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Interview Patrick Tam: the exiled filmmaker
On After This Our Exile, Fu Zi 3/5 - Page 4
Author(s) : Gina Marchetti
David Vivier
Thomas Podvin
Date : 28/6/2007
Type(s) : Interview
 Intext Links  
People :
Hou Hsiao Hsien
Tony Leung Ka Fai
Tsai Ming Liang
Movies :
After This, Our Exile
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
I Don't Want To Sleep Alone
Lara Croft Tomb Raider : The Cradle Of Life
Vive l'amour
Wayward Cloud
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Page 3 : Aaron Kwok is better than Tony Leung
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Page 5 : Characterization VS form

HKCinemagic : Where does the storyline of the film come from? Why did you decide to set the film in Malaysia?

Patrick Tam : I went to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 1995 for a change because I like the tropics, and I worked for a production company to set up a cinema department. There was practically no Chinese-language film industry in Malaysia. At that time, we hoped to develop a Chinese film industry there—however small. The first thing was to train Malaysian Chinese to write scripts. I set up a film library with laser disks and tapes of classic films to expose them to world cinema. Because Malaysia is an Islamic country, it can be difficult to see all the good works of world cinema [because of censorship]. We saw a film every day—systematically, a chronological retrospective of Pier Paolo Pasolini or Alfred Hitchcock—and did a critique. This created a very good creative climate in class. I collaborated one-on-one with each of my students. Over years, we managed to complete approximately twenty scripts that could go into production tomorrow.

AFTER THIS OUR EXILE comes from the first batch of scripts that came from this class. The original idea was from my student, Tian Kai-Leong, who collaborated with me on this film. He got this idea from a piece in the newspaper about a Malaysian father who ordered his son to break into people’s houses to steal valuables. This is the original idea that we developed and created a story out of it. We created the characters, developed the details, the scenes, and the first version was completed in 1996. At that time, we did not have an immediate schedule for production, because we needed financing. After the 1997 Asian economic crisis, the company abandoned the idea of developing this cinema project further.

In 2000, I was invited by City University to come back to Hong Kong to teach. So, I met my colleague Philip Lee, who was the associate producer of CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON (2000) and the line producer of HERO (2002) and LARA CROFT TOMB RAIDER: THE CRADLE OF LIFE (2003), so he had experience working on foreign projects. He wanted to develop some projects with me, so I showed him the script for AFTER THIS OUR EXILE, and that’s how it started. Andy Lau expressed interest, so we started pre-production in 2003. I went back to Malaysia on holidays to scout locations. Because Andy Lau pulled out, we didn’t proceed. In 2003, we began to revise the script. In 2005, when we started with production, this was already the fifth version of the script. We had ample time in Malaysia in class to develop this script. It was not like university where students have to take all kinds of courses. This was only a scriptwriting class. The writers worked Monday to Friday, like going to work, and the company paid them. They were under contract. They had plenty of time to work on the script. This was really healthy. Each script was approximately 400-500 pages—very detailed and accurate—because accuracy is something I consider very important in any kind of creative work.

The fifth version of the script is 135 scenes, and many of the scenes are long. During production, I could see that, if I shot the whole script, the film would last four or five hours. Mark Lee, the cinematographer, said it seemed very likely the film will be six hours long, so I managed to condense some of the scenes and cut out others that were not absolutely necessary. In filming, we managed to cut it down to 90 scenes. When I came back to Hong Kong to do the editing, there were still 10 scenes aboard the ship. At the very beginning of the film, the father takes the son on a cruise while the mother stays home. Actually, there was an entire sequence on the ship. The son encounters an old jazz musician. The father is always in the casino, so the boy is left alone wandering on deck. He meets an old musician, who is very fond of the child and educates him. I wanted to show an alternative to the boy’s father. If the boy had a father like this musician, he may have followed a different, healthy path. Before doing this sequence in Hong Kong, I already started editing, and I knew, if I filmed this sequence, the film would be over three and a half hours, so we never did it. Tony Leung Ka Fai had been cast. Even without taking the leading role, he was willing to play the jazz musician. I owe him a favor and an apology, since we abandoned the whole sequence. What you see now in the long version (160 minutes) is only 76 scenes, so nearly half is gone, but it is still almost three hours long. For me, every scene now you see in the full version is necessary and is essential.

