Why did Cinemasie choose to interview Matthew Chow? Director of some romantic comedies, Matthew has also a very interesting filmography as a script writer. When you worked for Brilliant Idea Group (the studio of Joe Ma), Milkyway Images (studio of Johnnie To) and Applause Pictures (studio of Peter Chan), you obviously have plenty of interesting things to say. And as Matthew Chow is a very talkative interlocutor, this interview delivers some!
The movie "Feel 100%" was adapted from a comic book. How did you adapt it?
When we first planned Feel 100%, the comic was a good seller; therefore we transcribe it into a movie. However, after reading the comic, we found the story was not suitable for a movie, hence we only took the essence of the comic, the attitude that teenagers towards love, and made another story, which was quite different from the original comic. We only kept the 3 main characters but changed the whole storyline, but the essence of the comic was still there.
This is the first time "pop culture" was introduced into movies.
Did Joe Ma know that he would be starting a trend or did he just make a
There wasn’t a trend of transcribing love fiction or comic into movies but there was a trend of transcribing comics. Just like ‘Young and Dangerous’, which has been transcribed into a series of movies. Since this trend had a market, the producer, Andrew LAU Wai-Keung and Manfred Wong decided to transcribe a love comic. At that period, Joe Ma and I were responsible for carrying out the whole plan. After that, Joe Ma created a trend; I think it’s not a trend of transcribing comics into movies, but a trend to make movies about young people’s romance.
How did you meet Joe Ma?
I met Joe Ma since 1989. It’s Joe Ma who hired me for the job in TVB. He’s my teacher, my friend and my boss at the same time. That’s why we worked as partner to make movies during these years. Joe Ma also brought me the chance to start my career as a scriptwriter. Later, we had our own development. Until 1996, we suddenly had the chance to make Feel 100%, so I ‘came home’ again to help him.
The sequel (ed.note: "Feel 100% Once More", not "Feel 100% 2") was written very quickly. Was it easy?
It wasn’t too difficult because for ‘Feel 100%’, actually the full length was 120minutes; we had to cut 30 minutes, which we were begrudging to do so. So the story ending is just like budding. Soon after the movie had shown up for 2 days, the box office was successful and it’s no doubt that we would make part 2. On the third day which part 1 had been shown, Joe Ma and me were already discussing how to make part 2. We were clear that part 1 was just budding and part 2 would be much more mature. We decided to let the couple to start a cohabit relationship. Base on that, plus the material we had in part one, we got script done very quickly. Personally I like the script of part 2 more than part one, because I wrote the full script while it was a collaboration between Joe ma and me for part 1.
Chingmy Yau was taken out of the story with terminal cancer. Wasn't this ending a bit strange? Did you write it?
Yes it’s true. The love triangle was difficult to maintain a balance. If the leading man chose to stay with the old girlfriend, it’s not fresh to the audience; if he chose the new girlfriend, his character would become not favourable; if he didn’t choose any of the girls, the story couldn’t fit the commercial market. So eventually, we decided one of the girls to die, so that the leading man could stay with the old girlfriend, and the story would fit the market. The ending now is Sammi going to find Ekin, the original verison was Ekin who went to find her. However, since we’ve changed and cut a lot, the ending become Sammi going to Ekin. Actually I like the version that Ekin gave up Sammi and stay with Chingmy. I could explain more on this point. I believe that when a relationship is over, we should let it go and begin a new one. There’s no mean to keep the relationship, it doesn’t do any good to anyone. However, this idea doesn’t fit with the local commercial market.
Is it easy to join Milky Way Image, a very creative studio?
It’s not easy… In fact I didn’t involve much in ”Too many ways to be No. 1”. At that time, Wai-Ka-Fai tried to be director, he had the idea, but just the first half of the story. Since he didn’t know how to proceed, Szeto Kam-Yuen and I then helped him together. Wai’s style is when he’s devoted to work, he could just sit there and kept silence for the whole night, therefore we didn’t know how to help. What we could do was to urge him to say something. One night, I told him I wanted to quit, I couldn’t bear just sitting there like a nightclub girl and help nothing. He asked me to listen to what he had for the second half before I left. After listening to him, the story was so fabulous that I wanted to give him a salute and I knew there’s no mean for me to stay. However, Wai thought that I’d bring something fresh into the movie, though I didn’t think so. I would like tod thank him for praising me anyway.
How did he come up with the two stories?
Actually he had the first half of the movie but he didn’t know how to proceed. He has just one story and he thought he might develop it. But at the end, he suddenly came with the idea that there could be 2 different endings.
You acted in this movie. Was it an interesting experience?
