Fruit Chan

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Fruit Chan
Fruit Chan © Fortissimo Film Sales

Article

Independent realism from Hongkong

Fruit Chan was born in 1959 in Canton in China. In the 90s, he was the first Hongkong filmmaker to go beyond the genre of Hongkong films and to make realistic films about Hongkong´s social and political situation independently of the big studios. With ´Made in Hongkong´ (1997), ´Little Cheung´ (1999) and ´Durian Durian´ (2000) he has won many film-prizes.
Fruit Chan was born in Canton in China but emigrated to Hongkong with his parents in 1969. He has shown that Hongkong films need not be what the name suggests and that a filmmaker may successfully start where the big studios leave off. After studying at the Hongkong Film Centre and working for a time as a director´s assistant, Chan directed the first of his own films ´Finale in Blood´ in 1991. This is a psycho-drama, in which the young director gives us a dark picture of Hongkong in the 1920s.

Chan´s ´Made in Hongkong´ was the first independent film which showed realistically the social situation in Hongkong at the time of its transfer to China. The nearly documentary view of parts of the city, as also the use of non-actors, make this melancholy and dark romance especially convincing. Chan tells the tale of three youths who wander together for awhile: the attractive Ah Ping with kidney-disease, the rather dim Sylvester and the eighteen year old protagonist Autumn Moon.

Moon has dropped out of college, is working for a drug-dealer and is not as hard as nails, since he is loath to kill. He roves through the streets together with Sylvester and Ping, encountering stray gangs of ´foes´ or individual fighters, against whom they have to be on their guard. The figure of the suicide Susan is a leitmotif. On falling from a block of flats she was holding two letters, which have passed into Moon´s hands. While Moon is lying in hospital after being shot, Sylvester and Ping are killed. Moon finds a surrogate family for the first time with his father´s new wife and the couple´s small daughter.

Fruit Chan shows eccentric mothers, who are helpless and overworked. Fathers move off as the going gets tough or earlier, or they even abuse their children. Moon witnesses how a smart lad at secondary-school hacks one of his father´s hands off in a public toilet to avenge the abuse of his sister. The director shows cramped flats and the back sides of glittering facades; and with quick cutting, slow-motion and freezes, he conjures up sadness, wit and irony. The tiny rooms with lattice-doors in heavy cement blocks are like cages. The only place which youths can go to for some peace and quiet is the graveyard. In this film the teenagers are outcasts searching for havens in a place with an uncertain future.

´Made in Hongkong´ is the first part of a trilogy about the transfer of the island-republic from England to China. The second part, ´The longest Summer´ (1998), shows five soldiers´ consequent crisis of identity. They are released from service just before the ceremonial transfer, in the midst of which they get involved in a bank-robbery. In this film, too, Chan works mostly with non-actors. Two of his main figures were soldiers in real life. Above all, he examines how someone loses his orientation, questions himself and then decides in favour of the underworld. He uses a lot of documentary material and shows the feelings of Hongkong citizens - from schoolgirls to pensioners - during the transfer.

Chan rounds the trilogy off with a light tale. ´Little Cheung´ (1999) deals with the transfer of the crown colony from the point of view of a lad who is living in the immigrant quarter Mengkok. Little Cheung wanders through the streets as a delivery-boy with snacks from his father.

In ´Durian Durian´ too, Chan turns to the consequences of social change in China. Yan, a young woman from northern China, hopes to get wealthy in Hongkong but ends up in the red-light district. ´Durian Durian´ shows no victims. Its heroines are pragmatic sex-workers with a chance to use their visas simply and effectively. Chan´s telling of tales is jumpy and often untidy. His hectic Dogma-camera captures not so much his protagonists´ inner conflicts as their outer effects. Yan, for instance, showers so often that her skin starts to peel from her feet. Chan draws attention to the contrast between the hectic neon-lit life of Hongkong and the calm winter countryside of northern China. But Yan´s period in Hongkong does not pass without leaving its mark on her. When at last she sings a communist song with her old schoolmates, the refrain turns into a collective orgasm.

Chan´s realism does not lack a sense of humour and the scurrilous, as shown by ´Public Toilet, WC´, which is a digital film about toilets in Korea. In it the change in the bathroom-culture in Korea is compared with the same in Japan, Hongkong, the USA and China. A Korean page in Internet eulogises: ´In one of these inimitable conveniences, one can listen to classical music, recline on plush sofas, gaze out at Namdaemun and Kanghwamun and even puff a Turkish cigar.´

(Translation: Phil Stanway)
Author: Ulrich Jossner  

Bio

Fruit Chan was born in Canton in China and emigrated with his parents to Hongkong in 1969. After studying at the Hongkong Film Centre, he first worked as an assistant director with, for instance, Jackie Chan. In 1991, when a film on which he was working was stopped, he took the opportunity to direct in the same studio, with the support of the Hongkong film-star Andy Lau, the first of his own films ´Finale in Blood´ / ´Da nao guang chang long´´. This was more acclaimed by critics than by the public. In 1994 he used film-materials left over by others, collected money from friends and began directing ´Made in Hongkong´ / ´Xianggang Zhizao´, which won, among other things, the special award of the Jury in Locarno, as also the award for the best directing and for the best film from the Hongkong Film Awards.

´Made in Hongkong´ is the first part of a trilogy about the transfer of the island-republic to China. The second part, ´The Longest Summer´ / ´Qunian yanhua tebie duo´, appeared in 1998, and the third part, ´Little Cheung´ / ´Xilu Xiang´ in 1999. This was won, among other things, the Silver Leopard in the category ´Young Films´ in Locarno. In 2000 he made ´Durian Durian´ / ´Liulian piao piao´, for which he won the award for the best script from the Hongkong Film Awards and the prize for the best film from the Hongkong film critics.

Works

Dont Look Up

Film / TV,
2009
Expected 2009

Dumplings / Gaau ji

Film / TV,
2004

Three, Monster / Saam gaang yi

Film / TV,
2004

Public Toilet / Hwajangshil eodieyo?

Film / TV,
2002

Hollywood Hong-Kong / Heung gong yau gok hor lei wood

Film / TV,
2001

Durian Durian / Liulian piao piao

Film / TV,
2000

Little Cheung / Xilu Xiang

Film / TV,
1999

Little Cheung / Xilu Xiang

Film / TV,
1998

Made in Hongkong / Xianggang Zhizau

Film / TV,
1997

Finale in Blood / Da nau guang chang long

Film / TV,
1991

Projects

This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.

Festival of Vision: Hongkong Berlin

(27 July 00 - 10 September 00)