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Edmond Pang: The New Hong Kong New Wave?

Written by Kevin Ma Tell a Friend

One of the most talked-about names in the Hong Kong film industry today is Edmond Pang Ho Cheung (AKA Pang Hao Xiang). Many know Pang as the director of the hit 2003 comedy Men Suddenly in Black, but he has been around a lot longer than most people realize. This is the story of one of the most twisted and creative artists Hong Kong has to offer.

Edmond Pang the writer

Born in 1973, Pang first entered the Hong Kong entertainment industry as a screenwriter for ATV (one of the two largest television networks in Hong Kong, the other one being TVB). In 1997, after 18 months of extensive research - some of which included interviewing real-life professional killers - Pang published his first novel Fulltime Hitman. The novel chronicles the battle between two professional killers - one a veteran and the other an arrogant newcomer. The novel became a huge success, and was quickly adapted to other media. The first adaptation was a radio drama starring Andy Lau and Nicholas Tse, which was then followed by the film Fulltime Killer, co-directed by the legendary Johnnie To with Andy Lau as the star and co-producer.

Pang has said that he never meant to be a writer since he merely saw writing novels as a way to sharpen his screenwriting skills. After six novels - which included detailed descriptions of everything from human dissection to phone sex - a pattern began to emerge from Pang's writings: he's one twisted guy, but at least he has style.

The first step that started it all

Pang retained that style when he made his first short film, titled Summer Exercise, in 1999 for merely $15,000. The disturbing short film, about the lengths a young boy is willing to go in order to avoid turning in his unfinished summer homework on the first day of school, garnered various accolades, and became the first Hong Kong entry to win the Best Short Film Award at the Taiwan Golden Horse Awards.

Pang's own Fulltime Hitman: You Shoot I Shoot

After spending two years writing scripts for the low-budget films Killer, Undercover Blues, and The Cheaters, Pang finally made his feature film debut with the dark comedy You Shoot I Shoot. Co-written with industry veteran Vincent Kok (who was also the head of the film's distributor, Golden Harvest, at the time), You Shoot I Shoot is the story of a professional killer (Eric Kot) and a budding filmmaker (Cheung Tat Ming) who shake up the professional killing industry, which has also been affected by the Hong Kong's economic recession. The film wasn't simply a continuation of the professional killer theme from Fulltime Hitman, but also a sharp commentary of the Hong Kong film industry and the economic recession.

You Shoot I Shoot was made for a relatively low budget, and was pretty much ignored at the box office. However, the film gained critical acclaim and even found a small cult following as people finally began to acknowledge that Pang was more than just a writer. Eventually, the film won the Golden Bauhinia Award for Best Screenplay, and was nominated in the same category at the Hong Kong Film Awards. Edmond Pang finally reached his goal of becoming a director, and this was simply the beginning.

The First Big Break: Men Suddenly in Black

In 2003, Edmond Pang scored his first commercial success with Men Suddenly in Black. Produced by and starring Eric Tsang, Men Suddenly in Black tells the story of four men who undergo an operation to cheat on their significant others. Pang first conceived the idea for the film when he heard about the closing of the famous Hong Kong nightclub Tonochy. His idea was to make a movie that shows the transformation of Hong Kong from the booming economy of yesterday to the slow economic downfall of today - all through the eyes of misbehaving men. Pang, with co-writer Patrick Kong and famed novelist Erica Lee (with whom he co-wrote the novel Accidental Criminal, then concocted a rich satire that combined the plot of a possible Wong Jing comedy with the narrative style of a triad-police thriller.

Pang's refreshing twist on an established formula - which came in the aftermath of mega-hit Infernal Affairs - was a hit with both critics and audiences, who helped propelled the box office gross to over HK$12 million, qualifying it as a bona-fide success. Men Suddenly in Black also took home two Hong Kong Film Awards, including a "Best New Director Award" for Pang, and was nominated for three Golden Horse Awards. The film's success earned Pang a reputation as one of the most promising directors Hong Kong has seen since Wilson Yip.

From Misogynist to Feminist: Beyond Our Ken

Up to that point, Pang's works had been overwhelmingly macho, with stories that can even be considered misogynistic at first glance. However, Pang has always strived to show a female point of view, especially in Men Suddenly in Black, where he devoted a significant amount of screen time to the female characters' point of view. He followed that mentality for his next film, Beyond Our Ken, and did something he'd never done before in any of his works: tell the story entirely from a female perspective.

The idea for Beyond Our Ken came from a real-life incident that happened during Pang's student life in Taiwan. The film stars Gillian Chung (of Hong Kong pop phenomenon Twins as a brokenhearted girl who teams up with her ex-boyfriend's new girlfriend (played by Mainland actress Tao Hong) to retrieve nude photos of herself - which were presumably distributed on the internet by said ex-boyfriend Ken (played by Daniel Wu.

In a departure, Pang eschewed comedic elements for Beyond Our Ken and produced a film that was evidently more serious than his previous works. Beyond Our Ken explores the darker sides of relationships - particularly the manipulation involved - which results in a film thematically closer to his novels than his films. Pang also employed extensive handheld camerawork for the film, placing the viewers in the perspective of a voyeur. The result was more cinematically satisfying, but it also potentially alienated fans who expected the film to be darkly comedic.

Beyond Our Ken premiered at the Tokyo Film Festival in 2004 as part of a showcase of Pang's films, and was met with critical acclaim, particularly for both Pang and Gillian Chung. However, the film wasn't met with box office success, and instead found a following among Hong Kong film buffs, both locally and internationally. Pang may not be a hit with the masses, but he now holds a solid status among Hong Kong Cinema enthusiasts.

AV and the Future

Pang's frantic filming style (all his films were shot within 20 days) and cost-effectiveness has allowed him a creative freedom that not many filmmakers can afford nowadays. A majority of Hong Kong films today are co-productions with China production companies, meaning they have to adhere to content rules set by the strict Chinese government. However, Pang keeps his films' budget low enough so that he only has to deal with the comparatively liberal Hong Kong system. Such is the case with his latest work AV, released less than 6 months after Beyond Our Ken. Shot in 14 days and starring young actors (including the male pop duo Shine, AV marks Pang's return to the comedy genre, and features a loaded plot about 4 college students who hire a Japanese adult film (AV) actress for a mock adult film.

Crude, edgy, and funny at the same time, AV once again serves as another biting commentary on certain aspects of Hong Kong society - this time apathetic college students about to search for employment in Hong Kong's unstable economy. Pang specifically makes comparison between the politically-aware students of the 1970s and his slacker protagonists, who see their AV-moviemaking mission as their one chance to do something important.

Without a proven star to guarantee box office success and a gimmick that didn't quite appeal to the general population, AV had mixed box office results similar to Beyond Our Ken at the box office. Again, however, Pang's work was met with fairly positive reviews, and the film's true measure of success (which may come with its video release), has yet to be seen. Pang's future in Hong Kong film is still unknown as his next film has not been announced at this point. However, there is no doubt that Edmond Pang is a name that we will be hearing for a fairly long time. He may not be able to single-handedly save the Hong Kong film industry, but if he continues to retain the creative freedom he enjoys these days, we can at least still expect fresh and exciting films from the once-golden film industry.

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Published June 10, 2005

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  • Region & Language: Hong Kong United States - English
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