Screen Singapore 2012: THE LAST TYCOON Interview with Wong Jing and Andrew Lau
We always knew that Andrew Lau had a thing for guns; but now, he’s apparently developed a similar affection for bombs. Indeed, though Wong Jing’s name is listed as director of ‘The Last Tycoon’, it is his producer and cinematographer Andrew Lau whom he credits – and whom the latter proudly acknowledges – is responsible for the most expensive sequence in the entire movie.
In that sequence, Andrew has planned for about 100 different explosives to go off at the same time along a narrow Shanghai street, the most he says has ever been used in any Mainland Chinese movie. “We took a lot of care making sure that everything was safe of course,” he reassures the media at the press conference held in conjunction with ScreenSingapore. “Before the actors were actually on set, we already checked and double-checked to make sure all safety precautions were in place.”
The extent of the work that went into that single sequence greatly impressed the film’s lead star Chow Yun Fat, who said that this was the most elaborate he has seen in any Asian film he’s acted in. Said Chow: “It was so real that you could actually feel the heat from the explosions going off on the set! In fact, there was so much smoke that it really didn’t take much for me to shed tears during the more emotional scenes!”
Asked why he went to such trouble for that spectacle, Andrew replies matter-of-factly that he wanted to show the world that the Chinese film industry could very well do what Hollywood had always been known for. There is a sense of pride you sense from both Andrew and Wong Jing about the growing recognition that the industry has been getting especially in recent years – and it is precisely this reason that Wong Jing was able to lure Chow Yun-Fat to star in the movie.
“I wanted to create a role that Asian audiences want to see Chow Yun Fat in,” Wong Jing says. “So that’s why I wrote the lead character in mind for him.” Though it might be hard to envisage at first, Chow Yun Fat and Wong Jing both started out in the Hong Kong film business at about the same time in the 1970s and were therefore firm friends even before shooting began – in fact, Wong Jing’s ‘God of Gamblers’ still counts as one of Chow Yun Fat’s most iconic movies.
For what is his biggest movie to date, Wong Jing also enlisted the help of an old friend, Andrew Lau, who seized the opportunity of a break after the filming of ‘The Guillotines’ to sign onto ‘Tycoon’. Compared to Wong Jing and Chow Yun Fat, the 52-year-old Andrew was a relative latecomer to the industry – but Wong Jing had known Andrew since 1991 when they were both still working under the Shaw Brothers fold.
Despite the help of old friends, some might consider that ‘Tycoon’ would be out of Wong Jing’s league – after all, the prolific director has gained an infamy among audiences and critics alike for being the chief purveyor of low-brow comedies in Hong Kong. Though Wong Jing admits that the movie is a departure from the type of movies he is typically associated with, he says that he relishes the opportunity of filming the occasional drama.
“Whenever I make a comedy, I feel stressed trying to make people laugh!” he says. “So for me, I actually do like filming dramas, because they are actually much less stressful for me to make!” Besides a personal gamble, Wong Jing also acknowledges that ‘Tycoon’ was a gamble in itself - as his boss Yu Dong describes it, this is probably the first gangland drama from the Chinese film industry, an achievement given the strict censorship standards local movies have to adhere to.
Wong Jing however is quick to stress that this is not your ordinary crime drama, and pains had been taken to ensure that the subject matter would not run into problems with the Chinese censors. “We made no reference to any illegal activity in the movie,” Wong Jing, who also co-scripted the movie, explains. “You don’t see Daqi [Chow Yun Fat’s character] profiting from drugs, alcohol or prostitution.”
“Rather, we cast him as an upright person, someone of morals and passion. In fact, the tragic love story set against the backdrop of war, where Daqi would prove his patriotism by assisting the underground resistance to the Japanese, was the main focus of the movie,” he adds. “We also made sure that there were elements that would really appeal to a female audience as well, things like relationships and brotherhood.”
That spirit of camaraderie between Wong Jing and Andrew Lau goes to the heart of this unlikely powerhouse combination, unlikely too because Andrew’s ‘The Guillotines’ has coincidentally been slated to be released over the same New Year’s weekend in China. But the two are quick to brush away any possible rivalry that could arise from their respective films going head to head with each other.
“They are very different films in nature,” says Andrew. “And I am confident that there is space enough for both our movies to find their audiences.”
Text by Gabriel Chong; Photos by Linus Tee