NYAFF 2012 Interview: VULGARIA Director Pang Ho-Cheung is Serious About Playing it Raunchy

Ben Umstead, East Coast Editor

A near full five days into the madness that is the 2012 New York Asian Film Festival and we've got an interview for you. It comes from our correspondent The Lady Miz Diva. She was fortunate enough to sit down with Pang Ho-Cheung, the director of the uproarious, head-turning HK comedy Vulgaria, which had its North American premiere last Friday to a packed house. His sequel to the smash hit Love in a Puff, Love in the Buff also screened this past Sunday at NYAFF. This interview is being cross-published on Diva's own website, The Diva Review.



The Lady Miz Diva:  How did you get away with Vulgaria?  It's so raunchy and outrageous.  Did you have any trouble getting it through censorship boards?
 
Pang Ho-Cheung:  No, actually. Vulgaria is a Hong Kong movie.  We didn't pass the censorship boards in China, so we cannot show it in China.
 
LMD:  It doesn't seem likely with a film like this, but did you propose to do a different edit for the Mainland?
 
PH-C:  Even if I agreed to edit the movie, I don't think we can edit a version that can pass the censors.
 
LMD:  You'd have a five-minute movie.
 
PH-C:  {Laughs} Maybe ten!
 
LMD:  You have warnings of all the film's vices in the opening credits like a spoof of something a censor might demand.  Is Vulgaria in part a protest against the censorship you face as a filmmaker?
 
PH-C:  You can say it this way because sometimes I'm sick of censorship.  Even the Hong Kong censors!  There's so many things they keep saying.  Two years ago, I shot a romantic comedy called Love in a Puff.  They pushed me into the Category III {Viewers must be 18 and over}, which is so crazy.  The movie is just a romantic comedy, but the Hong Kong censorship department said that was because I had so much foul language in the dialogue.  But my story is very pure!  They don't even have a kiss {in the film}.  Why did they put it like that?  That's so crazy.
 
LMD:  Besides directing and screenwriting, you are also a producer, like the main character in the movie.  What made you choose Chapman To to be your avatar?
 
PH-C:  I think it's more like Chapman.  Actually, Chapman is also a movie producer, so I think I put in many of his experiences.  I love to work with Chapman because he's a wonderful actor.
 
LMD:  You often work with the same actors, like you have with Chapman again in this movie.  Does this give you a level of comfort when you're making a film?
 
PH-C:  Yes, because if you work with some people you knew before, you feel very comfortable.  I don't need to worry about how their acting is.  It's the easy way to do it.  So, I always try to work with people one time and if I feel good, then I'll always keep using them.
 
LMD:  As hilarious as Vulgaria is, it does have a lot of heart in those scenes with Chapman's character trying to stay in his daughter's life after his divorce.  How do you balance that aspect of the film with the outrageous laughs?
 
PH-C:  Basically, I didn't find the emotional levels of the relationship until later, because I shot this film in a very short period; just twelve days.  I kept writing the script while shooting, as well.  Many things were written on the location.  Because I booked all the locations; maybe I booked an office to shoot one scene and that day I booked the hospital.  When I finished at the office, we jumped in the car and we went to the hospital; I'm writing the script as we're going to the hospital.  So, there's not too much in the structure.  My crew?  The first thing they need to set up when they go to a location is the printer.  I pass them the USB and they print out the script right there.
 
LMD:  You started out writing comedy for television.  Did that experience help with the way you make films today?  Writing anything for television has so much to do with timing and getting things done quickly.
 
PH-C:  Yes, I think it's helpful.  I learned from my producer; they were always like this: When I was very young, I was very nervous.  When they shoot a comedy show, they set up all the sets; the restaurant or an office set, but they don't know what they want to shoot.  I felt like, {in panicked voice} 'Why? Why? When you didn't finish the script?  How can you make the set in the restaurant when you don't have a script?'  It's ridiculous, but at the end, they would finish.  So, after all it was wonderful.  I always wanted to try to make a movie that way.
 
LMD:  But that's kind of how you're doing it now.
 
PH-C:  Yeah, yeah, but it's funny; actually, I always finish the script, but this time we needed to do it very fast.  For the actor's schedules, we had to start quickly.
 
LMD:  For the sake of the mule, I was very happy to see there was a credit at the end of Vulgaria that said no animals had been violated.  Between the mule molestation, the banquet scene with the "exotic" dishes and so many other moments in the film, is there ever a point where you're afraid you've gone too far?
 
PH-C:  Actually, I think it's too much, but it's funny.  You laugh.  Because that part of the story is why I wanted to make this movie; that part is based on a true story from Chapman To.  Did you know Chapman To before he became an actor, he was a gangster?
 
LMD:  I did not know that.  He seems so sweet and funny, I would never have thought of it.
 
PH-C:  Hey, you cannot think about The Godfather.  There's some gangsters in Hong Kong that are very funny.  He actually was a gangster.  This story came from him and when he told me it many years ago, I laughed and laughed and said, "We need to make it into a movie."  So that's why we get Vulgaria.  Of course in the true story, he didn't have sex with the mule.
 
LMD:  I'm sure he's grateful you clarified that.  What would you say the true message of Vulgaria is?
 
PH-C:  Actually, I think with Vulgaria, I wanted to talk about how producer's lives are not easy.  They need to find the artistic way, and at the same time, they need to control the budget.  I think this character is very contradictory there, but the most important thing I wanted to shoot Vulgaria for was to try to jump out from the censorship.  I just wanted to shoot a crazy comedy to release something inside me, cos I always get some crazy ideas because I need to shoot a big budget movie in Mainland China.  Many people have said, "Pang, you need to grow up to shoot the big budget movie. You need to make it mainstream."  I can make it; I am good for that.  But at the same time, I have some crazy thing inside me I need to release.
 
LMD:  How do you feel about showing Vulgaria to the New York Asian Film Festival audience for the first time?
 
PH-C:  I always feel happy when my film can go to different countries and different audiences.  When I am in the Hong Kong industry, they always have a misunderstanding; they always think, 'Oh, this story is too local, too Hong Kong.  Many in the audience cannot understand.'  I don't think so.  I think if the movie's story is wonderful, this is a universal thing, just like with Vulgaria.  I shot this movie for the crazy Hong Kong teenagers, but I think crazy teenagers are everywhere.  They do many of the same things.  I don't think the young audience cannot understand.
 
LMD:  You mentioned a big-budget project.  Can you talk about that?
 
PH-C:  I am filming a romantic comedy in Mainland China, in September, I think.  We're discussing casting with investors, so I cannot say.
 
LMD:  Is comedy the best way you know how to relate a more serious or emotional subject to an audience?
 
PH-C:  I think it's one of the ways.  Actually, I always wanted not only to shoot comedies; I want to be a stand-up comedy show host.  I think I can find another different way to release my crazy things.
 
LMD:  Well, you direct, you've written for films, television, novels and plays.  Is there any artistic endeavour you haven't tried that you'd like to?
 
PH-C:  I want to try acting, but my wife says, "Your acting is terrible."
 
~ The Lady Miz Diva
June 29th, 2012
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