Star2 heads to Hong Kong to find out what makes the cast of An Inspector Calls click.
A Chinese New Year movie based on an English stage play is about as unconventional as it gets. Yet, when An Inspector Calls opens next Thursday, you will find yourself captivated by the film’s theatre-like avant-garde setting, as well as the intriguing storyline that captured the imagination of Hong Kong director Raymond Wong Pak Ming, and inspired him to produce this adaptation.
Wong first caught the An Inspector Calls play (written by dramatist J.B. Priestley with its first performance in 1945) 30 years ago, during his involvement in theatre before venturing into filmmaking. The play left an indelible impression on Wong, who found the plot not just interesting but meaningful.
Then, he caught the play again three years ago and found himself just as engrossed as the first time. By now, he didn’t need much convincing to buy the licence to produce the work, and engaged Edmund Wong – the screenwriter for the 2008 hit Ip Man, which Wong produced – to write and adapt it as this year’s Chinese New Year offering of the same name.
The black comedy is about a notable family that receives an unexpected visit from an inspector at their lavish party to celebrate a couple’s engagement. Their joy turns gloomy when they find out that the inspector is there to investigate the suicide of a pregnant girl, whom the family members claim to have no links to.
In an e-mail interview, Wong explains that he also dramatised some parts of the story to make it more expressive.
“We added a lot of additional scenes to make the film more interesting and lend more depth to each character. So, audiences can expect a healthy measure of exaggeration, gorgeous special effects, and stunning props, which give the film a sense of fun and warmth,” he said.
Wong also adds that he is no stranger to making movies from plays, having been involved in many such film productions such as Happy Ghost and Aces Go Places, which contained elements from the famous British play Taming Of The Shrew.
The most impressive thing about the film is its line-up of A-list Hong Kong stars. During a visit to the film’s set in Hong Kong, we noticed stars such as Louis Koo Tin Lok, Eric Tsang Chi Wai, Teresa Mo Sun Kwan, Gordon Lam Ka Tung, Elena Kong Mei Yee, Kelly Chen Wai Lam, Karena Ng Chin Yu, and Kingdom Yuen King Dan on set.
Wong says he always tries to include as many big-name actors as possible in all of his festive movies, but An Inspector Calls takes it one step further. “The film not only features a popular cast, but the strong and memorable performances hinge on the camaraderie everyone shares. Of course, the challenge was in trying to accommodate all of their varying schedules,” Wong said.
Koo’s on the case
Looking dapper in his trench coat during our on-set interview, Koo plays Inspector Kaul, a mysterious yet aggressive interrogator with a strong sense of justice, but a crabby persona.
Koo said: “When we received the script in September, all of us felt it would make a good movie. Because it’s based on a play, there’s a lot of theatrics involved, which is a rare for a Chinese film. We had to put in a lot of our own emotions, and you get to see the weak points of every character. But it’s also a comedy, so you will still get to laugh out loud, in the spirit of Chinese New Year!
“With so many other stars in a film, it boils down a lot to teamwork. There’s no room for any individual or heroic performance,” added Koo, who has not been in any Chinese New Year movie in three years.
Meanwhile, Lam, who showed up with an unkempt mop of long, matted hair, says his role as Tim Kau, son of Kau Ming, calls for such a hairdo to reflect his heartbreak over a failed relationship.
“I had to shed a lot of tears for this role (when the girl left me), and my messy look is a result of me trying to get over the misery,” explained Lam. The lady in question is acted by Chrissie Chau Sau Na.
Lam says that on-screen chemistry and sparks are aplenty, especially between co-stars Tsang and Koo. Tsang, he describes, is often making everyone laugh, and Koo is someone he had previously worked with in more serious shows.
Lam, who spent half of last year in China doing shoots, voiceovers, and a movie production, says he loves making comedies as he wants audiences to have a jolly good time.
“I’m also hoping to conclude a script which is just one-third done in the last seven years,” he confessed. “Whether it’s a movie I’m producing or directing in future, very importantly, it has to have a theme and meaning.”
Funnyman Eric Tsang concurs that every role in the film is unique, including his own character as the greedy and cowardly businessman Kau Ming. As head of the wealthy family, he is despicable in his ways of making money, and plays husband to Mo’s character.
“Teresa Mo is someone whom I’ve worked with for a long time; in fact, we have such good chemistry that I think we can become real-life husband-and-wife,” joked the industry veteran, who is known for his distinctive, high-pitched voice.
Mo, who emerged in her refreshing, sleek, white hairdo, said: “It’s the first time I’m wearing something this sexy for a character! This hair is all artificial because dyeing mine white won’t yield the desired results that translate on screen.”
Known as Mrs Kau in the movie, she plays Tsang’s rich and snobbish wife. She says while Tsang is an old working partner, it’s her first time starring alongside Koo in a movie but adds that their scenes have been quite exciting “as they are always screaming at each other”.
“The challenge was for us to transform a dark storyline into one that people can laugh at.
“Among all my black comedy roles, I must say this is the most noteworthy,” she said.
Despite the slew of Chinese New Year films this year, Wong is not worried about how the movie will fare in the box office. “Each of our (previous) Chinese New Year efforts went up against strong competition; this year is no exception,” he said. “We are confident that this film is unique enough to stand out. It is not only hilarious, but embedded with meaning, so we hope audiences have a hearty laugh, and take home a memorable message.”
An Inspector Calls opens in cinemas nationwide on Feb 19, and is released and distributed by Lotus Five Star.
NEXT: The cast talk about their roles -->
The Inspector Calls’ other stars speak up about their roles
Ng plays Sherry Kau, the daughter of prosperous businessman Kau Ming. She acts as a spoilt princess, having been molly-cuddled from young, and constantly wants everything around her to be perfect.
“I’m also one who cannot accept criticism,” said Ng. “And I’m often suspicious about my fiancé, which drives me to do something that brings harm to another girl.”
She adds that one of her struggles during shoots was having to “manoeuver” her long and billowy dress, and that she often had to retake shoots because she would trip on her outfit.
Kong plays one of the four wealthy mahjong-playing ladies in the film.
“We were so noisy and boisterous throughout,” said Kong, who has another Chinese New Year movie out at the same time. “Of course, people would ask me which movie I think would do well or my own comparison of them, but I hope that every movie that I'm in will turn out great,” added the versatile Kong.
Chen, who plays a police supervisor, says she is the strict, no-nonsense “Madam”.
“I love comedy movies as they are fun,” said Chen, citing Eric Tsang as the most humorous person on set.
On a side note, she adds this year marks her 20th year in the showbiz industry and that she would be releasing an album.
The veteran Yuen (right), who is acting more in mainland China these days, says she is happy to be reunited with her long-time friends for this movie, counting Emily Kwan Bo Wai (left) and Teresa Mo among them.
“A lot of scenes involved us making a ‘ruckus’, but we were all very professional in the end to ensure that filming went smoothly. This role isn’t particularly challenging since I’m playing a rich woman, and we all have to brown-nose Mo,” she said.