Patrick Tam on the set of After This Our Exile
HKCinemagic : Since Chinese-language cinema is picking up again in Malaysia, have any of your students gone on to work in the industry there?
Patrick Tam : One of the students, Too Set-fing, participated in writing the script for Ho Yuhang’s TAI YANG YUE/RAIN DOGS (2006), and others have worked on television series. I see this as a loss, a waste. Most are scattered around; it is pitiful. The finalized scripts are still there. In the future, if I have the backing, I may dig up some of the scripts to work on.
HKCinemagic : What makes you conceive of an episodic narrative such as AFTER THIS OUR EXILE as a film rather than as an ongoing television series?
Patrick Tam : I spent the first ten years of my career at TVB, but I never did any kind of television program in the studio. At that time, I shot 16mm reversal film with a Nagra recorder to do outdoor filming. It was really a kind of film. The instantaneous feeling that you can connect with the outside world is the most interesting aspect of television. Other than that, I don’t have any real interest in commercial television. For film, I have always conceived of all my stories in terms of images and sound. The big difference between cinema and television for me is the use of film language. That is entirely different. If you are using three cameras in a television studio production, you can never get a cinematic quality from it.
HKCinemagic : There seems to be a loss of direction in the Chinese community you depict in AFTER THIS OUR EXILE. Is this loss of direction characteristic of Malaysian Chinese specifically or is this an indirect commentary on the Hong Kong Chinese?
Patrick Tam : In modern life, whether you’re living in an affluent society or a more backward country, this loss of direction is phenomenal. Nowadays, people are getting more materialistic, and they’re more aggressive. Without knowing it, they are governed mostly by desires and inclined to yearn for anything that might not be appropriate for them. This loss of a sense of direction cannot be territorialized into certain areas or countries or places. It is a general spiritual poverty. I don’t deliberately compare Malaysia and Hong Kong, but the outlook or space of the film reminds people of 1960s Hong Kong locations. There may be a nostalgic touch or layer of meaning to it, but this is not done consciously or deliberately.
HKCinemagic : Do you see any similarity in the depiction of Malaysian life in your film and Tsai Ming Liang’s I DON’T WANT TO SLEEP ALONE (2006), which is also set in the Chinese-speaking community in Malaysia?
Patrick Tam : I did not have the chance to see Tsai’s film, and I’m not that fond of Tsai Ming Liang’s work. I am not too interested in the subject matter of his films. I better not comment casually about how I feel about his films. I’ve only seen VIVE L’AMOUR (1994) and THE WAYWARD CLOUD (2005), and both of them didn’t make a good impression on me. Many critics applauded the last long take in VIVE L’AMOUR of the woman crying. But, what leads up to this? Is there an inner necessity that builds up to this emotional highpoint? I doubt it very much. I’m not convinced. It is a predetermined act imposed onto the contents of the film rather than growing from the interior of the film. Talking about alienation, people captured in an empty space, there is nothing new or exciting for me in that. Some people may find a fresh angle or see something new in it, but, I’m sorry, maybe I’m not too sensitive to his subject matter? I think WAYWARD CLOUD is disastrous. I understand Hou Hsiao Hsien’s work. I like his work. I think it’s full of emotional vibrations, but not Tsai’s work. There is a kind of hollowness to it. It is too self-conscious, too deliberate.
HKCinemagic : Do you consider AFTER THIS OUR EXILE more of a Hong Kong film, a Chinese film, or a Malaysian film?
Patrick Tam : The film is a collaboration, so you can call it an “Asian film.” That’s more appropriate. People in Hong Kong, Mainland China, Taiwan, and Malaysia, all these Chinese in different places, really collaborated on this project. This is really “Asian” cinema.
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