Interview Wilson Yip

Wilson Yip is known by HK movie fans mainly for his two dramas featuring Francis Ng, Bullets over Summer and Juliet in Love, as well as his zombie comedy, Bio Zombie. His recent big budgets (Skyline Cruisers, 2002, Leaving Me, Loving You) didn't really convince that much, but the coming SPL will probably bring his name back to the spotlights. Here is a short interview with this director, as quiet in interview as he can be energic on a set. An interview to read in parallel with Matthew Chow's one, the very talkative script writer of this first three movies.


Cinemasie: You directed several horror movies, with ghosts, zombies, and mummies. I am assuming you must be a fan of those genres?

Wilson Yip: Yes, I do. (smile) Actually, a lot of people have their first movie related to ghosts. For a new director, it’s a lot easier for them to start since it's easier to catch a theme on it. And personally, I like zombies. In HK, people rarely do zombie movies. They usually make movies with Chinese ghosts. I think in ghost movies, you can evoke other subjects apart from yes, I do like gwai movies.

In all your horror films, you are trying to bring new ideas besides the usual ghost, mummy and zombie elements.

In fact, I want to put families, and human relationships in my movies, elements which are more important than scary ghosts. Family values and human emotions are actually what I really want to convey through my films. Ghosts in the movies just represent a crisis to a family and it is the idea how the family handles the crisis.

Did “Bio-Zombie” change your career? For this movie was quite a success in HK with a low budget.

No! (smile) The turning point was the movie “Bullet Over Summer”.

Was it difficult for you to direct to dramatic movies (Bullet over summer and Juliet in love), it's a very different genre ?

It was difficult. The HK movie market was bad at the time. The budgets were low and they felt lost in the production house. And because of that, production house was willing to invest in these two movies.

What about the scriptwriter of those two movies, Matthew Chow?

I joined Joe Ma company and met Matt at the time. We worked on these 2 drama movies together. He later wanted to be a director and we had less chance to work together. But we are going to work together on a new movie.

What is it about?

We're thinking of it.

In these two dramas, you had Francis Ng playing the main characters, please tell us your working experience with him?

I didn’t know him before shooting “Bullets over summer”. The first impression I had was that we had a lot in common, we were both a bit explosive and violent (smile), I would kick chairs. As he wasn’t always playing the first role in a lot of movies at the time and I was thinking that this could be my last directing movie as my works before weren't selling. Francis' character in the movie reflects how I felt at the time, I was in quite a low mood. Actually I'd really like to work with Francis again.

In the trailer of Bullets over Summer, there's a scene probably with Francis and Louis Koo in the hospital. But the scene is not in the film. What was it talking about?

Actually, in my original work, Louis does get to the hospital in time and catch Francis. In fact we shot Louis being punched by Francis on his face, because he hates Louis not treasuring such a good future that he's going to have. Actually Francis has always wanted to punch him because he wants his best friend to grow up.

Why did you cut this scene?Why? (laughs) It was cut because I became rational at the end, I thought: Why doesn't he try to save him as he reaches the hospital in time? He should find a doctor and try to save him! So I cut the scene instead of having Francis slapping him.

“Bullets over summer” is quite a slow movie, it is not a action movie; but at the same time, a lot of events happen all of a sudden to the characters, like if they don't have time to handle them. Were you trying to imply that life is unpredictable?

It’s very true. Life is that unpredictable! It’s also the reason why I like magic, appear out of nowhere (smiles) and disappear all of a sudden. I like the feeling. Personally I like slow movies, but I'm afraid it's not the case for the audience, so I sometimes add fast rhythm in my films. And I believe audience now have widen acceptance for different kinds of film, you don't have to explain anything to them like before.

After the success of “Bullets over summer”, was it easier for you to make “Juliet in love”?

IIt's not a matter of budget, but I've become more confident in making movies. The budget of “Juliet in love” was even 1 million lower than “Bullets over summer”, you can imagine how hard the film making was! So I couldn't make similar movies any more after “Juliet in love”.

They wouldn't let you, would they?

Yes, no one was willing to invest, and the company wouldn't invest. I don't know why. I also want to know why. Because success doesn't depend on the box office but on the market trends. They thought that “Bullets over Summer” is quite a good film, but if you use the same team for a comedy, the box office would be quite the same. So a film with a low budget would be safer. But it would be impossible to shoot such a film properly with a even lower budget.

In “Juliet in love”, there is a strange last scene. How does the key arrive on the door? Maybe there's no reason, but I want to have yours.

