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Interview with 1st grade HK film producer Nansun Shi
Cinema debuts and Cinema City 1/1 - Page 1
Info
Author(s) : Arnaud Lanuque
David Vivier
Thomas Podvin
Date : 15/10/2003
Type(s) : Interview
 
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Producer Nansun Shi has been in the film industry for nearly thirty years, wife of celebrated director Tsui Hark, Senior Advisor for Media Asia, she has contributed a lot to the HK cinema since the late 70s.

She kindly welcomed in October 2003, one of HKcinemagic editors Arnaud Lanuque to discuss the difficulties of producing moving through the three decades, in late 70s early 80s with Cinema City, in the eighties and nineties with Film Workshop and in the late nineties with Media Asia.


On your cinema debuts
HKCinemagic : How would you explain your interest for filmmaking and why did you choose to work in the film industry?
Nansun Shi : I was working for television at the time and I started to work in television in 1975. All around that time television and cinema in HK were very interesting. A number of new directors created what they were calling “La Nouvelle Vague” [in French], a new way of doing movies . Some of them were trained in TV stations and some of them studied overseas. So the first lot was Ann Hui, Tsui Hark, Allen Fong, Yim Ho and Patrick Tam. They worked in the TV station. I was really more on, but not as a director . First I worked in publicity then in the programme department. When in 1978 I left the TV station, around that time it's really when the New Wave started. A number of conditions were such that in HK between 1978 and 1980, 30 to 40 directors made their first feature film.

If you work in TV your next step is movies if you're talented. So many friends became film directors. I always thought that if I wanted too I guess I could have become a film director too. But I would have made a second grade director or a top third grade director. I thought there is more that I can do which is not in the directing, but do everything else that directors don't like to do. To be a director was very sexy and there is lot of things that directors don't like to do and should not do, which I thought I could do.

So I always said I love film since I was a child. My mother used to always take me to the cinema. There are four of us in the family, so she couldn't take us all. There are three boys and one girl, so usually she took me and we only had to buy 1 ticket. I could seat on her lap. During the summer holiday, she walked pass the theatres and would make like this to me: "Do you want to go to the movies", and I said “yes”. My mother loved to go to the movies and she loved American movies. So I watched a lot of movies when I was child and loved it. So when the time came for work, I decided well... I left TV and I was very tired because I worked intensely in television for two years. At this time, “ Cinema City ” was just starting up. There were three founders, share holders.
 
cinema city
HKCinemagic : You mean Karl Maka, Eric Tsang & Dean Shek ?
N S : Yes, the three of them were a little bit experienced producers at the time, but they were watching the whole scene in HK. They said “ let's get ourselves some new wave directors “ . It seems like the fashionable thing to do. And it's very funny because they are very old school. They told us afterward they didn't know how to go about finding these new directors. But they bought this magazine called “Film Biweekly”, which is for film bosses. And they didn't really understand what they talked about, but they knew they could find a name in the magazine. And when we will see some names, we'll write them down and go and talk to them.

So they talked to Tsui Hark, ask him to make movies. Because of Tsui, they got to know me too. And the two of them thought "we have just been making movies, we need somebody to run the company". So they approached me to go and work in the film company “ Cinema City ”. I said "I am too tired. I want to take a break and decide what I want to do".

They did something maybe very smart or maybe very stupid. "Oh, we just consider you start working already ", I said “No, l et me know you a little better". I didn't know them at all. They always seem very strange to me. They look very funny. Maybe they are Triads, I don't know. Let me get to know you a little bit more. What they did was: "Oh I think you should start working in November, you had plenty of rest already". I left my job in the summer, so I took a few months off to apply for my license for driving. I didn't feel like starting to work again. But what they did was that they put some money in the bank and said: "We are giving you the salary anyway". So I felt very responsible and immediately I started working. So that's how I got started at Cinema City .

Now it is history because the three of them eventually ended up with this cabinet of seven people, what they called the "Group of Seven". Every night we met and talked about films and Hollywood . They always worked at night. All seven of us, I think it was like the “United Artists”. Six of them, all of them were directors, producers, writers and actors [Eric Tsang, Dean Shek, Karl Maka, Raymond Wong, Tsui Hark & Teddy Robin], and I was the only one who didn't produce, act, write or direct. I just did everything else you know, ran the office.

The three of them usually come back and Dean Shek will turn up in the office at about five o'clock. Unless there is something very important, they need to sign checks [for instance]. I remember Raymond Wong Pak Ming comes a little bit earlier something, and usually we'll go to Karl Maka's apartment. And there is room called “struggle”. The “Struggle Room”, you know, struggle the verb, to struggle, to strife. And then we'll work overnight. Usually I leave very early cause I had to go to the office earlier.
 
