The directorial debut of Sunny Chan, Men on the Dragon is a time machine that takes the audience to another time and space to look at Hong Kong from a different perspective.
The sea view before a multimillion-dollar "luxury apartment" is just a gap between buildings;
concert tickets are snatched up by scalpers and resold at premium prices.
The middle-aged take their own philosophy as truth, yet they have put aside their dignity and need a smack in the face by the youth…
The Man On The Dragon
"At this moment in time, I think a film like this may inspire some Hong Kong people to look at our city from a different point of view." Sunny majored in playwriting at The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts (HKAPA), and his work includes the Love Undercover series. After almost 20 years in the industry, he has only received one best screenplay award nomination.
He joined the SLASH generation before many young people did — he has worked as a lecturer in playwriting at the HKAPA, love column writer and radio programme host, and published a few collection of essays.
After many twists and turns, he brought Men on the Dragon, the story of which he completed in 2004, to the silver screen. The film only reached HKD220,000 at the box office on its opening day. Now in the fifth week of its theatrical run, the film has grossed over HKD12 million at the box office. Sunny does not say he is the man on the dragon, yet he was once one of the men.
"There's nothing extraordinary about a middle-aged man who's lived a bit of a life. There's a lot of wisdom that you might have lived in the past, and which you've put aside. Let the youth tell you about it one more time." In the movie, he puts a young and pretty lady (Jennifer Yu ) among them and coach them his message, "There's only one thing you need to do on the boat, paddle the beat of the drum and move forward".
"Middle-aged men like to snub "the little girls", the youth." He speaks in the persona of the young female coach in the film: "Every individual has their own mind. We shouldn't look down on the youth." Tony Wu is the youngest among the "men on the dragon" and the most vibrant character. "It's exactly these middle-aged men who need to grow up." Let the youth be a reminder for them not to cast their dignity away.
It's OK To Be The Second Last
"It's a win for them not to finish last in the race. Even as other boats take over them, the drummer tells the men not to rush it but to keep their own rhythm." Sunny believes that we should find our own rhythm.
"We need a drummer, that's either for us or for Hong Kong. Hong Kong needs her own rhythm and we need our own world." He just has the feeling that our drummer is playing a different beat and forces us to follow, "we don't need this beat, and we don't need that world. Most important of all, I believe, is that Hong Kong people should find our own world, our own beat and build our Hong Kong again."
He is happy though he is the man on the dragon. "Life is a long journey. Why are we always pushing our kids, pushing ourselves to strive for business excellence, to strive for the best academic results and to be the champion?"
He believes that we do not have to compare with others and we all walk our own way.
Shall we not?
Striding Ahead With Hong Kong Film
"Since this is a Hong Kong film, the story is unique as it can only take place in Hong Kong." Details like "the sea view in a gap" and "the South Asians snatching up the concert tickets Hongkongers are trying to buy" are everyday glimpses that touch the audience.
The Shatin Canoe Union Training Centre is the key setting in Men on the Dragon. Sunny quips that the dragon boat and Shatin come in one package: "It's the most atmospheric place for training and distance race." With the dragon boat as the subject of his first film, the director took care to feature the Shing Mun River in the film. "As I was filming the dragon boat and Shing Mun River, I wouldn't leave out the buildings along the river. That's what Hong Kong is like! I love this mood."
"Filmmakers around the world are making films with a distinctly local flavour. Why should Hong Kong filmmakers shy away from it? We should embrace these characteristics that we call our own."
In his playwriting class, Sunny encourages his students to pursue uniqueness. "What makes a film local? I think a film that highlights the characteristics of a place is a local film. This city is where we grew up. Why should we distance ourselves from it, and not portray Hong Kong as it is?" He thinks that for instance, Indian films remain true to form even if there are certain elements the audience do not understand, and it is precisely this incomplete comprehension that highlights the distinctiveness of Indian films.
He urges us to cherish what belongs to us. "While this city has these unique characteristics and let's put into the plots. When the foreign audiences watch it and ring the bell, knowing this is how Hong Kong is like. That would be very funny."
venue ． Crostini
One Cool Pictures Limited.
translator ． Nicole Wong Grace Chan
english editor ．Andrew Guthrie
photographer ． Paul Yeung
videographer & editor ．Trevor Tse
assistant cameraman ．Kelvis Cheung