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Interview Clement Cheng on Gallants
Scriptwriting, structure of the Gallants story 1/1 - Page 4
Author(s) : Thomas Podvin
Date : 1/6/2011
Type(s) : Interview
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HKCM: You have done many jobs on set and the most important ones are, I suppose, scriptwriting and directing. Do you enjoy writing stories and storytelling more than directing?
Clement Cheng: First of all, I hate writing. I don't particularly like the writing process but you have to go through it in order to get in. That was the only way I could turn into a director because nobody was doing it. Okay, it was one way to do it. And I actually hate writing because it is a very lonely and painful process. The shortest script I did was Merry Go Round in four days and the longest script that I had to write took over eight months.

To me, even if I am a writer-director combination, it is one way of doing it. Because as a new director nobody is going to hand you a really good script, nobody. You have to write your own thing.

HKCM: You have to come up with your own material.
Clement Cheng: Yeah, and that's how I got started.
HKCM: So directing was always your career goal?
Clement Cheng: Yes, definitely. That's something I thought of. When I was little I didn't know what directors were. I just liked watching movies and TV, and I thought I'd want to be an actor because this would be a really awesome job. You make people happy or cry. Then I grew up and discovered one thing called the mirror (laughs). So that didn't work.
HKCM: Actually, you are quite good-looking.
Clement Cheng: No, come on. (Laughs)
HKCM: You could be in the movies.
Clement Cheng: I am in movies but you know, cameos… No lead parts! At a very early age I started writing scripts and directing at school. Even in elementary school, like in a parish school back in HK. That's something I really wanted to do.
HKCM: I'd like to talk about the structure of Gallants because you co-wrote it. We first follow a kid, Cheung (Wong You Nam), an abuse magnet who needs to learn kung fu to become someone and grow up. It feels like Cheung takes centre stage at the beginning but his character becomes secondary later. There are a few shifts of focus in this film. First we follow Cheung, then Dragon and Tiger. Master Law then becomes the centre of interest, then back to Tiger and Dragon and the kid again. Why these shifts of focus? Why did you adopt this structure?
Clement Cheng: At the very beginning, the one theme of the story is to define what winning really means. There is one phrase that I go by: There is never gonna be an absolute objective truth; there is always subjective thinking. When people tell you that you won, what about the other guys? What is number one, number two, number three, in the eyes of other people? The true meaning of winning, or doing something worth it, is actually in you. You are always competing with yourself because everybody is different. You can do something that you were scared of doing yesterday and you do it today. Then you are a better person and that's all that counts in the end, nothing else. You speak French fluently. If we have a competition in speaking French, you win, definitely.
HKCM: Well, if it was a competition in speaking French with a Canadian accent, you'd win.
Clement Cheng: (Laughs). Maybe. But the thing is, if I can speak it better than I did yesterday, then that's me winning. There is no comparison.
HKCM: It's subjective for yourself, from your own experience.
Clement Cheng: Yes. Like take my phone: in every civilized society, it's an iPhone but when I take it to a very primitive place, somewhere in the jungle, they would not know what it is. They would think maybe it is like a tool or a hammer. They are all true. It is what you know as a human being, with the information and the things that you've learned.

That is why there is the kid, and then there is Dragon and Tiger, and then the master, and then the kid. People are constantly struggling, no matter what age group. I mean there is this thing in HK, a label called post-80's for people born after the 80's. They are said to not know anything. They cannot toughen up; that they grew up in a kind of green house. I just think that is crazy. Because to criticize people is very easy. To me, when you are in your 20's you have your own problems, and when you are in your 60's you have your own problems. You have to be content, or be at peace with yourself. You know what you want so go get it. Don't whine about it.

That‘s why, first of all enters the young person, then we lead you in with this young character who is a total loser.

Wong You Nam as Cheung, the character they love to bully.

HKCM: This is the character young moviegoers can relate to.
Clement Cheng: Exactly.
HKCM: And he helps them go into the story about old-timers.
Clement Cheng: Exactly. At the beginning you think Dragon and Tiger are awesome because they can beat up everybody. Then very quickly you see they are old and get beaten up by other guys too, and they have their own problems. And then Teddy Robin, the old master, is actually not human to me. He is like an angel, like a symbol of friends, of things around us.
HKCM: Is that why he disappears in the second third of the movie , and leaves room for other characters?
Clement Cheng: Yes, exactly. What I think is that everyone in their own life - when they are down; when they are in despair; when they have no hope - there is always somebody around you or something, whether it is a religion or friends or family, that would come by and say something that would encourage you, which you knew before. You just forgot at the time . Here, when the character woke up from the coma, he didn't do anything for others, nothing. He just fooled around. He did nothing as a master , but at the end he reminded them of something they already knew: If you don't want to lose, don't fight. If you are gonna fight, win. At the very beginning, when the kid came to the tea house, he said to Dragon that he didn't want to lose any more. And Tiger told him, “If you don't want to lose, don't fight.” This is something that you know, and this is how the story goes.
HKCM: It is surprising that they train for a tournament that never really happens. It's like shifting from the ring to real life. The kid is refused his fight by Tiger, and then he challenges the school and he is denied the fight again because he cannot win. You and Derek Kwok bullied this character, didn't you? Nothing good really happened to him.
Clement Cheng: Well it did, because in the story he actually grew as a person, as a human being. Because in reality there is no way that this weak kid can turn into a really awesome fighter in two months, right? But he is no longer afraid of confronting people. He knows he still loses, he still gets beaten up, he knows he can still get hurt, but he doesn't care. He's not afraid anymore, he's going for it. So he's different already. He's grown up. So for him, it's something big already. That's what counts.
HKCM: Bruce Leung lost the fight laughing. Is this a sort of anti-kung fu ending? It's anti-climactic.
Clement Cheng: Well, this is the same thing as with the character Cheung. You cannot beat age as you get older, like the character of Michael Chan said. As you grow old, your stamina, your energy is different. You cannot compare with young people. What counts is that you give it your everything. And it's hard. People seldom give it their all. There is no opportunity for them to do it. Just take everything from the bottom of your guts and rip it out and then give it your all. And that's excellent. People are scared to rip it out because they are afraid they are gonna lose. But if you do that, you won already, I think.
HKCM: Would you agree if I say that it's not a kung fu film, it's more of a dramatic film with some kung fu elements?
Clement Cheng: Definitely.
HKCM: Because the film doesn't entirely follow the real structure of a kung fu film.
Clement Cheng: You are 100% correct. Yes, very much so. Yes
HKCM: Several month after wrapping the film and in retrospect, is there anything you think you could have done better or differently?
Clement Cheng: Too many, there are just too many. There are so many flaws and so many things I could have done better. If I'd had more time, I guess the vibe of the whole movie would be a lot different. But I guess every movie has its own destiny. So, yes and no. There are a lot of things that I want to change but no, there is nothing that I really want to change.


Old and new.

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