Interview Edmond Pang Ho Cheung

After just two movies (You Shoot I Shoot and Men Suddenly in Black), Edmond Pang Ho Cheung is one of the rising directors in Hong-Kong. Francois met him for a very enjoyable chat about his career and movies.

François: could you please introduce yourself and tell us what you did before You Shoot I shoot?

Edmond: That's a long story (smile)... When I was in 4th grade, i already wanted to become a director. So I registered for script writer lessons. I had a tutor who is a Hong Kongese scriptwriter, Lam Tsiu-Wing. After secondary school, I went to Taiwan to study movie directing in an university during 6 months. But I got tired with studying, so I went back to Hong-Kong, and became a scriptwriter for a TV Channel. At the same time I was also doing a TV show, the program was called "Guest Show". The presenter was David Wu, he is a very famous actor and editor. Now he is gone to Hollywood.

After two years on TV, I went to the radio as a cooperator. At the same time, I wrote a short film, called "Out of the blue", directed by Jane Lam. Then I went to work for the medias, like newspapers and magazines, and also for cable TV. Finally, in 1997, I wrote my first movie, Fulltimer Killer.

F: What do you think about the movie?

E: I like the movie. but i think you can't compare to the book, the content is very different. When you adapt a book to a movie, you have to cut many things, because you just have 90 minutes. So I think there are just very different. But I like the movie, and I like Johnnie To's movies.

F: About your first movie, You Shoot I shoot. Where did you find the main idea? A director working with a killer to shoot murders?

E: When I finished my first book, Fulltime Killer, Johnnie To bought the rights to shoot the movie. Then I wanted to be a director too, so I tried to work for another film company. But they always said, "Fulltime Killer is a very famous book. If you can write another killer story, you can be a director".

But I don't want to repeat myself. So I didn't want to write a very serious killer movie. Maybe the same as a killer movie, but changing the tone of the movie to become a black comedy. And I wanted to talk about myself, someone who really wants so much to become a director. I thought that a killer and a guy who wants to become a director can match in one story. So I made up You Shoot I Shoot.

F: So the character played by Cheung Tat-Ming in the movie, this is you?

E: Yes yes! Do you remember in the movie, there is a scene in the movie when Cheung Tat-Ming goes to find the producer and asks him for money. And then the director gives him some drugs to sell on the street to get some money. This is my story! When I was 22, I wrote a script for a company, and they didn't pay me. So I went to find the producer and said "I need the money, can you pay me?". They gave me some drugs. They said "We don't have money, but we have some drugs. You can sell them and get some money". This is my real story, and this is very crazy (laughs)

Edmond Pang Ho Cheung
F: Was it easy for you to find the cast and budget for You Shoot I Shoot?

E: Very difficult. Because no one wants to produce a new director. I tried many companies, every company in HK film industry. Only Golden Harvest agreed. First when I talked to Golden Harvest, they just wanted to buy the script, they didn't want me to be the director. But we talked many times, and Golden Harvest had a new CEO at this moment, his name was Vincent Kok. And he is my friend, we were working together before in the radio show. He saw my script, and he gave me a chance to be the director.

But then I had another problem, because I was totally new in the film industry. Vincent asked me "Do you know any famous actor in Hong-Kong?". And I didn't know any. If you don't know personnally some stars, you can't really bargain the salaries. If you can't bargain the salaries, then it's hard to find a company to produce your movie, it's too expensive.

So I tried to think about the friends I worked with before. As Vincent was working with me at the radio before, I tried to think about some other actors who worked in this radio at the same time. I remembered two of them, they were Cheung Tat-Ming and Eric Kot Man-Fai. So I got them into my movie, and that's how we managed to shoot it.

F: After that, the movie was nominated for the best script at the HK Awards. Did it change your career?

E: Yes of course. You Shoot I Shoot changed my career. It prevented me from making any other movie in the next year! Because every producer in HK thought I was a very confirmed director (laughs). As it had a good box office in Hong Kong, everyone said "Ohhh this is a very confirmed director, you see". (laughs). But I think it's a good beginning for my career. I finally managed to direct my first movie, it prooved that I was able to direct.


F: Now about your new movie, Men Suddenly in Black...

E: Did you see it ?

F: Yes! That's really an excellent and very funny movie.

E: Thank you very much (smile).

F: This time, Was it easier to find the cast and the budget, thanks to your first movie?

E: This was easier, but also difficult, as the budget was much higher. For You Shoot I Shoot, I had a budget around 4 millions HK$, I didn't have much pressure. The company wasn't expecting too much from the movie.

But this time, the budget was over 10 millions HK$, so the company was expecting much more. And they were checking much more what I was doing. So even if this time it was easier to find the budget and the cast, at the same time I had much more pressure.

F: The main idea in the movie is not really something new, men trying to cheat their women, it's not really new. But to put this kind of story in the atmosphere of a thief/cop movie like Ocean Eleven, that's really interesting. Where did you find this idea?
Eric Tsang in Men Suddenly in Black

E: I always thought I could be very good to direct an action movie or a gangster movie. But the companies always thought I would fit to shoot a comedy. I wanted to tell them that I don't want to shoot always comedies. So as they asked me to shoot a comedy, then I shot it like an action movie (laughs). That's a very crazy idea.

My scriptwriter and me, we always watch many movies, including action movies. And I told him "If I have the budget, I would like to direct something like "Heat", the Michael Mann film. I really like this movie, and the crime genre. So I told the company about it. But they said "You don't need to shoot a very serious story! You should just make a comedy". I don't want to make only comedies and that the audience thinks that Edmond Pang is a comedy director. Just like for Fulltime Killer: I don't want to repeat myself all the time in my career.