It is a magic thing again (laughs). They didn't find each other, yet it's a miracle the way the two of them meet again at the end. It doesn't need to have a logical explanation for it. The key shows a feeling of Francis coming back. It would be too cruel if Francis didn't come back. And Sandra Ng can feel his coming back through the presence of the key, it's a voyage through time (smile).

You had a very good cast: Francis Ng, Sandra Ng and Simon Yam. How did you feel to have such a good cast and script?

It was comfortable to work with these people, and because they are good actors they would play even better than the script. Even above my expectations.

Very few things are explained in this movie, the characters don't speak a lot. Was it important to let the viewers think a little bit?

I think I share my feelings with the audience and after I lead the audience into the story, I don’t want the audience to think and feel exactly like I do. I was sharing a love feeling with the audience, I tried not to explain everything because I believe one has his own interpretation on different things.

In “Bullets over summer”, three people create a new virtual family, in “Juliet in love”, two persons create a family with the baby, in “Mummy age 19”, it's a story about the mummy and its daughter and also the problems between the son and the family. Is family really important to you?

Yes, family is important to me. Maybe because my dad passed away when I was 16. I love family, I like the feeling of having a close family. I also treasure friendship. Family can be gone all of a sudden, when you don't expect it. I didn’t realize this had an impact on me and on my movies and now I'm more aware of it.

Afterwards you made two big action movies (2002 and Skyline Cruisers) with big budgets, but they were not very successful. How do you think about them?

Skyline cruisers I think I was learning to shoot a action movie, I didn't really like action movies, but I thought I should learn to make that kind of movies. And I learnt a lot from shooting that film even though it wasn't a success, I gained experience. As for 2002, I think I did much better. But I should keep learning and improving.

Are you going to shoot more action movies in the future?


What about Leaving Me Loving You, it's again another style?

It’s a very simple and slow romance, a story about a separated couple, with big budget, 20 millions, very expensive for a romance. I think recently there're not many films of this kind, most of them are comedies. I wanted to make a movie with a rather simple story. It cannot be any easier.(laughs) We can't really say it's a sweet story. It's a short love story. It's not necessarily that kind of stories, the typical sweet love story kind. It’s different from the one with Leon and Maggie, “Comrades, almost a love story”.

You had a project about a magician, right?

Yes, the main character is a magician. The original script is written by Edmond Pang Ho Chung, we are both interested in magic. What I really want to show is the feeling of magic, not what magic really is.

You liked Pang Ho Cheung previous movies and scripts?

I've known him for a very long time and he had this script about magic. I fell in love with the main character in the script. After I finished reading it, I bought it and modified most of it. I just kept the original ideas about the main character who's a magician, and how he becomes a cheating gambler.

HK cinema in general has been in deep trouble for years. What do you think of the evolution since the last five years?

The evolution of HK cinema trends toward mainland China. I think we should be more open with different genre of movies, and cooperate more with mainland China or even Europe. Before we were all too local but now we have to work more with mainland Chinese cinema and actors.

Is it a good thing for HK cinema?

It may not be a good thing for local directors but we need to do so, you can't tell if it's good or bad until you try... It is a good thing but can everyone do it, it's another difficult question.

Are you afraid of the censorship in China?

There are a lot of restrictions in mainland China, which we're not really familiar with. Often we may have many ideas but not be able to go for it. Creativity is thus suppressed because of that. Unlike mainland Chinese directors who must know the restrictions better, we, HK directors, are totally unfamiliar with the boundaries. Subjects like ghost movies, criticism towards the Chinese government are definitely censored.

Will you leave HK or China if you want to overcome the boundaries?

Maybe for only one movie for a try (laughs). Because I believe I need to be familiar with the environment to make movies. It’s really what I feel about things. It wouldn't be real if I wasn't familiar with the world in which I live. For example, I wouldn't know how they are if I wanted to shoot a film about French policemen.

Except the magic movie, do you have any other plans in mind?

I've lots of plans in mind (smiles) but nothing concrete for the moment.

Are there any projects you particularly want to do?

The magic one for sure but it has been stopped. (laughs) I want to make commercial movies first. Like Johnnie To told me, it isn't difficult to make good movies but it is difficult to make commercial ones.

So you want to learn how to make good commercial movies?

Yes. Just like “PTU”, he said he'd made many successful commercial movies before he could shoot a movie like “PTU”, yet he's very good director! I ought to do the same. I admire him.

A movie it's not reality, it's just an illusion. Do you feel like a magician when you're making a movie?

I've always thought that magic and making movies are the same thing. Making movie is like you're having a dream, magic is a dream too.

Thanks a lot!

Thank you.

With all our thanks to Dana and Wilson Yip.

  • October 2005