In this age where big-budget Mainland China co-productions are the norm, veteran actor Gordon Lam Ka-tung decided to take the road less travelled by making the low-budget true-blue Hong Kong film ‘Gallants’ his first producing gig. Indeed, the actor best known for his supporting roles in Johnnie To movies, as well as the much lauded ‘Ip Man’, said that he so loved the script and its themes that he made the bold move to champion the film to his boss, Andy Lau, whose production shingle Focus Films eventually came up with the budget for it.
HK$800,000 was the amount that Gordon had to work with- from pre-production to shooting and post-production- and while it may seem like a reasonable sum for a Singapore movie, it is peanuts compared to the millions of dollars lavished on co-productions these days. In town to promote the movie which was chosen as the opening film for the Hong Kong Film Festival 2011, Gordon tells of the challenges he faced making this movie which he knew was aimed squarely at the Hong Kong audience.
“Producing the film was very tough, in fact it was much more difficult than I had ever imagined,” he said. “Previously as an actor, you just finished your take in front of the camera and then let the director and the rest of the crew figure everything out. But as a producer, I have to make sure everything on the set and around it is in order so that the directors [Derek Kwok and Clement Cheng] could have a conducive shoot on the set.”
But the challenge began earlier when he had to secure the financing for the film. Describing how the movie began, Gordon said that it started with a ‘rock and roll’ theme but that was eventually abandoned in favour of a premise that would be more relatable to modern-day audiences. Of the choice to change the backdrop of the film to ‘kung fu’, Gordon explained that it was partly because of the success of ‘Ip Man’.
“We saw a resurgence in the popularity of kung fu movies in recent years beginning with ‘Ip Man’ and we thought we should make our movie around that,” he said. “After all, our industry has always been known for its kung fu movies so that fitted pretty well with the theme of our movie as well.” But unlike its peers, ‘Gallants’ doesn’t boast Donnie Yen, or for that matter, any famous action star from this side of the world. Rather, it brings together screen icons like Leung Siu-lung and Chen Kuan-tai, both of whom were iconic in the Shaw Bros era of the 1960s and 1970s.
It wasn’t however the intention for the film to be a vehicle to unite these legendary screen icons together. “Somehow when we started looking for who would fit into the roles in the film, we thought ‘hey, why not look for these guys’,” said Gordon. “Initially, we didn’t know where to locate them, so I got to calling Law Wing-Cheong whom I had worked with on many movies before to see if he had any of their contacts.”
By sheer coincidence, Law was then in Beijing playing chess with Leung- and it didn’t take much persuading for both Leung and Chen to sign up for the film once Gordon explained to them what the film would be about and what their roles were. The same went for veteran actor Teddy Robin, who went one step further for the film by agreeing to compose its score as well. And with such an ensemble cast assembled, other stars also agreed, among them Chan Wai-man, Lo Meng and yes Law himself.
Despite their age, both Leung and Chen were equally game to perform the stunts in the film by themselves. “I was a bit worried at first, especially since they would be going against someone much younger and therefore much stronger in the form of Li Hai-Tao,” said Gordon. “But they reassured me that they wanted to be as much a part of the action as they would have been in their previous movies, and they even told Li not to show them any mercy!”
Their gungho spirit is uncannily similar to that espoused in the movie, which advocates a ‘never-say-die’ attitude no matter what life throws at you or for that matter throws you down. It was this message of perseverance that Gordon hopes to bring across to the people of Hong Kong through this movie. “There’s been a lot of bad news in Hong Kong of late, and people seem to be lamenting a lot more about things like property prices and the cost of living,” he said. “So I really wanted this movie to be a form of encouragement to raise their heads even amidst these struggles and persevere on.”
The same attitude could very well be needed by the flagging Hong Kong film industry. It is no secret that the industry has seen much better days, and it is this that Law, who also accompanied Gordon on his recent trip here, is especially passionate about. While the opening up of the Chinese market has led to bigger budgets, Law says that the rules and standards there have effectively neutered many films eventually released on the Mainland.
He cites for example his latest work “Punished”, whose Chinese title [which translates literally to ‘retribution’] had to be changed because the authorities there did not like its connotation. Worse still, the ending of his film also had to be altered in order to get through the censors, a process which he feels has thoroughly destroyed the integrity of his creative process. ‘Gallants’ however is very much a different film, Gordon added, as the producers never had any box-office illusions that it would appeal to a Mainland audience.
What Gordon admits though is that he had hoped the movie could have done better at the local box-office when it opened wide last year- though he is especially gratified of the affirmation the film has received from critics as well as industry people, taking home the Best Film trophy at this year’s Hong Kong Film Awards. The experience from it all was absolutely worth it, he adds, and he would do it all over again if he were given the choice.
“This is and was always meant to be a film made for the Hong Kong people, and I feel that given all the troubles and worries that they are currently facing, it was only right that I should give them the encouragement they most need.”
Text by Gabriel Chong