Interview: Pang Ho-cheung, director of ‘Vulgaria’

Last year, Coventry University East Asian Film Society (CUEAFS) founder Spencer Murphy had the pleasure of interviewing acclaimed Hong Kong auteur Pang Ho-cheung, alongside producer Subi Liang and scriptwriter Jody Luk. All three were in attendance at the 14th Udine Far East Film Festival to support the screening of their films Love in a Puff (2010), Love in the Buff (2012) and the Category III shock comedy Vulgaria (2012), which is released in the UK this week on DVD and Blu-ray, courtesy of Third Window Films. The seedy-sounding premise of Ho-cheung’s Vulgaria (2012) may put-off some viewers with a sensitive disposition, but this Hong Kong sex comedy errs more on the side of fun than filth.

Spencer Murphy: Why did you decide to shoot Love in the Buff and Vulgaria almost simultaneously?

Pang Ho-cheung: Actually, I wasn’t planning to do Vulgaria. After shooting Love in the Buff, when I went back to Hong Kong for the post production process, someone asked me to shoot a comedy with Chapman To. I had an idea before for the collaboration with Chapman To, and the investors liked it, so we started shooting after a few weeks. And then I found Jody to work with me.

SM: How did you and Jody get together and start working on Love in the Buff?

PH-c: I first met Jody after she finished her job as a detective. Then, she wrote a book about a job and I found it interesting, so I asked her to come to a meeting. And that’s how we started working on Love in the Buff.

Jody Luk: Working with Pang Ho-cheung was a very good chance for me, because Love in the Buff is my first script. I’m really lucky to meet with him, he’s willing to teach newcomers. I was a novelist before, which has nothing to do with writing a script, so I’ve learnt a lot in the past years.

SM: Love in a Puff was shot in Hong Kong, but the story in Love in the Buff was moved to Beijing. Was this a purely commercial consideration?

PH-c: Actually, I’ve done it because Love in the Buff is the second part of Love in a Puff. The first part is based on my story, and on all the little stories from my friends and my wife. After Love in a Puff, I moved to Beijing to live there for almost a year, so when we started shooting the second part, I thought that I should probably frame the character that way as well. When I moved there, many things happened to me, so I wanted to show the audience those interesting things.

SM: Your move to Beijing – was that for financial reasons? Is this connected to the growth of the Chinese market?

PH-c: Of course the Chinese market was a very important reason. Now, every Asian investor wants to get on the Chinese market. I also wanted to fit in the Chinese market and to know what the Chinese young audiences want to see, so I thought that moving to Beijing was the easiest way to find out.

SM: What’s noticeable in Love in the Buff is the juxtaposition between the characters from Hong Kong and the mainland characters. Is this difference between the good Chinese characters versus the disreputable Hong Kong characters a way of negotiating and appeasing the censors in China?

PH-c: I would say that it actually has nothing to do with censorship in China. The reason why I decided to have these characters is because many times, when we choose to have a relationship with somebody is not always because of love, but perhaps because they have other characteristics. Maybe some qualities make us find him/her attractive, but there are not any true feelings. The main characters are full of thoughts. Usually, people are full of thoughts. I wanted to show to the audience that even when facing perfection, when they have the perfect partner, in the end they won’t choose that perfection.

SM: Would you say that Vulgaria is an archetypal Hong Kong film?

PH-c: Probably, but it doesn’t really mean that I need movies to be filmed only in Hong Kong so they can be suitable for the audience. Sometimes you can have a crazy idea and transform it into a good film for the Hong Kong people.

SM: Do you think that there has been too much emphasis made on censorship in China, particularly from Western journalists?

PH-c: I think the censorship problem really exists. However, I believe that it’s just a political issue. Probably the main problem that the film industry has in China is that the films don’t have any age restrictions.

SM: Do you think there is any threat to the Cantonese language cinema of Hong Kong given the emphasis on Chinese mainland investment?

PH-c: I don’t think this is a problem. For example, in Love in a Puff you can see that the original language is Cantonese, even though many cinemas choose to show the Mandarin version. Even when screened in China there were two language versions and the audience is the one who decide. And this is easy, especially in nowadays digital world. Many young people want to hear the original version of the film because they are growing up used to read the subtitle.

SM: Are we going to see a third part of this film series?

PH-c: When we finished the second part we had this discussion. I love the character in this movie and I would definitely shoot a third part, but the most important thing is that we need to think about a new story. We must get an idea first.

Vulgaria is released on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK this week, courtesy of Third Window Films.

Transcribed by Marina Gogeanu (CUEAFS)