It’s very tough, really tough. Since I was not a professional actor and Wai just wanted to introduce some fresh element into the movie, and that’s why he asked me to act that character. There were so much action and explosive scene. The most important factor was Wai’s original idea: one shot for one scene, 40 scenes, and 40 shots. Hence we have to rehearsal many times. If there was any mistake, we have to do it again. So all the shots were very long, though they were cut apart while shown in the cinema, but his original ideas was one shot for one scene.
Why did you make a movie about zombies when it's not something belonging to Hong Kong's culture?
At that time, Wilson Yip had a movie called “Wui Zyun Sau Si” (“Midnight Zone”), and in Chinese, ‘Si’ means "Deadbody". That movie had a good box office. After one year, he would like to make another movie also about the zombie and use the homophone again, therefore he called it “Saang Faa Sau Si”, with a funny use of "Si". Why this movie used zombies? First it’s the director’s interest and second, there’s a video game called “Biohazard”, the game is about shooting the zombie monsters. Wilson would like to create an atmosphere just like playing video game, defeating the monsters continuously.
Bio Zombie is referring to Dawn of the Dead, it's taking place in the same location, right?
I don’t know whether Yip had watched that movie before, but I didn’t. I am definitely sure it’s not a plagiarized movie. The choice of the site was merely because we had a very tight budget, and we had to finish all the shooting within a shopping centre, that’s the reason.
In typical zombie movies, characters are often scared by the zombies but in this move your characters are acting very cool. Why?
Yes, we intended to make something different. Around 1998, 5 years ago, the director and I were still young, so we interested in something fresh, we would like to do something uncommon. Therefore we add 2 young gangster characters. What’s the response when they meet the zombies? Yip and I believed the story would be more interesting if they don't act like normal people frightened by the monsters. In the criminal’s world, their impression to us is they would die at anytime and have not guarantee for a tomorrow, so the response when they met the zombies would probably different from normal people like you and me. They might die or grab a weapon to try to defeat the monsters instead of running away. We tried to make a crossover of the 2 elements (zombies and triads).
This was the first BIG production. Is it friendly at BIG?
The atmosphere was good. BIG is leaded by Joe Ma, therefore everyone are familiar with each other, the atmosphere for creation is good. We are like both friends and teachers. Though ‘Bio Zombie’ was the first movie I collaborated with Wilson Yip, it’s also the first movie Yip made for BIG., we could blend with the environment very quickly. The group of people is very alike; we are all young, ambitious and aggressive.
What is the artistic purpose of BIG? To make commercial movies but with some personnal content?
Yes, we do want to make movies of our own interest. Actually few years ago, I was satisfied with all the movies I collaborated with Wilson, from ‘Bio Zombie’, to ‘Bullets Over Summer’ and 'Juliet in Love’. Though the box office was not successful, I treasure these movies and the scripts are something that could be ‘Put on the bookshelf’ (a memorable one). Since the local market is small, we have to make a lot of commercial movies in order to survive. Thus we have to leave the movies which are more of personal interest aside temporarily, and get fed first. So the answer is ‘Yes’.
"Bullets Over Summer" begins as a cop movie and then it
becomes a comedy and drama, slows down and then it beomes a cop
movie again. Was it easy to constantly change the tone throughout
I always say the ‘Bullets Over Summer’ project could not be done again. The tacit understanding and the trust in each other could only happen at that time. From day 1 Joe Ma gave us the subject, which begins with 2 police peeping a house opposite, the story changed day by day, until it became a story which I like very much. Actually Wilson only wanted to include 3 main scenes: opening with the robbery, interval with rolling a coin at the roof and ending with the robbers having meal with Helena LAW Lan. He allowed us to do whatever we like to link up the scenes. Therefore I could write the script freely. Furthermore Wilson followed the script straightly during the shooting! The tacit understanding could not happen again. Even he does dare to do this again now, I would wonder. We were so ambitious and aggressive to make the movie. So for your question, my answer is ‘No’. It’s not difficult since we didn’t know that, we only knew what our next target was. We headed on for the scene on the roof, while it’s finished, we strived for the next scene with great ambition. If you ask me to think again calmly, I would find it’s really difficult, it should not be like that….it’s probably because of our determination. We have grown up and now we don't have the guts to do similar projects.
What message did you want to give with the two cops and the grandma?
The miraculous point of ‘Bullets over Summer’ is that most of the time, we would set a target and a theme before we write a script, but this time we didn’t. When the movie was finished, someone commented the characters are so lonely, they are all being abandoned. I then realized that Helena was abandoned, same for Michelle, she had to sleep on the street; and Francis Ng’s character was an orphan, the pregnant woman was also abandoned by her husband, even the story was being ignored. It seemed to reveal that I need to be cherished therefore in my imaginative world; the characters are all being discarded and ignored. Additionally, Wilson treasures family very much, he introduced a new perspective towards family into the movie.
