Hong Kong production “Conditioned” (若男) bagged three awards in the Freshwave International Short Film Festival late last year, including the most distinguished Fresh Wave Award, as well as Fresh Wave Best Film Award and Best Script in student division.
Director Chan Kam-hei, a year-three student at the School of Film and Television at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, revealed that it had been his first attempt at creating a long screenplay and that he felt humbled to receive the accolades.
He said he will remain grounded as he needs to learn much more and improve his work.
“Conditioned” was inspired by true experiences of the co-screen writer, Wong Wing-yiu.
Wong bears a different surname than the rest of the inhabitants in his traditional village and witnessed a lot of discrimination. Chan and Wong decided to tell a story where the character overcomes an extremely oppressive environment.
The story centers on Nam, a village girl whose mother turned hysterical after her father deserted the family. The girl was raised as a boy since she was born, and continues her struggles in the patriarchal atmosphere.
With the help of a childhood male friend, Yeung, she switches between her boy’s outfit and school uniform dress at his house every day, so that Nam can fulfill her mum’s unrealistic expectation.
One day when Yeung suggests to Nam that they both should flee together, Nam decides to stay and confront her destiny by appearing in the girl’s outfit in front of her mother.
Nam the character is in fact Chan’s projection of hope. Born in a single-parent family with his mother, he has moved out since his adulthood. Nam’s confrontation as the ending of the story was a decision made before four hours of the final filming.
“I had given a lot of thought regarding what Nam should do. Then I thought of myself and saw a person who had been evading, not facing up to myself or my family. Then I felt that Nam, unlike me, should be courageous and act the way I couldn’t in reality.
“She could flee with Yeung, but then she might have to live with the unsettlements which might daunt and turn her into a miserable figure like her mother.”
Nam decides to stop the wheel of karma in her family. “It’s painful as not only she herself has to face the reality but she also needs to help her mother do so. However, only by this way she can terminate it and redeem herself,” explained Chan, who sees filming as a gateway to channel his indescribable thoughts and feelings.
Chan says he would like to work in film and television in the future, but knows it is going to be an uneasy path, given that there are few opportunities for young directors to improvise in the commercial circle.
As for doing independent movies, he is aware that it could be hard to make ends meet.
“I love taking up challenges and I would open up myself to opportunities of all kinds, such as filming movies or advertisements, taking freelance jobs, etc,” he says.
In order to make progress, Chan said he needs to think more about others and pay more attention to what happens around him every day.
“I was overwhelmed by a sense of disquiet when I read about issues such as missing booksellers, copyright laws, high-speed railway project, tainted water scandal, etc. If the problem was a massive stone, people could have utilized their strength to push it away. However, it is now a solid wall and no one seems to have an idea what to do about it,” Chan said.
While he is aware of the challenges, Chan hopes to make good use of what he knows and hopes that movie productions can do their bit in helping empower people to move forward.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb. 19.
Translation by Darlie Yiu
[Chinese version 中文版]
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