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Interview Clara Law, Eddie Fong: Chinese Diaspora & Global Dream
Chinese Diaspora 1/4 - Page 1
Author(s) : Gina Marchetti
Date : 26/8/2010
Type(s) : Interview
 Intext Links  
People :
Mabel Cheung Yueng Ting
Maggie Cheung Man Yuk
Eddie Fong Ling Ching
Clara Law Cheuk Yu
Tony Leung Ka Fai
Daniel Wu Yin Cho
Movies :
An Autumn’s Tale
Farewell China
Floating Life
Like A Dream
Red Earth
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Page 2 : The Law/Fong partnership
Download the article in PDF.

From the Chinese Diaspora to a Global Dream
A Discussion with Filmmakers Clara Law and Eddie Fong (1)

On March 25, 2010, filmmakers Clara Law and Eddie Fong participated in a panel discussion devoted to their new films, the feature Like a Dream and the short Red Earth (which will screen at the Horizons sidebar of the 67th Venice Film Festival this year), both featuring actor Daniel Wu. Like a Dream had been shown at the Hong Kong International Film Festival on March 22. Both the feature and the short deal with the way in which the cinema can mediate the often slippery divide between reality and fantasy, the conscious and the unconscious mind, and the waking world and the realm of dreams. As the enormous popularity of Christopher Nolan’s Inception (2010) shows, this theme holds a particular attraction for some of the world’s most inventive filmmakers. In this conversation, Clara Law (who directed the film) and her partner Eddie Fong (who co-wrote the screenplay) talk about Like a Dream within the context of their careers which have taken them to places as diverse as Macao, Hong Kong, Mainland China, the United States, Germany, and Australia (where they currently reside).

The moderator Nancy Tong worked with them on Farewell China (1990), set in New York City. Staci Ford and Gina Marchetti have both written extensively on their films, focusing, in particular, on their treatment of gender, ethnicity, and diaspora in their “migration trilogy” (Farewell China, Autumn Moon, and Floating Life).

Daniel Wu in Red Earth

Panelists: Clara Law, Eddie Fong, Nancy Tong ( moderator), Staci Ford and Gina Marchetti.


Nancy Tong: I’m very happy to introduce to you my very old friends, Clara and Eddie. They happen to be here for the film festival. They are showing their films, Like a Dream and Red Earth. So I took this opportunity to invite them to come here and to meet with us and to talk about some of their films. I knew Clara since the mid-1980s. In 1985, we were in New York. Very young then…
Clara Law : We’re still young…
Nancy Tong: Still young…And we were working for a local community television station called “Apple TV”. It’s not related to the Apple Daily (2) here. Ok? It’s a lot more serious than that. We were both producing news and public affairs programs. In 1989, after June 4th, Clara and Eddie both came to New York, and they invited me to work with them on a project based on their research on the lives of Chinese illegal immigrants in New York. In that one very cold winter, we shot the film Farewell China, and we went all over New York City. For Clara, authenticity of film location is very important for her story, which made my job as a line producer very difficult. We had to find tenement apartments in Chinatown, a dark basement in Harlem, an old style Chinese laundry in Queens and a cheap hotel room in Midtown Manhattan, a totally abandoned parking lot in Alphabet City to stage a performance (a really bizarre performance), and also a church converted into a discotheque. We managed to find all these locations. Often, my “gweilo” (3) location manager, Jess, would come to me and say, “Nancy. What kind of a kinky film are you making? You’re picking some very weird locations!” Well…It’s not easy to explain to an all-American crew that this soft-spoken and tiny-framed Clara has visions more bizarre than Edgar Allen Poe. That floating in her beautiful head, there are these odd obsessive characters caught between cultures and cities in search of some abstract identities that are constantly shifting.

Since the making of Farewell China, Clara and I live on two separate continents separated by a vast body of water. It is not too often that I see her. But I always admire how she and her partner Eddie Fong, both writers and directors, have put out one excellent film after another. They have also crossed from fiction films to documentary films.

I’m not a cultural critic. Yet, fortunately, I have friends here in the University of Hong Kong who have written extensively on Hong Kong cinema and I’ve invited them to join us here to share with us their interpretations and appreciations on Clara’s films. Staci Ford is an honorary associate professor in the Department of History, teacher and researcher on US cultural identities, histories and transnational American studies. She has been in Hong Kong since 1993 and published a book on Mabel Cheung’s An Autumn’s Tale (Hong Kong University Press, 2008) and is currently finishing a book on American women in Hong Kong. Sitting next to her is Dr. Gina Marchetti, associate professor in the department of Comparative Literature. She has published extensively on Chinese and Hong Kong cinema. Her recent book, “From Tian’anmen to Times Square: Transnational China and the Chinese Diaspora on Global Screens” (Temple University Press, 2006) has a chapter on Clara Law’s three films on migration.

Without further delay, I’ll give the floor to both of you.

Eddie Fong and Clara Law, photo courtesy of abc.net.au

(1) Special thanks to Fanny Chan for transcribing this discussion and to Lin Yiping and Derek Lam for their help with this project.
(2) Apple Daily is a Hong Kong tabloid newspaper.
(3) Cantonese slang for foreigners.

