Dada Chan plays a pornstar in 'Vulgaria', directed by Pang Ho Cheung
The hilarious new Hong Kong comedy, ‘Vulgaria’, is about a HK movie producer’s (played by Chapman To) painfully absurd quest to try to get his new film made in today’s heady, sycophantic era of Hong Kong-China co-productions.
Beset by financial problems, To needs to suck up to a mainland China investor (Ronald Cheng) who treats him to a horror-movie dinner full of super-gross animal parts and demands that he copulates with a mule.
All this is followed by the funniest kind of ill fate befalling the production – a remake of a pornographic classic – like a nutty tsunami of bad luck. To is saddled with an actress whose main claim to fame is her incredible mouth-to-er-body-part skill, a Japanese porn actor with low self-esteem issues, and goofy partners who are sadder versions of sad sacks. It is exactly the compelling real-reel world that director, Pang Ho Cheung, likes to immerse himself into.
In previous flicks such as ‘Men Suddenly In Black’ (2003), ‘Isabella’ (2006), ‘Love In A Puff’ (2010) and ‘Love In The Buff’ earlier this year, he has shown a talent and skill in crafting what has been described as “seeing the absurd in the mundane realities of everyday life”.
The smart, critically acclaimed rom-com, ‘Love In A Puff’, for instance, starts off with people meeting while they were puffing together in outdoor smoking zones – it’s a movie humdrum enough to be a work of genius. Pang, 38, talks to inSing about ‘Vulgaria’ in a phone interview:
How did the idea of ‘Vulgaria’ come about?
This story about the crazy stress, trouble and ultimate torture in making a feature film for the cinema is mostly put together from stories originating from my movie industry friends’ personal experiences over a period of 10 years. Some of them were so good I felt it worthwhile to make a comedy about them. I shot ‘Vulgaria’ with more an improvisational, documentary feel instead of a fully scripted look like ‘Love In A Puff’ because I felt that it suited the concept of the story. I like both styles, by the way.
A major draw of ‘Vulgaria’ is the colourful flavour of its original Cantonese dialect. In Singapore, we have to dub it in Mandarin. Will the impact of your film be lost in translation?
I don’t think it’s a problem whether it’s in Cantonese or Mandarin. We have many Asian films that are shown in Western countries without any problem. The audiences there read the English subtitles and they laugh along with the scenes. If a comedy is too focused on its own local culture, then it might get lost in translation when it’s dubbed into different languages. But if the movie is based on comical situations that are universal and easily understood, then I don’t see any reason why another language will affect it.
The movie producer character in ‘Vulgaria’ suffers a lot of trouble and embarrassment in making the film. Is this based on your real-life experience as a film director?
Luckily, no. I’ve been directing for 10 years. I consider myself lucky that I get the chance to direct movies almost every year although the film industry in Hong Kong isn’t so good all the time. I know some filmmakers have encountered problems like those faced by Chapman’s luckless producer. But so far, all the people whom I worked with have not given me any problems.
Hong Kong critics have labelled ‘Vulgaria’ a black comedy and called you the “Kafka of HK cinema” in that you are able to make comedy out of simple everyday matters. Do you agree with their description?
Look, everybody looks at things differently. Not everyone sees humour in everything. It all depends on one’s sense of humor. I don’t think I’m doing anything special. The way I see it, many of us are caught in the mad rush of thinking of ways to dig piles and piles of gold and we thus consider the details of life to be too small and insignificant. But to me, all good stories come from small details. They are what make a movie captivating.
There are a lot of vulgarities used in this movie. Do you feel vulgarities are part of the language in modern society now?
Well, they are part of our daily lives. You know, in Cantonese dialogue, vulgarities are a part of the way we express ourselves, our feelings, our points. It doesn’t mean we’re scolding anybody. I think it’s normal. Sometimes in incorporating vulgarities in our conversation with friends, it forms the closeness between us. With one big exception though – kids. I urge all youngsters not to swear vulgarities. Especially not in front of their parents.
How about sex? You use the subject of sex – including, er, sex with a donkey – to drive your story too.
What’s the f**king problem with that? It’s part of our lives. And we talk about it, what’s the problem? It’s not a big deal. If people ask why we use so many vulgarities, well, vulgarities weren’t invented by me. They have always been part of our daily lives. Using it in a story is not an issue. What’s important is how the story tells itself. We’re not encouraging people to swear blindly. We trust our audiences to be mature enough to know what’s right and what’s wrong. Movies are entertainment. If we use dis-robing or bikinis, we believe that people can discern. We shouldn’t be so anxious about sex. It’s ridiculous.
Chapman To has been in two of your previous films –‘Men Suddenly In Black’ (2003) and ‘Isabella’ (2006) – before ‘Vulgaria’. You like to cast him why?
Because although he’s a movie star, he doesn’t look like a movie star. He’s not that pretty. But because he’s not so amazingly good-looking, he represents the everyman in Hong Kong and people can relate to him.
There seems to be more films from Hong Kong now after a period when they appeared to be an endangered species. Are Hong Kong films making a comeback?
Oh, I wouldn’t say this with a certainty because the situation isn’t very clear yet. But I’m glad ‘Vulgaria’ did well in the HK box office. Because that’ll draw more investors into HK films. There are a lot of investors out here in HK, rich people with money. But not all are willing to invest in movies.
As a filmmaker, what’s the most important thing to you?
One word – dedication. Once you have an idea or a story, you have to focus on it. If, for example, somebody had told me that it’s better to cut down the vulgarities in ‘Vulgaria’, I’d stick to my guns. If I think adding more vulgarities would spice up the movie, as I did, and turn it into a better film, I’d insist that they remain. It becomes a personal dedication.