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Pioneer putting women in the frame
2015-03-24
By Yao Minji

THE 39th Hong Kong International Film Festival will open on Monday with the world premiere of “Murmur of the Hearts,” written and directed by Sylvia Chang — a woman who has made a unique mark in the male-dominated Hong Kong film industry.

The film is scheduled to be released nationally on April 17.

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The 61-year-old Taiwan native started her career as an actress at the age of 16, before moving in her mid-30s to behind-the-scenes roles, including writing, directing and producing.

She is widely considered as one of the few female directors who have broken through male dominance in the industry, paving the way for other women filmmakers.

Chang’s dramas, bearing her artsy, sophisticated and self-searching trademark, explore the struggles and growth of women of different ages and in different roles.

To celebrate her filmmaking achievements, the festival will screen 14 of Chang’s movies, including “20 30 40,” a drama telling the stories of three women aged 20, 30 and 40, which competed at the 2004 Berlin International Film Festival.

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In 1992, Chang served as a jury member of the 42nd Berlin International Film Festival.

“In the Chinese film industry, including Hong Kong and Taiwan, the field is mainly male-dominated, so women get very little attention and very few chances,” Chang said at the film festival’s press conference in Shanghai last week.

“Actresses have movies to act in, but there are not many works that talk about women, care about women, or are from a woman’s perspective. When I’m making a movie, I don’t like it when people ask whether I’m feminist. I’m not the so-called female chauvinist, I’m a woman and I tell the story from my perspective as a woman, and I invite you to share with me. That’s all.”

“Murmur of the Hearts” marks a return for Chang after her last directorial work, “Run Papa Run,” in 2008.

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This time, she traces back to her Taiwan roots and tells a story about growing up and letting go through three young men and women — an uncertain painter, her lost brother and the underachieving boxer that she falls for.

Chang has returned not only as a filmmaker, but also as an actress in award-winning director Jia Zhangke’s current film “Mountains May Depart,” which is still a work in progress.

Q: What inspired you to write and direct “Murmur of the Hearts?”

A: This film is rather different from my previous ones. In 2011, I was making a short film and realized I started paying attention to the stories about “caring.”

For me, caring is not just about telling the story of others’ life, but also spiritual and the relation between the last generation and the next. This is something that is often neglected by our society today, something we don’t often talk about, because we are all busy with our own lives and don’t have time to think about it.

For example, when a young person grows up and starts his own family, who teaches him how to be parents? Has anyone taught him? Nobody. When he starts to ponder over these questions, he will think about how his parents, his family influenced him.

I put all these things in the film and tell the story of the relation between the last and next generation through three young people.

I hope people feel warm after they watch this film. It is very cold outside, in this world, with a lack of trust, and a lack of communication in a good sense.

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Q: What about yourself as a mother?

A: I didn’t live with my mom when I was little, which made me quite independent and good at taking care of others. I started babysitting when I was 13, in the United States. So I was my own mother from a very young age.

It is very difficult to be a mother. You not only need to feed and educate your children, but also ponder upon the issues a lot. Did I influence them in a good or bad way? Every generation tries very hard to be good parents.

I gradually learned that children have their own ways and subjects to communicate with. I use my works to communicate with them, to tell their stories, and to understand them. My son has graduated from the university, but being a mom is a job for life. I must respect his own ideas and care for him at the same time. I only give them suggestions when they ask for.

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Q: You said you didn’t fit the typical beauty standard back then when you started acting, and you were different from other actresses or singers. How was that?

A: Everyone thought I was different. I was not a typical beauty, and I was too real and too sincere with my acting, which was not common at the time. Many people told me I was different and didn’t feel like an actress, “a beautiful vase.”

Other actresses used to ask me, ‘why do you have to really cry every time you act a scene where you need to cry?’ Most actresses didn’t, because when you cry for real, it doesn’t look good. But for me, that sincerity is important — it will be delivered to the audience. That idea hasn’t been changed for me.

As a filmmaker, I also keep sincerity in mind when I select stories. I only select the ones that could move me. That’s very important. It can move you because you care. You care because you feel for it, you are curious about it, you feel there is a story there.

For example, there were many movies about women when I was making “20 30 40,” but the good ones are about how women are behind doors. So when I told stories of the woman at 40, it’s about her behind a closed door, her worst moments.

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Q: How did you get into the behind-the-scenes role?

A: It was quite natural for me, since I got interested in the behind-the-scenes work when I was quite young. There was never a moment when I decided that I was going from up on the silver screen to behind the scene. It was a natural process.

It is a pity that we don’t have as many good artsy movies today. In my times as an actress, there were lots of movies like that, where actors and actresses could be trained with their acting skills.

When you have a new director, it takes time for the audience to accept them. It is important for the industry to have good producers, actors, directors and distributors to offer something different for the audience, because you ought to give them more than one type of movies. That’s what film festivals are good for — to offer different kinds of films so you won’t be restricted to a narrow definition of what movies are.

And that’s why I’m still making movies. I want to offer another option. For me, the box office isn’t so important. What matters is that I still have this impulse to tell the stories that I care about.

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