Clara Law and Eddie Fong’s innovative films navigate the Chinese diaspora.
Their filmography examines this subject with stories and characters traversing continents and blurring societal boundaries.
The married director-writer team discussed their work during a March 25 film seminar at the Journalism and Media Studies Centre. They had travelled to Hong Kong from Australia to screen two films at the 34th Hong Kong International Film Festival: Like a Dream and Red Earth.
Like a Dream was nominated for nine Golden Horse Awards in 2009.
It showed at the ongoing Hong Kong film festival on March 21 and 22.
Their short film Red Earth debuted on March 26 and will show again on April 2 at 12:30 p.m. in the Hong Kong Arts Centre.
Law and Fong have together produced more than a dozen films. They joined forces in 1986 after Fong finished film studies in London and moved to Hong Kong; she was a freelance filmmaker and he was a writer at RTHK. Law approached Fong to write a script, thus beginning their collaborative relationship.
The creative team’s first major film on the Chinese diaspora took place in 1989 New York. Farewell China followed the tragic lives of two Chinese illegal immigrants—played by Tony Leung Ka Fai and Maggie Cheung—and paid homage to democracy protesters killed during the Tiananmen Square Massacre.
The filmmakers joined JMSC Visiting Associate Producer, Nancy Tong, for a panel discussion with Gina Marchetti (Associate Professor in the Department of Comparative Literature) and Staci Ford (Honorary Associate Professor, Women’s Studies Research Centre). An audience Q&A followed.
The three-hour seminar included excerpted scenes from Farewell China (1990), Autumn Moon (1992), Floating Life (1996), Like a Dream (2009) and a sneak peak at Red Earth (2010).
After watching clips from Farewell China at the seminar, Fong admitted that he almost cried. He and Law said they hadn’t seen the film since its original release. The scenes conjured memories of the Tiananmen Square Massacre.
They were in New York preparing to shoot the film in 1989. On June 4, they sat glued to television news. The infamous “incident” inspired Law and Fong to scrap their original ending.
Law: “We were at home and we were watching the news and then it happened, the light went off, and we heard the sound, and we couldn’t believe it. I think we were crying, and then I said something like I felt so ashamed of being Chinese. That very, very strong emotion had to be channeled into something, and then we changed the ending”
Fong: “The original title of the film was, Love after the Revolution, but because it’s too political, we had to disguise it as a love story, so the Chinese title is like “Love in a Foreign Land.”
Autumn Moon presents pre-handover Hong Kong through the lens of Japanese tourist who becomes friends with a local girl about to migrate to Canada.
Law: “I think a lot of things were changing or had changed, and were not like what they were before. And I found that quite disturbing, and I was wondering what would happen to these young kids who would grow up in such a different way, and then Hong Kong would be handed over.”
Fong: “A Japanese investor approached us and wanted us to make a one-hour episode for their video release of a series of detective stories (…), but we proposed that no, we just want to do one feature film.”
Law was born in Macau. Fong was born in Hong Kong. They both moved to Australia in the 90s. They now split their time between Australia and Chinese territories.
Floating Life examines the story of a fictional Chinese family living across three continents. Law can relate. Her family is also scattered in various international locations.
Law: “I think in this film, it’s about planting your root in a foreign land and how to find your bearing and how to finally find the ground where you can really put your foot down and say, ‘This is really the place I want to stay in, and this will be my country, my adopted country.’”
Like a Dream
The Hong Kong International Film Festival heralded Like a Dream as Law’s “long-awaited” return to narrative feature filmmaking. The film stars Daniel Wu as a young American-born Chinese man in pursuit of a dream girl. Law and Fong said the film is part of their new phase.
Fong: “In 2000, we made a film in Australia called the Goddess of 1967, and after that film, we were so unsatisfied with what we have been doing creatively.”
Law: “The process of our creativity before was limiting us, and we wanted to be free, and we wanted to find more possibility.”
Fong: “We are trying to throw away everything and start from a blank page.”
The 22-minute short exemplifies the filmmakers’ new creative direction. They said it was an experiment with Buddhist philosophy. Red Earth follows a management consultant (also played by Daniel Wu) who is waiting in a hotel room for a woman and a sunset. But the sun doesn’t set. It hangs in the sky for weeks. Chaos ensues.
Law: “We wanted the audience to be open and experience it.”
Fong: We didn’t set an agenda, we just wanted to create a journey for the audience to go through with us, so that you might see the enlightenment, or you might be moved.” — Doug Meigs