Fruit Chan has done what few directors have been able to achieve: He’s made a genuinely disturbing and provocative art house horror film that has single-handedly shocked and challenged audiences across the globe. The feature length Dumplings has received rave reviews and appears in a truncated version in the upcoming anthology film Three…Extremes. I recently got a chance to chat with Chan about both the feature and short length films, as well as what’s next for the director.
Andrew Kasch: How did you first break into the film business?
Fruit Chan: I took some part-time courses in film making when I was a teenager and took up practice opportunities with a couple of the instructors who were filmmakers then. I worked as assistant director, production manager etc before I made my way to directing my own films.
AK: How did you initially get involved with Three…Extremes?
FC: Peter Chan of Applause Pictures approached me with the idea. The theme of Three…Extremes, horror that is, was set when Peter approached me.
AK: Did you have any communication with the other two directors?
AK: What did you think of the previous Three segments?
FC: I liked very much Peter Chan’s part.
AK: The content in Dumplings has shocked people all over the world, which is no small feat. What inspired you to craft this kind of story?
FC: I was only given a short span of time to come up with a horror story for the Three…Extremes and I didn’t have a clue what to do with it. Then I talked to Lillian Li, a well-known novelist in Hong Kong who wrote “Farewell My Concubine”, and who happened to finish a horror short story called “Dumplings”. We modified the story and came out with the script for “Dumplings in the Three Extremes.
AK: Judging from the look of Dumplings, it appears you had a much larger budget than with your early minimalist films. Do you feel that this give you more creative freedom?
FC: Yes, I did have a bigger budget for this film than my previous ones, which were more of an independent nature. A good budget did help with my creativity; for example, I could get Chris Doyle and other production professionals on board and had a choice for casting movie stars like Bai Ling. On the other hand, I had to give a lot more thought on the commercial elements of this film than my previous small budget films.
AK: Was it difficult to re-edit the film for Three…Extremes?
FC: It’s not easy to take out two-thirds of Dumplings for Extremes. The pace of it was a quicker than I would like it to be. I do hope audiences have the chance to view the long version of Dumplings.
AK: Christopher Doyle (read our interview with him here) mentioned that the shoot was very interesting because the approach between you, he, and Bai Ling were “radically different.” Can you elaborate? How do you think those differences shaped the film?
FC: It was great working with Chris Doyle and Bai Ling. This was my first time working with Chris Doyle, one of the masters of the Hong Kong film industry. My previous films due to limitation of budget never had the opportunity to employ masters like Chris. Chris’ professionalism and his hunger for perfection enlightened me. He has a way to make crudeness/rawness become fine art. It was first time for Bai Ling to work with a Hong Kong production team in a Chinese-speaking movie. She adapted very quickly with our pace of shooting. She shared with us some of her experiences in China and helped us mould her character in the movie. All three of us manage each other very well.
AK: With the current Chinese film laws, do you ever run into any problems over the content in your movies?
FC: My movies were not shown in public in China (excluding Hong Kong) due to their sensitive contents but they were quite well received in the pirated sector.
AK: The Hong Kong industry has had its share of ups and downs over the past decade. Do you think the future is looking brighter? Are you working on any new projects?
FC: The future is brighter in the sense that there are new markets e.g. DVD, online movie channel, cable TV, cell phone movies etc for movies, though it may not be good news for cinema owners. And yes, I’m hoping to make a ghost story next year.
Special thanks to Fruit Chan for taking the time out to speak with us, and extra special thanks to John Squires and Lions Gate Films for making this interview possible. Three…Extremes hits theaters in a limited capacity on October 28th, 2005, be sure to seek it out!
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