F: Was it easy for the actors to be always so serious? The actors are not very funny, they look so serious.

E: Before the shooting, we discussed many times, I told them how I wanted to shoot the movie: "this is a comedy, but I don't want that you act like in a comedy. Don't give me the face like that (Editor's note: Edmond makes some crazy faces). I don't want that! I want that you act very seriously. Just don't think that it's a comedy. Think that it's a drama. Think that you are in the Godfather. Give me the face of Godfather. Do you think you would have an ugly face in Godfather? No, you can't have this face."

And before I shoot, I brought many movies to my editor, and I told him to prepare a videotape with many extracts. All are coming from action movies, and gangster movies. I gave a copy to each actor, and I told them "I want that you look like this, ok?"

F: Were you happy to have Eric Tsang, Jordan Chan, Teresa Mo, etc...? They are confirmed actors.

E: Yes of course. When I thought about the actors for my movie, I tried to find actors who can act in comedy, and who can act also in a gangster movie. I thought that Eric Tsang was perfect for that, Jordan Chan also, and Chapman To, you know him?, he is a very crazy guy (smile), and Tony Leung Ka-Fai. They are always in gangster movies and in comedies. So I felt very happy to work with them.

F: This movie is a big success in Hong Kong (more than 10 millions $). Did you already receive a lot of phone calls of people who want to work with you?
Jordan Chan imitates Chow Yun-Fat
in Men Suddenly in Black

E: Yes! On the second day it was showing in cinemas! (laughs) I had many calls!

But when we finished a rough cut of the movie, we had a preview at the company. The people from the marketing, they had a very long face after seeing the movie, they didn't understand what kind of movie it was!"Oh it's very crazy". "Oh it's not funny". All the people from the marketing and promotion were wondering what to do with the movie. "Oh it's very boring". "I don't know what the director wants to say". They were worrying a lot.

But after the public screenings, they were more like "Phew......" (Editor's note: Edmond miming a guy feeling a big relief). (big laughs)

F: What is interesting in both You Shoot I Shoot and Men Suddenly in Black is the music. Both them are fitting very well with the movie. Do you really pay a lot of attention to the music?

E: Yes yes! I talked about this project with the music composer a year ago already. His name is Peter Kam, he has composed the music for You Shoot I Shoot also. I always told him, don't make it like comedy music. Make it like action music. You think Michael Bay would use your music? Then keep it, that's perfect! (laughs).

First time when he made me listen to the music, he had some worries about it, he thought it didn't match. But I think the comedy is not matching with the story and the music. If your music is very serious, it's very funny.

F: Also, in the two movies, there are plenty of references to some specific movies, to some genres (like action movies, gangster movies) and more generally to cinema in general. Is it easy for you to be creative without just copying things?

E: In fact, I like to watch all kinds of movies. For instance, if I love a movie, I won't copy his story at 100%. I will try to get the feeling, the mood, and adapt it in a totally different kind of movie. For instance, I like to mix both love story and cop story. I like to mix different kinds of movie, it produces some kind of chemical reaction.

F: I have read that your next project is a drama. Is it right?

E: It's not a film, it's a theatre play. This is my next project, it's in Hong Kong art festival next year.

F: Are you going to make a movie also from this story?

E: After this drama, I will make just like a documentary about this play.

F: So it's not a movie?

E: It's not easy to explain. It's a movie, but it looks like a documentary. I shoot a story, but I make it look like a documentary. It's not a real documentary. Woody Allen made a movie like that many years ago.

F: And the actors in this play, are they from the movie industry?

E: Yes. There is Karen Mok

F: I saw also that you have written a story that Wilson Yip wants to direct. The Enchanter. What kind of movie it is?

E: It's a drama talking about a magician. In fact, it's my first script, I wrote it before You Shoot I Shoot. It's a very romantic, and I talk about a magician because I love magic.

F: Are you happy that Wilson Yip wants to do it? Do you like his movies?

E: Yes. I really like his movies. I think he really wants to do this movie, because he knows magic very much just like me. You can ask him to show you some magic, he is very good at it. I hope he will do it.

F: Do you have some other projects ?
The Dream Team
(Men Suddenly in Black)

E: Yes. I have a new project called "Waiting for Likey". It's my new script I have just written. I think we will maybe start it in summer next year. it's a comedy, but it's not a very crazy comedy like You Shoot I Shoot, it's more human, that's a tender love story.

F: You want to change each time. Will you try to direct an action movie, or a fantastic movie maybe ?

E: I really want to make a scary or action movie. But the most important thing is the investor. They think I don't fit to make a scary movie, but really I think I can scare people.

F: And about Making Films, are you the boss of this studio ?

E: Yes, this is my company. Before, I had another company to do all the post production for my movies. But after Men Suddenly in Black, I want to produce my films in my own production house. Just like the theatre drama, and Waiting for Likey, they will be produced in my own company.

F: You want to have more freedom?

E: Yes. In the big companies, they have many rules. I think that with my own production house, I will have the freedom I want.

F: I saw the websites for You Shoot I Shoot and Men Suddenly in Black. They were quite funny and original. Is it important for you to have a good website for your movies?

E: Yes, I want to get more involved in the websites of my movies. I didn't have enough time for the one of Men Suddenly in Black. I prefer the one of You Shoot I Shoot, because I got more involved in this one.

F: Thanks a lot!

T: You are welcome.

All our thanks to Dana for his kind help, to Alex for the translation, and to Edmond for his availability.

  • October 2003