New York Asian 2017 Interview: Legend Eric Tsang on Giving Back and Revitalising Hong Kong Cinema

Featured Contributor; New York City, New York (@TheDivaReview)
New York Asian 2017 Interview: Legend Eric Tsang on Giving Back and Revitalising Hong Kong Cinema
One of the true legends of Hong Kong cinema, Eric Tsang has made more than 250 films in a career spanning over 40 years that shows no sign of stopping.  
Tsang came to the New York Asian Film Festival to receive the Star Hong Kong Lifetime Achievement Award and premiere his film Mad World.  Tsang spoke with me about 40 years of stardom and using his celebrity to sustain and reinvigorate Hong Kong cinema for future generations.
The Lady Miz Diva:  In my research for MAD WORLD, I understand initially you did not want to play such a heavy role.  What changed your mind?
Eric Tsang:  Wow!  You studied well. 
It was the script and because of the character.  I was surprised that such a young person {Chun with screenwiter Florence Chan} could write such a mature script, and also tackle such a serious subject matter.  So, when something this good comes along, it is hard for you to resist, or turn it down.
LMD:  Please talk about your costar, Shawn Yue. You’ve known him since one of his first films, INFERNAL AFFAIRS, almost 15 years ago.  Please tell us about working with him on this piece, and how you’ve watched him mature as an actor.
ET:  Of course, Shawn has matured a lot since I worked with him on Infernal Affairs.  So, the hardest part of this film for me was, whenever I am on set, I like to goof off.  I like to bring a lot of food, I like to talk to the crew and the cast, and lighten the mood.  
But Shawn was hardly on set, because he needed to properly prepare himself mentally for his scenes, because he had so many dramatic outbursts, and there were so many scenes of him in emotional turmoil.  So, we might just see each other maybe minutes before we started shooting that particular scene, because he needed to prepare himself emotionally.  So, we couldn’t joke; we couldn’t talk to each other, or affect his feelings, otherwise it might affect his performance.
LMD:  This is not the first time I’m meeting Ms. Heiward Mak, who produced MAD WORLD.  We first met in 2008 for her debut film, HIGH NOON, which you produced.  Back then, she praised your guidance and encouragement.  Amongst your many talents, I think it’s particularly great that you encourage young filmmakers.  Please talk about why this is important to you?  
ET:  Actually it is a strange story, because 10 years ago, Heiward was a new director, back then; now she is a producer of the film, but the relationship that we have is more like a teacher and a student, because she was a student of director Patrick Tam.  
He used to teach film students, and I would look at his film students as a way to find new talent.  It is too sad that Patrick is no longer teaching, because he is such an expert in editing, cinematography, and movement.  Patrick would help me a lot just by telling me, “Oh, you should look at the students work,” and it would help save me a lot of time in looking at all these different works.  Patrick recommended Heiward to me.  He said, “Oh, she’s good.”  That helped in finding suitable material.
I worked with Wong Chun on a short film, and when he came over, he introduced Heiward to me again.  Wong was like her younger brother.  So, again, there was a brother-sister relationship here.  It’s like strongly-built trust.  I was very impressed by his short film, which lured me to work with him, and I thought this was a very good collaboration.
LMD:  Besides coming to the festival to show MAD WORLD, you are also receiving the Star Hong Kong Lifetime Achievement Award.  Thinking of your place as an icon of Hong Kong cinema, I also think of stars like Andy Lau, Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung, Jackie Chan.  I’m not sure that I see who is coming behind them to keep Hong Kong cinema alive.  Is that part of what motivates your investment in young talent?
ET:  Yeah.  This is what I want to do, but my capabilities are kind of limited.  Not only because I can’t do it all, but also because there is a generation gap, I’ve found.  So, I’m hoping that by nurturing young directors, that they can help me find new actors.  I seriously feel that we haven’t had a good new actor from Hong Kong in a long time.  So, there is almost like a broken layer between the older actors and the new actors.  This year we have 27 new directors in Hong Kong, so it is my hope that they can also bring out new actors.  
I also hope that the movies that the new directors make will combine both old and new talent, so that the more experienced veterans can provide on-site interaction and share their experience, share their insights, and then the new generation and the old generation of actors can share their own filmmaking experiences.  
So, I really want to see more new talent in front of the screen, and we hope that by having projects where it involves young directors, hopefully we can see more new actors at the forefront of Hong Kong cinema.
LMD:  As someone who is so synonymous with the Golden Age of Hong Kong film, please tell us how you have seen Hong Kong cinema evolve, and what you think is necessary for HK film to keep its unique identity? 
ET:  For me, the biggest change in terms of the Hong Kong cinema experience, I realised that a lot of directors and actors have gone to China and make big-budget productions in China.  So, now, we are only limited to making small budget Hong Kong films, and as a result, the subject matter for these films are very limited.  This is unlike the 80s, where we could basically make anything; fantasy, horror, comedy, action.  
Now, I feel like that the current state of Hong Kong cinema is almost like Taiwanese cinema: Due to the budget, we can only do indie films that touch on issues like homosexuality, social bullying - less big productions.  We want to break this barrier, so that new directors can also get a bigger budget – more than just the HK$2 million that we got for this film - so that the new directors don’t have to just make low-budget films.
When I was making Jiang Hu with Andy Lau, Shawn Yue and Edison Chen - Shawn was very young then, too - and that is similar to something that I want to do; I want to have young actors.  The old leading the new.  And now, I want to have the new leading the new, so to speak.  We have a few veterans leading the new, coming generation of actors.  The new interacting with the old, so that Hong Kong movies cannot just be limited to big China.  Right now, all of the big-budget movies are in China.  So, we want to have a market that is similar to China, where it is not restrained by the budget.  This is what I want to see the most.
LMD:  After more than 40 years as an actor, over 250 films and now winning the Star Hong Kong Lifetime Achievement award, how you would like the public to remember the name Eric Tsang, or can you say what your own proudest professional achievement has been?
ET:  I hope that people remember me for every single role I’ve played; because some people like me is a gangster, some people like me as a comedian, some may like me as an actor.  So, I hope that every role I’ve played will be remembered.  
I am also very happy that I was able to do so many things and encompass so many roles as an actor, director, producer, stuntman.  And I hope to do more in future films.
I feel that now, I have already accomplished what I wanted to accomplish.  I have passed the moneymaking stage.  So, to me, right now I am at the stage where I want to share my experience.  I want to share what I know.  I want to continue to do what I want to do, and I want to keep sharing my experience and accomplishments in all the projects that I do.
This interview is cross-posted on my own site, The Diva Review. Please enjoy additional content, including exclusive photos there.
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Eric TsangFlorence ChanHeiward MakHong KongMad WorldShawn YueWong Chun

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