Dialogue: Stephen Chow
EmptyDuring the 1990s, Stephen Chow was the top Hong Kong comedian who pioneered the nonsense comedic style with snide wordplay and an undying support for the underdog. A former kid-show host whose sarcasm earned him the respect of tween viewers in the late '80s, the popular actor-comedian is now an auteur and film icon of Chinese-language cinema. Chow's style is as "distinctly unique" as ever, which was how actor Will Smith described Chow's creativity. "Only Stephen Chow makes movies like Stephen Chow," Smith said during a recent H.K. visit.
In his latest offering, "CJ7," the millennia-old concept of filial piety takes center stage along with an alien dog that looks like a toy. Chinese audiences have lapped it up -- the film has grossed almost 200 million yuan ($28.2 million) since its Jan 31 release. In Hong Kong, it has earned HK$52 million ($6.68 million) within a month. Recently, Chow talked with The Hollywood Reporter's Karen Chu about his aspirations and thoughts about humanity.
The Hollywood Reporter: How do you feel about the Asian boxoffice results of "CJ7" so far?
Stephen Chow: Of course I am happy with the good results. But what matters most to me is that audiences in different sectors enjoyed the film, such as families and women. I am honored that they appreciated the film.
THR: Do you have any expectations for the film's U.S. release?
Chow: In the same way, I hope (American audiences), especially non-Chinese, can watch this film and enjoy it.
THR: What kind of aspirations do you have in furthering your career in the U.S.?
Chow: I hope to work with different filmmakers in America because they are the experts in filmmaking. I can learn a great deal from them.
THR: How do you think "CJ7" will attract audiences in the U.S. and other non-Chinese-speaking regions?
Chow: I think with what is common to humanity, such as family, the struggle for survival in difficult situations, or the dreams you have had since you were a child. ... Simply put, I hope to touch the lives of the people who see my films.
THR: Your earlier films put an emphasis on wordplay and had a strong local flavor that was not easy to translate; your recent works has focused instead on physical comedy and visual humor. Now, "CJ7" is a family film with sci-fi film elements and steered away from comedy. Did this change of direction stem from a consideration for regional appeal?
Chow: I think physical comedy or deriving humor from the plot is much more difficult than playing with words. They also take more time and effort to set up. But I want to make people laugh. I want people to understand the story. This is one of the arrangements.
THR: Visual effects play a great part in your recent work. Most of the production budget of "CJ7" was dedicated to the special effects and digital animation of an alien, making the film the most expensive ($20 million) you've done. What drew you to the effects element?
Chow: Special effects are amazing things. They bring my imagination to life, which used to take a huge amount of money and effort. More importantly, effects make a film look better; the audience will enjoy it more. This is the best thing about effects.
THR: "Shaolin" and "Kung Fu" can be interpreted as critiques and reflections on modernization. In "CJ7," your character is a poor laborer who lives in a dilapidated and ancient-looking house and makes a living on the construction sites of cosmopolitan skyscrapers, and who meets his demise in the process. Are you trying to give a message to the world about Chinese traditions or warn against modernization?
Chow: Strictly speaking, those aren't critiques, only something I imagine. I don't have any right to pass judgment. But we encounter a lot of interesting situations in real life. For instance, we live in high-rise apartment buildings, but we never remember to be grateful to the construction workers who build them; athletes strive to improve performance at the expense of sportsmanship and their own health. These are not issues specific to a particular place, but something we should all ponder.
THR: Jackie Chan is the best-known Hong Kong actor in the U.S. Do you strive to reach the level of Chan's fame in the U.S. and Europe?
Chow: I only want to make good movies for audiences, Chinese or foreign. As to comparisons or whatever, those are other people's concern.
THR: You had a meeting with Will Smith to discuss a future project when he came to Hong Kong to promote "I Am Legend" in December. Is he going to participate in your upcoming remake of "Journey to the West"? How is that project coming along?
Chow: We had a wonderful chat and a great rapport. There's a project that we're planning to work on together. But we are still in negotiations.
THR: How will this new "Journey to the West" differ from your previous adaptation of the same story? Which role will you play?
Chow: The new version of the "Journey to the West" will be more faithful to the original story than my previous version. I guarantee it will be even better. As for the character I'm going to play, we are still trying to decide. I hope it will give everyone a surprise.
VITAL STATS: Stephen Chow
Date of birth: June 22, 1962
Nationality: Chinese (Hong Kong)
Selected Filmography: "CJ7" (2008)
"Kung Fu Hustle" (2004); "Shaolin Soccer" (2001); "The King of Comedy" (1999); "God of Cookery" (1996); "A Chinese Odyssey Part One: Pandora's Box" (1994); "A Chinese Odyssey Part Two: Cinderella" (1994);
"Justice, My Foot!" (1992)
Notable Awards: 2005 Taiwan Golden Horse Awards: Best Director ("Kung Fu Hustle"); 2001 Hong Kong Film Awards: Best Director, Best Actor, Outstanding Young Director ("Shaolin Soccer")