JOSIE HO "DREAM HOME" INTERVIEW: PSYCHO KILLING PARTY!
Frederic Ambroisine: Tell me about the company that you founded, 852 Films.
Josie Ho: 852 Films is a film company I recently formed with my husband, Conroy Chan, and my manager in the States, Andrew Ooi. Our goal is to produce commercial films in Hong Kong that are more youthful, and edgier. We feel that Hong Kong produces a lot of films but it lacks edgy films, so we would really like to show people what we can do. We'd like to push our culture forward and be able to open up everyone's view.
FA: When did you first hear about Pang Ho-cheung's project, "Dream Home"?
JH: When I first heard about Pang Ho-cheung's script I was really thrilled. It's really unusual for somebody to write such a crazy, insane story about Hong Kong. I think what attracted me to the script is the general topic, which is a concern for every single Hong Kong citizen. Also, with the economic crisis happening all over the world right now, this topic concerns everybody. The script happens to be a psycho story about a very relevant topic.
FA: Since you are a producer and actress for "Dream Home", what has been your role during pre-production and while shooting?
JH: Conroy and I are based in Hong Kong, so we both went to every pre-production meeting with the director. Because we are new, we listened to the director regarding who he wanted to hire for each production department. We had some preferences, but we tried to work together to find the best people for each department. We were very much involved with the creative process of the film. The colors. I was really involved with the wardrobe and I was concerned with the visuals and the sound, basically the more creative and artistic parts of the film. Whereas money... we left that to my partner Andrew Ooi, who is based in Vancouver. He is a very well known manager to a lot of Asian artists in the States. He is my manager, and he is in charge of funding and sales. Conroy is also in charge of sales. He and Andrew work really well together; they make a really good pair and do really good Public Relations. They can talk to people and make people happy. I'm more of an introverted person, so I think I am better off as an actress and doing the creative aspects of the job.
FA: Can you describe your character in "Dream Home"?
JH: Her name is Cheng Lai-sheung. She is very stubborn. She comes from a very traditional Hong Kong Chinese background, where the family favors boys and not girls. She is a person who always felt that she could take on the responsibility of caring for her family, but her family doesn't want her to do that because she's a girl. They expect her to do what a girl should do. So she was born into this kind of family background, yet all her life she had only this one desire. She decided this when she was very young. She grew up in a tiny, packed, old beat up building in Hong Kong, and she has only a one inch view of the sea between buildings. She has dreamed since childhood of buying a big house with a sea view, like her classmates have. Sheung is a girl who sacrificed a lot for this. She received so much rejection from the system, the establishment, that she finally just flipped. I'm not going to tell you what happens in the end. She just goes insane and does something crazy in order to get an apartment.
FA: You're playing a different kind of killer in "Dream Home" compared to your first movie "Purple Storm".
JH: (laughs) Yeah.
FA: How do you work yourself into a state of insanity? What is your inspiration?
JH: I'm so introverted that I like to distance myself from people. That's my comfort zone and it's how I deal with friends. So I think the way I have to approach the role is to break the ice. I figured it out by myself while I was preparing for it: I have to break that ice. I have to get close to people; I have to be able to touch them and not be afraid to grab them and kick them and slap them. I'm very distant from people all the time, so I have to break that part of myself in order to become this girl. Because she is really not afraid to do that. I basically go through the whole script in my mind, the whole process of the whole incident. I also look at my own childhood. How would she play the role? Somehow I feel that it doesn't matter how much homework I have prepared for the role; the most important thing is how well me as a child and me as an adult, in the role, match up. I think the most important thing is to work together with other people. I would walk onto the set every day and try, especially when it's my "home", to sit there and feel it. I would try to create memories that I would have from this house, this environment and atmosphere.. I go home and prepare, and then I would come to the set and try to improvise I work with my feelings. Like, I walk onto a set and pick up one or two of the props and try to build a relationship with them. I would build myself upon that, and somehow I would have to achieve a very different angle every time.
FA: You have worked with many different directors. What kind of director is Pang Ho-cheung compared to others? What does he have that is unique?
