financed by big-time production companies such as Wanda Media and Emperor Motion Pictures.

With the bigger budget, Chan admits to feeling "immense pressure" to deliver box-office results.

"When you make a film with so many investors, you cannot help but feel stressed about what happens at the box office. When I was an indie director, you answered mostly to yourself."

•Follow Yip Wai Yee on Twitter @STyipwaiyee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2016, with the headline 'Tribute to HK film-maker'. Print Edition | Subscribe