'Always' director Derek Ting talks modern romance and generational culture clashes

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Hong Kong-based Chinese American filmmaker Derek Ting talks to Maya Yu about a generational clash of cultures in his new crowdfunded film, Always

Derek Ting didn’t wait for a studio to pick up his film. He put his fate in the hands of the public and they chose to support his directorial debut effort, Always. The gamble was risky, but it paid off. Always has already received international recognition and HK cinematographer Marvin Tam was nominated for best cinematography by Los Angeles Film Review. Ting and his team represent the ever changing landscape of modern filmmaking and how independent films can still be produced despite commercial box office trends in Hong Kong.

Always is the tale of a tumultuous love affair between successful Hong Kong lawyer Liam Chan and Shanghainese hotel empire heiress Yan Li. The star-crossed lovers are constrained by family obligations and oppressed by traditional values, reflecting a broader cultural divide between a new generation of globalised young Chinese and their parents.

The film is Ting’s first attempt at a romantic drama, but as he tells us, he was more than willing to take up the challenge of portraying modern relationship issues.

What inspired you to write this story?
It’s inspired by real events that really moved me. It puzzled me why a relationship between two very successful people wouldn’t work out. The male lead is a very successful Hong Kong lawyer. In the eyes of many Asian parents, he’s quite the catch. His counterpart is the Shanghainese heiress of a successful hotel chain. The two meet and fall in love, but their attachment and obligations to their family remain strong. They’re torn between the two aspects of their lives and have to come to terms with what sacrifices to make.

As I did more research – whether it’s Mainland Chinese women, Hong Kong women, or women that have come to HK to find success, they all share a common thread. Maybe we don’t really realise it yet, but this type of love story is probably happening on a wider scale. The film is a bigger thing than just a love story – it’s also about modern sacrifices.

Do you think something in the dynamic between the new globalised generations of Asian youth and their parents should change?

As a filmmaker I’m just here to present a perspective, not to decide what we should or shouldn’t do. [I hope] this story gets people thinking about their culture. Asian family values are very strong and it can be overwhelming for many of us. The story has many layers and I try to develop different aspect of how Asian culture shapes careers, family dynamics and personal ambitions. Ultimately, I want different people to interpret this film in their own way.

What made you decide to turn to crowdfunding?
This is my second movie and also my directorial debut. It’s all been about making myself uncomfortable and trying new things. I think the main goal is to tell this story and involve people and say, “This is what we are trying to do and we’d love you to be a part of it.” Our main message is that; our story is anybody else’s story. It’s a very good way to find our core audience.

Compared to your first film, Supercapitalist, did you encounter more difficulties and limitations while producing this film?
In some ways it’s easier, in some ways it’s harder. We actually had less money to work with than Supercapitalist. Basically, I have to let my pride go. As a filmmaker, sometimes you want that ‘we are making a film’ kind of feeling, but this time I feel like it wasn’t really necessary. In fact, that notion can get in the way of the acting and the story. In this movie, I took a chance and people allowed me to take that chance. We want to have the ability to choose what we make, and not be at the mercy of whether or not the movie would sell. We got to see the project as a whole, not just a film with certain selling points.

Are you happy with the resultant outcome?

Dollar for dollar, and compared to what else’s out there, I think we did pretty good. That’s all I can ask for.

Always Opens citwide Wed Mar 9.

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