Farewell China
Staci Ford: A Thanks Nancy. It’s an honor here tonight to meet Clara and Eddie. I’ve been lucky enough to write about Hong Kong film related specifically on the genre of migration melodrama. I’ve been looking at immigration and the migration melodrama by Hong Kong New Wave filmmakers—several of whom are women.

Nancy has introduced a little bit about Farewell China. It was made in 1990, and it begins in China but then moves to New York very quickly, following a husband and a wife. The wife, Li Hung, played by Maggie Cheung, comes first and basically her husband Nansang, played by Tony Leung, follows. But as he follows, he becomes aware of what she endures. Basically, she gets lost and says, “I want a divorce. Please divorce me.” Then, she disappears and her husband tries to track her down. In the process of trying to find her, he has his own series of awakenings and becomes very aware of what it is that she has gone through.

Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung Kar Fai in Farewell China

The film is important in terms of women in diaspora and also very important in reversing stereotypes of the “bachelor society” that has so often been associated with Chinatown. This film places women’s stories at the centre and integrates men’s and women’s stories. I think these films are early manifestations of third wave feminism’s notion of intersectionality that looks at gender in conversation with race and class. They are in some respects theoretical interventions along the same line with the works of Gloria Anzaldua, and Alice Walker in terms of African American feminism and Latina feminism. I really do think these films stand along side other sorts of feminist texts. But, then they address larger issues of diaspora and connect history as well.

In terms of thinking about history, there have been lots of debate about this film and the way it presents immigration. I’m less worried about whether this is an accurate representation and more interested in the way that it captures an immediate post-Tiananmen moment and pre-1997 moment. It also captures certain USA anxieties about immigration in this period and it connects US, Chinese and Hong Kong history. The obvious question for me to ask Clara and Eddie is twenty years on, how do you feel about this film and the question of history, your personal history and the logic of representation of different histories in the film.

Eddie Fong: Just then when I was watching this clip [referring to a scene featuring the Chinese couple’s reunion in New York City], I was almost in tears. I don’t know why. I haven’t seen this in twenty years.
Clara Law: I don’t think we have seen it since it was done. We don’t normally go back to watch our own films. I cringe when I go back to watch it. I saw so many imperfections, and I want to make it better.
Eddie Fong: But emotionally, there is truth in it. That’s why just watching that clip, I felt really touched. It called back all these emotions during that period of time when we made the film.
Clara Law: We finished the script before the Tiananmen Square massacre. We were planning to do it in New York. Then on that night when it happened, I could still recall very clearly that image and that moment. We were sitting at home. I think during that time a lot of us, if you were going to work, you would try to get back home as soon as possible just to see what’s the latest, what was happening, and what’s going on. We were at home. We were watching the news and then it happened. The light went off and then you heard the sound. We couldn’t believe it. I think we were crying. I said something like “I feel so ashamed of being Chinese.” I had that very strong emotion that has to be channeled into something. Then we changed the ending of the film, and it was this ending you see now.
Eddie Fong: During that cold month in May, we were just stuck at home, watching the television and watching the news. We just couldn’t do anything. We just had to put down the script. We couldn’t move on. I think that’s the first time we faced the reality that even though we’ve been trying to portray the reality, there is no way we can transfer what we felt about that reality into our film. We found that we were so helpless. As filmmakers, we couldn’t do much about that. Even though right now we changed the ending, but still I don’t think we have really transferred that emotion into the film. But, as like Clara said, it’s a relief. Still, it is not that actual feeling at all. It’s much stronger and bigger than what you saw in the film.
Clara Law: And, then, of course, you know how many years now - twenty-one years on? We are not historians. We’ve moved from one phase to another. When we immigrated to Australia, we did Floating Life. For us, Floating Life was like a transition between Hong Kong and Australia --between staying in a totally Chinese environment and the multicultural world. At the time we felt Australia was very multicultural. It was a transitional phase. I think Floating Life is a bit more optimistic. Because somehow I think I found a place for myself and that place was that I accepted the fact that I’ve these eastern and western elements in me. I will be the bridge. That’s what I am.

Floating Life

Eddie Fong : I think when we first worked on Farewell China, the original title was “Love after the Revolution.” That’s the original title, but that’s too political. We just had to disguise it with a love story. So, the Chinese title is “Love in the Season of a Foreign Land” or something like that. We did this because of the market in Hong Kong. Our investors thought it’s too political. Nobody wants to watch a political film.
Clara Law: And they were right.
Eddie Fong: Oh yes. They were right. But at the time we were trying to explore. There is one question we always want to ask: “Why do the Chinese always have to go to overseas, and why do they have to move out from their own country?” This is the question we ask ourselves. This is the question we try to find the answer to in our films and we try to explore this. So we went to New York to do the research. But, at that time, we didn’t expect the Tiananmen Square massacre would happen. So, at the end of the film, we just shifted the focus onto its symbol.

Maggie Cheung in Farewell China

Staci Ford: Eddie is talking about the Goddess of Democracy, which was a temporary monument in Chinatown. It’s interesting to know how many Hong Kong films in the genre end up being changed at the last minute because history intervenes. I’m thinking about Evans Chan’s Bauhinia being one thing before September 11, then becoming something else after. I think that’s a story that’s fascinating.
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