Juliet in Love features some other interesting characters. How did you work on this one?
It’s quite funny. Francis Ng and Sandra Ng were considered as comic actors when we found them to join ‘Juliet in Love’. Originally we would like to make a soap comedy, but a month later, Wilson still had no idea of how to make a soap comedy, and then we changed to make a drama. We began with setting Sandra’s character as a woman who had breast cancer. Base on that, we decided this character should wear "chi-pao" since chi-pao is the clothes which can best express women’s body figures. However, she’s lost her breast, that’s ironic and mocking to her. Later we confirmed her background as a waitress in a Chinese restaurant, living with her grandfather and abandoned by her husband because of her breast cancer. As you’ve said, the characters are a bit weird, so we wanted the story to be happened in a place more detached from the uptown area, and later we chose Yuen Long, a rural area. So their world seems further away from us and being ignored.
When we went to look for suitable sceneries, I found the riverside to be a very attractive one but I didn’t know what should happen there. I went there again with Wilson, he liked it too, thus creating the scene that shown in the movie. The riverside also inspired me the ideas for Francis’s character. The place is reclusive and ideal for the breast cancer woman, old grandfather and the man who owe a debt.
More about Francis’s character, I believe that most people are like what was mentioned in the voiceover at the beginning of the movie, wandering around all day long without knowing what they’re doing. Although they say they don’t care, they actually mind, they just don’t know what they should care about.
The two actors are famous for comedies being explicit and expressive
characters. In this movie, not much is said. Was it
important for you to make them act that way?
It’s Wilson’s decision to keep the atmosphere dispirited, so we wouldn’t have made fun during the shooting. Though Sandra and Francis were know as comedian at that time, since they are professional actors, they are also competent tragedian
The granddad always said “No coke, No hope” and in "Bullets Over Summer", there was also a scene with Coca Cola. Is there any message with coke?
It’s didn’t start with a meaning. And you can notice that Wilson like to have vending machine as background in his movies, but he didn’t do this on purpose. For ‘No coke, no hope’ it’s just simply a rhyme. Sometimes in a collaborative project, not everything has a definite meaning, but once you used the element in your latest movie, you would continue in the next. In ‘Bullet over summer’ there’s a scene with a character buying a can of coke from a vending machine, I had a feeling that it’s not an end yet thus I brought it on to the next movie. The use of coke in ‘Bullet over summer’ and ‘no coke, no hope’ was my idea, buying a can of coke in ‘Juliet in love’ was Wilson’s idea.
(SPOILERS!) Juliet in Love seems a bit to movies like "As Tears Go By" and "A
Moment of Romance" with the guy leaving and getting
killed. Were you trying to say that people are not perfect
and they do not have happy endings?
The ending is where Francis was running in the street and it gives the feeling of running towards heaven. It’s a tragedy and I didn’t want them to get together. Those two movies didn’t affect our story. We just simply want a tragic ending.
Ok, now the key on the door. You have to give us an explanation (SPOILERS AGAIN!)
This question has been asked for years. We did have a debate on whether we should put the key on the door, eventually we decided to have the key without a reason. I once spoke to Wilson, ‘if you put the key there, people will certainly talk about your ending’, then I walked away. I didn’t know whether he kept the key merely because of my words. However, it’s true that it can impress the audience and bring about discussion if you create 1-2 scenes that don’t have a distinct meaning in the movie, I guessed Wilson take the ending as a symbolic meaning of Francis’s determination to meet Sandra again, because it’s his promise before he died.
The original story of "Going Home" was more about
science, how to revive people but in the end it was more about the
romance. What was it that you wanted?
When Peter brought me into the project, there’re already 2 drafts by Jo Jo Hui. As Peter wanted me to bring in new perspective into the script, he just asked me to write what I thought was appropriate. I emphasized on the relationship between Eric Tsang and his son though later Peter cut away some because he had to control the length of the movie and he would like to focus on the love between man and woman. And for the story of the couple, I only wrote the last letter.
At the beginning of the story, it seems to be a movie about a killer. Who decided to give this feeling?
It wasn’t my idea, it’s his. When I first look at the two drafts, I asked Peter why the story was so weird, the first part was telling a story about a serial killer, but the second part of the movie is about love, it seemed that the theme is not coherent, just like two individual movies. Peter didn’t answer. However, when the movie was shown, I realized that the entire horror atmosphere was intended to bring out the love story.
Who was the little girl with red clothes? Was she the dead daughter of Leon and his wife?
When I first received the draft, those items were already there, my interpretation of the photoshop was a step to the heaven. In my definition, the little girl was supposed to be the spirit of the aborted baby of the couple. However in the movie, Peter didn’t state weather she’s their daughter or not because that could enhance the scary atmosphere if keeping this as a mistery.