JH: Pang Ho-cheung is an excellent scriptwriter. He is a lot more daring and has a lot of fresh ideas. I like the way he shoots, although he is really tough to work with because he is very precise and he wants everybody to be as precise as he is. For example, because he is a script writer and a novelist, he is really precise with words. He would tell me exactly how many seconds he wanted to pause between each comma, each phrase. This is really hard for me, but as soon as my body started to kick in, I felt it was really fundamental to do it his way because it actually looks a lot better than just us actors going in there and trying to jam. Also, at times he is really, really hardcore (laughs). He wanted a lot of blood. He is hardcore in the way he wanted to torture people. He does not consider your feelings at all (laughs). A few characters died during the shooting (laughs), and I feel really bad about that, but they did an excellent job. I just hope they were (laughs) were glad that their unfortunate torture made them look better in the film. This includes myself. He shoots in a really special style.
FA: You think the movie will shock or affect people?
JH: I think this film will for sure shock all of Hong Kong. I'm not sure if we can shock everyone in the world, or even Asia, because Japan, Korea and Thailand produce a lot of really psychotic films. Hong Kong is just catching up. I think somebody has to take this step, and we're trying. I hope we shock a lot of people. At the same time, our film is artistically wonderful to watch because we have the most amazing crew here. We have the best lighting in Hong Kong for our film: [Ringo] Wong Chi Ming. He is really hard to get because he's very artistic and money doesn't drive him. The quality of the project is what gives him the drive to work with you. He usually works on a lot of Wong Kar-wai films. It just so happened that this project interested him so much that he agreed to come and work for us, so I'm really, really glad. And it's our honor to have another director, [Nelson] Yu Lik-wai, who is a really good New Wave director from Hong Kong. He is also a brilliant director of photography. He is on our crew, and that is amazing. And we have Hong Kong's best computer graphics company, Fat Face [Production Ltd.], run by Ko Fai, who happens to be a childhood friend of mine. We also have Andrew Lin (2). He's been known as an actor for so long in Hong Kong that nobody really knows he actually studied special effects makeup in Hollywood. He's worked on films like "Alien"  He grabbed his friend Q from Thailand [founder of the company QFX] to come work on the special effects makeup team. Although it might not sound new to people abroad, because you guys have been making films like that for a long long time, this is all really new for Hong Kong. We are just starting to make films with CG and special effects. Now, using that in a psychotic thriller is really altogether new. I hope it will turn out well.
FA: In addition to Andrew Lin, several other cast and crew members, like Derek Tsang, Phat Chan, Conroy Chan and yourself, are members of AliveNotDead.com. Tell me about the website.
JH: AliveNotDead.com is one of the most innovative websites, and is basically the best platform for creative artists from everywhere in the world. It is the place to get to know different creative artists, to connect and to show everyone what we've got. It was originally made for a [fake] boy band called Alive formed by four guys: my husband Conroy Chan, Daniel Wu, Terence Yin, and Andrew Lin. They turned that into a mockumentary movie, "The Heavenly Kings", and now AliveNotDead.com has evolved into a community artists website. I think it's the most creative idea to have ever happened in Hong Kong.
It's a really good thing for all creative artists to get to know each other's work through the site. We can comment on other people's work. I think the most important thing is that it hooks up East and West so that people can work together. I think this website really works this way: to hook people up from different places so that they can work together. Without this website, it is really hard to gather people together and get to know them. Before, it was through a film festival. You would have to buy a plane ticket and fly somewhere to meet people. This website is an all-in-one, one-stop shop. I think the creative industry should grow this way. We can become more international. Different cultures can meet, mix and blend together.
FA: The special effects seem very well done. While filming on the set, when you see the blood and guts, does it look real? Or do you think it is fake and have to try to make yourself feel like it is really happening?
JH: No, when I am in a scene I never let myself feel that it's a prop. I always feel that this is alive. I think everyone on the set has this feeling. There is a sense of violence in every single human being, and that's a scary thing. That's what we're trying to talk about in this movie. The funny thing is, every time we bring out a prop out that we need to smash to death, everyone on the set is so excited because they all want to do it themselves. And we have to say, "Oh I'm sorry, the actor gets to do it," or "The stuntman gets to touch it, you don't get to touch it." But everybody is so excited about it. That's the scary thing: why is everybody so excited about violence? I think it's a taboo; violence is wrong. It's not right, but it's such a taboo in the world: it shouldn't happen to anyone so everyone is very curious about it.
