A rising young director in Hong Kong is visiting Metro Vancouver to promote his first black comedy film, currently showing at Richmond’s SilverCity Riverport Cinemas.
As Ho Cheuk-Tin sat in a conference room in Aberdeen Centre, just mere hours after stepping foot on North America for the first time, the 36-year-old told the Richmond News he couldn’t wait to visit Yaohan Centre.
“Yaohan Centre is one of my childhood memories,” said Ho, “It closed down (in Hong Kong) such a long time ago.”
Yaohan Centre was one of the biggest Japanese malls in Hong Kong back in the 90s, with as many as 10 locations during its heyday. It served as a one-stop shop for visitors to get their groceries, shop for clothes and toys and enjoy a hearty meal at the food court, much like the one in Richmond.
But the trip down memory lane would have to wait as Ho was here on a mission — to promote Over My Dead Body, his second-feature length film.
In the movie, a night of chaos ensues after a family finds a man’s naked corpse on their doorstep. Wanting to stop their property from being labelled as a “haunted home” and plunging in value, the family hatches a plan to pass the buck to their neighbours.
Ho told the News the movie was inspired by a real-life incident in Hong Kong where a couple got into an argument in a local luxury apartment complex and fell to their deaths on two separate lower-level balconies. One of the owners refused to let paramedics carry one of the corpses – which landed on their balcony – through their unit to get to the elevator, resulting in a long delay.
“Taking the body into the house would’ve caused the value to drop even more, because the value of the unit had already decreased when one of the bodies landed on their balcony,” Ho explained.
He wanted to highlight the absurdity of Hong Kong’s property market, especially in relation to so-called “haunted properties.”
“There’s no hero in the movie. They’re not bad people, but they’re selfish. As soon as they saw a corpse, they didn’t care how the person died and how sad the situation was,” Ho explained.
“Their first instinct was to push the body away.”
Although the movie tells a Hong Kong story through and through, the issue is prevalent in most Asian societies, where information about “haunted properties” is easily accessible and widely shared.
As such, Ho found the audience at the Osaka Asian Film Festival, where the film premiered, were able to relate to the story.
“Because the biggest problem in big cities is that the population will only grow larger while land becomes less available and housing costs become increasingly expensive,” he explained.
“Even properties with natural deaths are considered as haunted homes,” said Ho. “But it shouldn’t be like this.”
Ho hopes the audience will find the movie funny, but he also wants to inspire with deeper themes such as overcoming challenges, as well as the societal crises people living in Hong Kong are facing.
Bringing Hong Kong movies outside of Hong Kong
Over My Dead Body is Ho’s second movie to be shown in Canada, the first being his award-winning courtroom thriller, The Sparring Partner.
Ho, who will spend his trip connecting with the Hong Kong diaspora and others interested in Hong Kong movies, said it was important to make Hong Kong movies available to those living overseas.
“I know a lot of Hong Kong people, especially those who immigrated here in recent years, need movies like (Over My Dead Body),” said Ho.
“(The movies) help bring them closer to Hong Kong.”
He is excited to learn what the diaspora community here thinks about the Hong Kong’s film industry, as they may have a different perspective viewing it from afar.
But he also hopes the film will reach as many people as possible, especially since there has been an increase in Hong Kong films being shown in Canada.
Ho thinks the appeal of Hong Kong movies, such as The Sparring Partner, lies in its subject matter. The 2022 film is based on a gruesome double homicide where a 29-year-old man murdered his parents with the help of a friend, a case which got extensive media coverage in Hong Kong in 2013.
Referencing the success of The Silence of the Lambs and Zodiac, Ho told the News that moviegoers of all cultures have always been intrigued by true crime stories.
Another Hong Kong movie, The Untold Story starring Anthony Wong who played a murderer turning corpses into pork buns, also saw great success in the video market among overseas audiences and became a cult favourite during the 1990s.
The new director isn’t shy about taking on new challenges, making a dark comedy after his successful legal thriller.
Ho told the News dark comedies are less common in Hong Kong, due to cultural norms and superstitions. Directing Over My Dead Body was more difficult as comedies require more than just good acting.
“The actors and I have to find it funny during filming, at the very least. If you don’t find it funny yourself, the audience won’t find it funny. Even if you find it funny, the audience might not find it funny.”
Comedies are also more demanding on the actors’ chemistry and rhythm.
“You can’t just rely on editing, you have to do it well during filming,” he said.
As Ho looks to the future of possibly directing a sports movie or even a TV series, he is optimistic about Hong Kong’s film industry.
“I think it’s a happy thing that a lot of new directors are appearing, including myself. A lot of box office hits were directed by new directors and our subject matters are more grounded and closer to real life compared to our predecessors,” said Ho.
“I think it’s a good thing because our target audience is the local market rather than catering to certain markets (outside of Hong Kong). I think this is important.”