Where did the girl take the boy? He disappeared for a long time in the photo shop.
It’s a very poetic scene. ‘A day in the veil; thousand years in the world’, the flow of time is different between the spiritual world and the reality.
What was the focus for ‘Golden Chicken’, was it to tell a story of a woman or a story of Hong Kong?
At first we didn’t expect it to be a big project about the history. When Peter first approached me, he just brought me the idea about a prostitute or a taxi driver as both professions could get in touch with many different people during their life-time, of course, everybody they meet would have an unique story behind. Then we thought of writing 30 something stories, one for each scene, then link them together. Originally the script didn’t have a strong structure. As the project developed, the scale was getting bigger, and for the sake of Christmas, we then added in some more commercial elements. Later we found that the stories talked about over two decades of HongKong, so we ended up using the perspective of a woman, a prostitute to narrate the history of Hong Kong.
Was it easy for you to talk about 20 year’s history of Hong Kong? As
you are quite young, despite using your own memory, did you ask other
people to provide you more information?
In fact I’m not young anymore, I’m already 35, I definitely have the feeling and experience about that 20 years. All the issue in the movie are what I’ve came along with. All the expressions in the movie are my personal feelings.
In Hong Kong, people are facing economic crisis for several years, so
was it important for you to write a happy ending to give some hope to
the Hong Kong people?
Sure it was. At that time Hong Kong people really need some hope, Hong Kong people were not living happily during recent years.
Did you write the main character after you know it would play by Sandra
Ng? Did you have less freedom after you know you have to write a script
for a particular actress?
I know it would be play by Sandra in advance. I’m quite familiar with Sandra ,we had some collaboration before, and we are of the same horoscope that’s why our character are quite similar to each other, thus I could easily write something that she could act well. Though the director and producer didn’t give me any limit, but I myself did. Maybe as I’m familiar with Sandra, I would expect what she’ll say and how she’ll act, hence I did create some limit for myself.
And what is important for you to treat the movie mainly as a comedy?
And what is important for the touching scenes, was it important to
write not only laugh but also tears?
It’s not a matter of important or not, it’s just my style. I believe that life should have laugh and tears, have peaks and valleys instead of steady all the time. Movie should not just as a comedy, drama or action, they should be like life.
Why did not you write the script for Golden Chicken 2? You don’t like to make sequence for your own movies?
No. I didn’t work on it because I was too tired with my own project.
Back to BIG
Now let's talk about ‘Diva Ah Hey’. We’ve heard that the original story was from Joe Ma, is it true?
Actually I first had the idea of the story around the year 1998. The movie was about to start and in a different name at that time, it was also about a manager and an artist. However, because of some reason, we didn’t make it. After Joe Ma has finished ‘Golden Chicken’, he came to me and proposed to start a new project. He told me so far he had Jordan Chan and Charlene Choi to act; soon we decided to use the story again and renamed the movie as ‘Diva, Ah Hey’.
The movie first gave people a feeling of a fairy tale but the ending
is quite realistic, was it some kind of message you want to say? Like
‘you can have a dream but you must not forget the reality’?
This is an encouraging movie. Many people have dreams but there should be a direction and a reasonable method. Same as the leading lady in the movie, she didn’t have enough quality therefore she has to finish her study first before she could continue to pursue her dream. If you rashly pursue your dream, you would definitely fail. The message is targeted to nowadays teenagers who have dreamed to become a star. Telling them to study hard and work hard in order to make their dream come true.
The dad of Charlene played by Lam Suet is some kind of
moral guidance for her. Did Joe and
you use this character to give the message to the teenagers?
No. But it’s true that we make Lam Suet’s character as a moral guide for the young people, but he’s not the embodiment of Joe Ma and me………he’s too FAT! (laughs)
Was the very last scene of the movie included in the first draft of the script? Was it already decided it would change from real film to some animation?
The last scene was in our original idea. However we only had the idea for the concert at the beginning, and only use CG to simulate the audience. After the discussion with the CG Company, we added in the animation. As we think the movie starts like a fairy tale, it should be ended like a fantasy.
Did you do it more like a fairy tale in order to ask the audience to go back to work go back to reality after the movie?
Honestly yes, I believe pursuing a dream you must first satisfy certain condition. Like if you want a sweet dream, you should think of some happy memory before you sleep. If you didn’t put in any effort, it’s just day-dreaming, it’ll never come true.
Now that you can work as a scriptwriter or a director, do you consider taking both jobs on the same movie?
Probably both, it depends on how much I make! (laughs)
What is the movie you prefer in all your works?
I like ’Bullet over summer’... and ‘First love unlimited’ also, I love it so much. It’s my youth story. They’re my favorite movies.
Thanks a lot!