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Conversations with Peter Chan Ho Sun
Perhaps Love 1/7 - Page 1
Info
Author(s) : Thomas Podvin
Date : 27/10/2008
Type(s) : Interview
 
 Intext Links  
People :
Jackie Chan
Peter Chan Ho Sun
Sammo Hung Kam Bo
John Woo
Movies :
Armour Of God
A Better Tomorrow
Heroes Shed No Tears
Perhaps Love
Wheels On Meals
Companies :
Cinema City & Films Co.
Golden Harvest
 
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 Notes  
Interview conducted in Shanghai, in January 2006.

PDF version


I met Peter Chan Ho Sun twice in Shanghai, and each time the conversation was a delight. No need to ask him to elaborate his answers. Chan would explore any possibilities a question offers and gives very detailed answers on various levels.

Chan is indeed an interesting filmmaker to talk to. He has not only a wide understanding of the cinema industry in Asia, but he has also experienced the Hollywood system first hand (in 1998 for the DreamWorks produced The Love Letter). He is a filmmaker interested in both HK and the rest of the world. He sees his films within the whole picture and while talking, he effortlessly moves from one layer of conversation to the next. If not tired and with a double latte Chan talks at once about the making of his films, his childhood, movie-making techniques, his love for Casablanca, the situation of the world cinema, his love for women and so on.

All these elements, which are interconnected in his cinema, are presented below in our two conversations.

Many thanks to producer Zoe Chen at the Ruddy Morgan Organization who kindly helped us catching up with Peter Chan. I met Chan in Shanghai after the few hectic months he spent for the promotion of the Perhaps Love release in mainland China on Dec 1st, 2005. We are ever so grateful to Chan, for his kindness and patience to discuss in much detail his career and love for cinema.


Zhou Xun and Peter Chan

In the Thai Jungle

HKCinemagic : Your first film was John Woo's Heroes Shed No Tears. What exactly drew you to the film industry?
Peter Chan : It was a long time ago. I was actually back from a summer vacation, and I was recruited to be an interpreter on the film --that required someone who knew films, who could speak English, Chinese and Thai. I spent a big part of my adolescence in Thailand; I spent six years in Thailand, around my junior to high school age. And my family lived in Thailand and still does. So when John Woo was shooting that movie in Thailand, it was the best way to learn. I was the only one to understand everybody, nobody understood each other. I knew exactly what was going on, and everyone came to me. That was a great learning curve.
I was supposed to go back to college after that summer. The film production got postponed and last until Christmas. So I decided to work on another picture for a year. It was a movie in Barcelona with Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung [Wheels on Meals].
Then I went to Yugoslavia to work on another Jackie Chan’s movie [Armour of God]. So one picture became two pictures, became three pictures.
 
From cold turkey to great learning experience
HKCinemagic : This John Woo’s movie is very trash.
Peter Chan : It’s John Woo at the lowest of his career. That was before John Woo became John Woo; that was before A Better Tomorrow. When I saw ABT in theatre, I actually saw a lot of the John Woo I saw in Heroes Shed No Tears, which was the first Woo’s gunfight movie. The first time there was slow motion during action and the first time people stop to chat in the middle of the battlefield. As if they were never getting shot at. It’s a very romantic version of a gunfight. That [Heroes Shed No Tears] was his first gunfight movie.
 
HKCinemagic : Actually, the version that was distributed isn’t the movie Woo’s made. His cut was shelved for two years and then re-cut by producers.
Peter Chan : It’s not John Woo’s movie. I was actually involved in the post-production because I was stuck with the producer who was fighting with Woo. When Woo walked away from the movie and also left the studio - he left Golden Harvest to join Cinema City - he went to Taiwan where he had two of the worst years of his life. Then he came back to Hong Kong and worked for Tsui Hark. And they made A Better Tomorrow.

During these two years, we re-cut and re-shoot a lot of stuff for Heroes Shed No Tears, and what is left was only half John Woo’s. The problem was Woo was furious, very angry about that movie. But Golden Harvest could make a movie and not release it if they think it was not going to work. So they waited and waited. It would not have been released if it wasn’t for ABT. When ABT came out, they finally decided to release it. And Woo was very unhappy about that.


Heroes Shed No Tears
On the spot director
HKCinemagic : Did you get influenced by Woo at this very early stage?
Peter Chan : I don’t think I was influenced by John. Because the kind of films I make and the kind of films he makes are quite different. However, as a film student, I learnt most about actually making movie in my first movie with Woo, because Woo is a very talented and ‘on the spot’ director. What I learnt from him is to never break down shots beforehand. After saying “cut, good take,” Woo would walk from that take at the end of that shot to find a new shot. And on every shot he would walk to find a new shot. Which means that there is not really a plan. There is a blueprint of the shot lists, but not really a plan.

And I learnt from that. I was an interpreter [on Heroes Shed No Tears] and we worked with Thai, Korean, European, French (there were two French actors in the movie) and I always followed him. I know exactly how he came up with the ideas on the spot, and
I needed to translate it to other people. And then, it became my guiding principle. I never break shot, even for a musical [Perhaps Love]. There was one scene with a trapeze for which I had to break the shot because of the CGI. But apart from that I never break shots. I believe when you are on set, you sort of know what you’re doing, but you don’t know exactly what you’re doing until you are there. And that I believe it’s my way to make a movie, a way learnt from John Woo. I really find that it was the most effective way to make a movie. But I didn’t learn the way he actually set shots.

 
HKCinemagic : Woo often uses many cameras at once to shot at different angles. Is it your method too?
Peter Chan : Actually no. The first time I used different camera angles was for Perhaps Love. Just two cameras. I am still pretty primitive you know. One camera, three actors, maybe a dolly…
 
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