FA: I heard that one of the actresses [Song Juan] couldn't take the violence on the set of "Dream Home". What happened?
JH: She cried when she saw me smash her own prop. She ran out crying and she actually vomited. I ran after her and said, "I'm so sorry. Why are you crying?" And she said, "It's like that prop has been sitting in the makeup room every day, and now I kind of said goodbye to her." You know, we have lunch and dinner with her in the same space and we wave goodbye to her every night when we go home. So she sort of had a relationship with her. Also, the prop looked exactly like her: the features, her pores, everything. So she just felt really sad when somebody did that to her prop. But the funny thing is, she didn't cry when she did her own stunts. The prop was only there in between shots, like when we had to smash her head against the toilet bowl so hard her forehead actually breaks open. And her head is so hard, it breaks the toilet bowl as well. She did her own stunts, so the first few times I smashed her it was really her. Then we would insert a shot where her prop was smashed. Especially when her forehead gets broken. She didn't cry when she was doing it herself, but she cried when she had to look at herself from the third person point of view. That was funny. To me. (laughs).
FA: Are you a big fan of horror movies?
JH: I do like horror movies. I'm not a huge fan but I do admire some of them. I think I'm more into admiring different personalities, like "American Psycho" . I won't say I admire. That's morally wrong because he is a very, very bad person. But I am almost fascinated with his characteristics: why would humanity turn out this way, what's wrong with the world, what kind of pressure is put on us, why would this happen to that person? There are all these motives that drive him to do all these bad things to other people. I'm more interested in things like that.
FA: How do you split your time between being a producer, actress, singer?
JH: It's not easy. I have to put singing aside when I'm doing acting. I wish they didn't cross, but sometimes if I have a busy schedule I have to do both. This time I managed to separate the two, and I'm really happy about that. I can concentrate on producing and acting. While I'm on the set, I'm an actress, not much of a producer. I think during the first few days I was a little nervous about the schedule being delayed, or not being able to finish what we needed to do, or that we might run over our budget. I knew we wouldn't run over the budget in the first few days, but I was worried about a lot of different things. I got to the set really early and got dressed, got all made up. I would run onto the set and check out the lighting and the camera crew, and where my marks were. I just wanted to pressure everyone and make sure they were working. I think I only maintained that for a couple of days. Iin the end I was too tired. I just felt I had to leave that to Conroy because it just wasn't working with my acting.
FA: When you finish shooting, will you be back as a producer?
JH: I will be back looking after the post production. We're already having meetings on marketing and promotion. I like doing things like that. It's fun, and we're using new angles and exciting topics in the media, and we're spinning stuff to scare people. That's all fun to do, but it's not fun when you're an actress too. And I felt that. The funny thing is that in the meetings I felt I was kind of conflicted. I needed to get in to my character in about four hours, yet I was still sitting in that meeting. I was already getting into character and running out of ideas in the meeting. I felt bad about it.
FA: What is your hope for the future of "Dream Home"?
JH: I hope that a lot of people will like this movie, and I hope that this movie will shock the hell out of Hong Kong. I hope that everybody will go crazy; will go mad.
FA: And laugh too, because it's funny!
JH: Yeah. (laughs) I think a lot of female office workers will like the movie because Sheung is a sort of an anti-hero. And, the topic touches everybody's heart in Hong Kong. I think it's gonna be crazy (3).
Interview conducted by Frédéric Ambroisine on the set of "Dream Home" (Clearwater Bay Studios - Hong Kong) in April 2009. Edited by Sylvia Rorem. Cross-published on ActionQueens.com. Thanks to Making Film (Subi Liang, Pang Ho-cheung & Quin Lau) & 852 Films (Josie Ho & Conroy Chan). Photos courtesy from 852 Films ("Dream Home" stills and behind the scenes - "Dream Home" poster designed by Josie Ho) and Fred Ambroisine (on the set of "Dream Home").
(1) The alternative English title of "Dream Home" is "Victoria Bay".
(2) Check out Andrew Lin video interview about the special make-up effects of "Dream Home".
(3) Originally planned for Halloween 2009, the Hong Kong release date of "Dream Home" had been postponed to May 13, 2010. The movie will also be released in France through Wild Side Films. Also, the worldwide rights of "Dream Home" had been picked up by Fortissimo Films.