HKCinemagic : What was your role there and your relationship with others members of the company (Karl Maka, Eric Tsang Chi-wai…) ?
N S : We worked as a group really. The trouble is, sometimes, after repeating the questions three times, I need to have a decision on something. I need to catch Karl Mak a , I need to catch Dean Shek and Wong Pak Ming and ask them. I think the interesting thing at Cinema City is we worked really as a group. Everybody had a special force you know. Karl Maka and Dean Shek had made for a very very long time inexpensive comedies, and they have a very strong power on the audience. But they are very good story tellers and made very intense comedies. But they raised new directors like Tsui Hark and Teddy Robin. He [Teddy Robin] made strong music elements so he brings a kind of young touch you know. Tsui Hark has a tremendous cinematic style and he's very much intellectual. Wong Pak Ming is a writer, but he has a lot of experience in drama in theatre. And Eric Tsang is very street wise, he's a street guy you know. And I am modern and respect more people's values, women, minorities and middle class.
 
HKCinemagic : Everyone brought its share…
N S : That's the thing. We all have our contribution. In a group, from what I know, in my intuition, my anguish was the same as them, and it made our forces duplicated. I think that's a good thing. We will bring up picture projects to each others and if not everybody agree we don't do it. "You come back tomorrow and give me a better argument." You have to pick a project everybody agrees on, and you're responsible and you're making your style. But everybody agrees and will go along this line. When looking back our work is still author driven. We have for instance Dean Shek very strong at dubbing. So he will dub a lot of film into Mandarin. And he will choose editing and cutting trailers. So it all depends, we were very loose but we all had our strength. Eventually, I was responsible for all of their administration and also the distribution. So other than the filmmaking, which of course to some extent, because I am in distribution, I am fixing the clients; I see what the market needs and when I come back and use this information. We all bring all the knowledge we have and the information which is constantly growing to get all the time until the filmmaking process.
 
HKCinemagic : Do you consider these years at the Cinema City as years of valuable experiences?
N S : Yes absolutely. Very valuable experience. Not only the “Cinema city” was a valuable experience, but I think there was another big reason that contributed to the success of the “ Cinema City ”. Other than the fact that we were all working very well together. The financial people backed us. The company behind us was Golden Princess, they used to be real estate developers and then they went from real estate to cinema . But nobody would give them movies, they got so fed up. So the chairman, Mr. Lui, and the vice Chairman, Mr. Ng, they're two of a very gentlemanly characters, gave us tremendous support. When you look back, we were just new in the film business, we thought of giving in, if the bosses were not good, but it was not true. This is the most unusual case.

You know, in the system, just to make films in HK at the time wasn't considered as a high social position. After the 80's, when HK cinema started to do very well, a lot of audience identified with this cinema as a part of their heritage.

When I joined the film business, very few people were educated people. My family said why are you going into the film business? Cantonese movies were not known for their artistic merits. It was a "rough" type of business and with all kinds of people. Of course I was trained with the new directors who were more educated and intellectual. So, the support of the financial people, they were real gentlemen and were very important people in the community so they can give us access to things we need, like to find the real estate. In Hong Kong they made so much money from real estate, they didn't need the rent, they'd rather not have people come in and shoot in there publicly, but they can help us make these connections.

Not only that, but also the financial support without interfering in our work. They only say “we don't understand this, we trust you, you look after the film business, you do what is right”, you know. This is very very important and also, when we started to make one movie which was very successful, not just the filmmaking part, of course we believed that our scripts and story ideas were so good, we always attracted a lot of talents coming into our projects at a cheaper price than they were used to get, but also they were very popular people. By contract, the director had proper shares, they were meticulous in their account. They were famous for giving the proper share regularly and their account books were really correct. I have not seen that anywhere else.
 
HKCinemagic : Did you take part during this year in a big project at the time?
N S : Everybody took part of every project, you know. I mean for instance, Aces Go Places III, our schedule was very tight… We were always very rushed. With the little robots and the little ambulance, anyway on this one, one day we were so tight on a delivery, I had seven shoot crews out shooting. I remember so clearly, each one had to help. Like I was shooting something, someone else was shooting something, we had a lot of major pieces shot, a lot of connecting pieces, and so I had to sit in an office and go: “you go and shoot that”. Even the star Sam Hui went out to shoot the love song. The love song, like MTV, he went to shoot with one crew, and John went to shoot the robot, and I told him, and I said to all of them : “you only have 200 feet. I want 200 feet of useable footage just to put all the pieces together”. So of course directors when they go and shoot, they never listen to you. So they shoot much more, and of course they're so smart, they're shooting where you can't cut them. They always cut shots, you cannot cut the shots you know. And I'm faced with all this footage and need to just put it all together.
 
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