|Peter Chan : I consider myself as from HK. Always. And the reason is because I’ve been taken away from HK when I was eleven. And I think that make me even more Hongkongese. The more you are taken away from your birthplace, the more loyal to your birthplace you become. I am more loyal than anyone born and raised in HK. I always compare it to the HK roast pork, a local delicacy. To a HK person, all you need to do is to pick up the phone, and you get the dish deliver to you in five minutes, or you take an elevator down your building and you can get it in five minutes. To me, I’ve to wait a year to eat it when I was younger [and in Thailand]. Us, people who’ve been uprooted and taken away and have migrated at a very young age, are actually more nostalgic or more HK than HK people.
The reason why I was taken away was also one of my unconscious reasons for making Comrades. Chinese have just been moving from places to places for the last couple of hundreds years. China was poor, overpopulated, there was not enough to stay around. My grandparents went to Thailand at a very young age at the turn of the century. Before WWII. And my parents were born in Thailand; my father was actually born in China, but taken as an infant to Thailand and came back during the Sino-Japanese war, and when China was engage in the war, he went back to Thailand. My father moved out quite a bit as a child, but grew up in Thailand.
But the problem is Chinese, as opposed to Europeans born in America, if they never learn to embrace their new home, they always look back. It’s a big Chinese ego thing. For Europeans, they keep their heritage but they embrace their new home, they embrace America. It’s very rare for Chinese. All Chinese mostly from Southeast Asia, southern Chinese and Cantonese went to America. But my parents had two children and went to Thailand. And then they always looked back. My dad refused to learn Thai. They grew up in Thailand, but spoke Chinese all their life and when they grew up, it was the late 1940s early 1950s, it was the new China. Everybody had hope about what the new China represented. It was a very good time. And only the best young people get to go back to China, a whole generation of crème de la crème, just like now when Chinese kids go to American schools.
In 1951, there was a ship every month from Thailand to China. It’s a theme for a movie I really want to make, and I’ve been trying to make for the last five years. And a whole generation came back to China. When they were back, they realized it was a very big rude awakening, not because of the political situation. The situation was actually quite good in the 1950s. It’s because they knew they didn’t speak perfect Chinese, even though they didn’t speak Thai, but their Chinese was heavily accented. And to the mainlanders they spoke weird Chinese. They couldn’t stand the cold weather, their skin was probably a bit tanner than most Chinese, they ate hot spicy food. So it took them a whole life to realize they were not what they were told they were. They were told they were not Chinese, and were even looked down by Thai who told them they were Chinese.
My parents were the most fortunate generation that left before the Cultural Revolution. That’s why I was born in HK. The only exit door from China was HK. So when they came to HK, they decide to stay because they couldn’t go back to Thailand. Because anyone who’d leave any civilized country in the 1950s to go to China, or any other communist country, would be chopped. So they couldn’t go back to their home. So a lot of families were actually separated for over thirty years because of one decision to go back to what they thought was home. That’s why I became HKese. And when I grew up, they kept telling me I was Thai, because they were born in Thailand. Now, it takes some double efforts to accept the fact that they are Chinese but also they are Thai Chinese. They try to go back to their roots, where they were born, which is Thailand. I refuse the fact that I am Thai, because we are Chinese and more importantly I am HKese.
I didn’t know what I was. And I was uprooted when I was eleven, to move with them back to Thailand. I had a lot of growing up problems because I didn’t think I should be there, so I left Thailand as soon as I could, when I was 18. I always wanted to make movies and that was the period of the HK new wave directors, so HK was everything. I didn’t want to be in Hollywood, I wanted to be in HK! In 1983 when I came back from shooting the movie with John Woo [Heroes Shed No Tears], I didn’t want to come back to college!