Clement touches on few different subjects, including his follow up to Gallants, Merry Go-Round, which has is yet to find UK distribution.
Gallants is released on DVD in the UK on the 25th of July.
What are your wider inspirations, beyond obviously The Shaw Brothers?
My favourite directors are definitely Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, Clint Eastwood and Robert Zemekis. They are people that have a great influence on me. I can just watch their movies over and over again and I don’t get bored with them. When you watch them you discover new things and when you watch it again it reminds you of what life should be and what you want to be as a human being. And on top of everything they’re very entertaining.
They’re also films that on the surface may appear to be one thing but are tender underneath, is that something that particularly appeals to you?
Movies to me are first and foremost entertainment. The movie has to be entertaining in order for the audience to try and understand what you’re trying to tell them, the message hidden behind it. If it’s not entertaining then it’s not as effective. Movies are about sharing and the more people who can watch them, the more people that can enjoy them then the more you can feel good about it.
How do you feel about the current state of Hong Kong and Chinese cinema?
People have been saying that it is going downhill and that it is going to be over very soon. For about the past fourteen years that I have been working there [laughs]. I just don’t know, if there are still people working there who want to make movies that are not rip-offs then people will want to watch them.
There’s a director called Patrick Lung Kong and I met him when I was working as an assistant director eleven years ago and he was in the movie [Skyline Cruisers]. He is so enthusiastic and his head is so clear about so many things. He said to me that making movies was like writing a very long poem, each frame you shoot is like writing a Chinese character or word and after you finish shooting your film, your movie is going to be a long-ass poem. But you have to be very careful about how you use every single word because otherwise it’s going to suck from the beginning to the end. And that stuck with me.
Then last year we bumped into each other at the Udine film festival, during a retrospective of his work, and he recognised me and even though he usually goes to bed at nine and my movie started at ten he stayed and watched it. The movie finished at twelve and he stayed and talked to us for over an hour. There’s this current thing with Hong Kong/Chinese co-productions and he was saying that it’s not something new, the exact same thing happened in the fifties. Everyone was making Mandarin movies because there was a big market in Taiwan and no-one was making Cantonese movies because it was considered lower class at the time, with low budgets. But he kept making them. Because he said if there are still people who speak Cantonese or Mandarin it doesn’t really matter because people won’t not go and see your movie because it’s in Cantonese or Mandarin, it’s because it sucks. So, make a good film and you’ll be fine, don’t worry about anything else. That’s very good advice. I totally agree with him, there’s only two kinds of movies, good movies and sucky movies and that’s it. There’s no other way to look at it. That’s the situation in Hong Kong I think.
You’ve mentioned before your desire to remake Inframan. If someone gave you a load of money and asked you to make it, how would you envisage it?
I seriously don’t know because I don’t think it’s happening. If I did it though it’s going to be something different. Something not like Inframan, but it is. Something very close to Terry Gilliam. He’s an amazing director. If I can do something like Brazil, I will just quit. I won’t make anything else ever.
How did you come to make your latest film, Merry-Go-Round?
It was during the post production period [of Gallants] that I was approached by a charity group called Tung Wah Hospitals, they’re actually the oldest charity group in Hong Kong, and it was their one hundred and fortieth anniversary last year and they wanted to do something different to remember that year. For some reason they thought lets make a movie and they approached me. And I thought, it’s a charity group, it’s not going to be good.
So I turned it down over and over again and then after a few months when I had time, whilst things were rendering, I read through the research they gave me and I found something very interesting to me. There is actually something called the coffin home. It is a home for coffins, with dead people in them. I did not know that there were still operating. The only thing I knew about them was the Mr. Vampire movies in Hong Kong.
The coffin homes are just a mid-way point between one place to another and the coffins get stuck, they’re just waiting there. When they die Chinese people want to be buried back in their home village, the village that they were born in. It is tradition that they have had for a very long time. This coffin home is for people that wanted to be buried back in China but when I visited the coffin home the oldest coffin there was one hundred and ten years old. There are actually two of them, they’re still there, no-one is claiming them. There are actually twenty or thirty of them that are stuck there from the fifties. I guess when the Communist party took over they totally shut off things coming in or out so they were just stuck there. And I thought that this was an interesting background to tell a story about going home. Y’know, where’s home? And it got started that way and it’s kind of a drama love story that spans across sixty years of Hong Kong history.
What was it like working with Teddy Robin again [Robin is also in Merry-Go-Round]?
He’s my favourite actor now and he’s going to be in everything I do from now on. I just finished a short three minute film for the Udine film festival. He stars in that too. He’s in everything I do now. Everyone knows that Teddy Robin is a huge comedic actor from the eighties and he’s never been cast in a serious role as the lead male in a love story. This is the perfect role and because I know him so well I know he can deliver, he just wasn’t given the chance. Wouldn’t it be awesome if the same year he did a super cool action comedy he also did a serious drama and as the lead male in a love story. And the female lead is Nora Miao, who was always cast beside Bruce Lee. And that would never happen if anyone else was doing it so I thought it was an awesome combination and I thought it worked really well. He was so good in it.
So many people have different things to offer but there’s not a chance that it will be offered to them. It’s such a pity that people don’t discover that.