AFM 2012: Q&A With Pegasus Motion Pictures CEO John Chong

John Chung AFM

The veteran Hong Kong mogul discusses his new venture, joining forces with old friend Raymond Chow and what he has in common with Wong Kar-wai.

Since leaving Media Asia -- the Hong Kong studio he co-founded 18 years ago -- in May, John Chong has been intent on using his experience to teach and nurture aspiring filmmakers in Hong Kong. Hoping to capitalize on Chong’s extensive connections in the global film industry, Pegasus Entertainment Holdings founder and chairman Raymond Wong persuaded Chong to join the newly listed company as Pegasus Motion Pictures CEO. One of the most dedicated and well-respected figures in the HK film industry, Chong talked with The Hollywood Reporter about how he is going to manage the 3-year-old studio.

The Hollywood Reporter: Is the friendship you’ve forged with Raymond Wong in the early 1980s, during his days as one of the co-founders of hit-making powerhouse Cinema City, a factor in taking the position as Pegasus CEO?
John Chong:
It’s one of the factors. When I left Media Asia in May, I planned to take a break and teach. But then a lot of industry people from Hong Kong, China and even the United States came to me to discuss the possibility of working together, including Mr. Wong. We’ve known each other for almost 30 years, since he was at Cinema City, and I was working in promotions at Golden Princess [a film distributor and major shareholder in Cinema City]. He used to present the films’ plots to us, and the way he did it was always fascinating.

THR: Does your joining Pegasus signify that the company is expanding its productions?
Yes, we’re going to expand our slate. There are a few genres that Mr. Wong is particularly good at, such as comedy and the Ip Man-type martial arts films. These are the films that we’ll continue to make, but I also hope to add to and diversify our slate and make films that are suitable for the Hong Kong and Chinese market. The projects that we’d like to produce are the ones with a generous dose of Hong Kong flavor that the Chinese mainland audience would appreciate. It’s part of our plan to make films exclusively in Hong Kong for the local audience, too. Those are the ones that we hope to find new directors for. There are scripts out there at the moment that are original and different. For example and comparison, you can see the difference between Love in the Buff, which I produced, and Vulgaria [both directed by Pang Ho-cheung and released during the past six months]. The films were hits in Hong Kong ­-- Vulgaria even took a few millions more here than Buff -- but Vulgaria can’t pass the censors in China. So the cost-efficiency of Buff is higher than Vulgaria. That’s what we have in mind: to produce projects that would have releases in Hong Kong and China and to make more Hong Kong-led projects.
THR: Media Asia, which you co-founded in 1994, has grown from a medium-size shingle to one of the major studios in the Chinese-speaking regions. Now that you’re joining the 3-year-old Pegasus, do you feel like you have to “conquer” the industry once again?
I do, a little. (Laughs.) But then, Pegasus, which is to be publicly listed in Hong Kong on Oct. 31, is already very established and has a good track record, more so than Media Asia at the same age. So we’re now joining forces. The area where Mr. Wong and I overlap is that we both started in the creative side of the business [both began in promotion and as screenwriting], so we can communicate with and understand each other efficiently, and it helps to establish Pegasus as a creative-driven studio.

THR: You gained a lot of experience working with foreign studios during your time leading Media Asia. Is this something you’re planning to bring to Pegasus as well?
That’s part of the strategy -- not only to diversify the range of genres of the slate but also to broaden the participation components and to look at foreign projects.

THR: Both you and Wong have enviable networks of connections in China. How are you going to employ those connections at Pegasus?
From my past experience, I find that direct communication is the most important aspect in order to work with companies in China or with official film departments. It’s a lot of work for one person to handle. But only people of a certain rank or with a certain degree of experience are able to do that, or else nobody will talk to you. And it’s not just talking to officials. If you want to talk to a studio head in China, you’d better be a studio head yourself; even if you send out a CEO, it’d depend who that CEO is. That is an asset that Mr. Wong saw in me that not everyone understood. In that respect, Mr. Wong and I can complement each other. China is so large, so many things can happen; and for a Hong Kong-based company like us, it really helps to have two, or ideally three, people with the capacity to deal with things happening in China.
THR: You said you wanted to teach after leaving Media Asia. How did that work out?
That’s an interesting story. The universities in Hong Kong would ask me to speak sometimes. One was looking for a lecturer for creative writing. I tried to recommend myself, but they thought I was joking. But when they began to meet candidates, they asked me to be on the interview panel, as an industry representative. Problem is, they couldn’t hire me because the rules say that only someone with a Ph.D. can be a lecturer there. The rules in Hong Kong are a little rigid. By the same token, even Wong Kar-wai, winner of best director at Cannes, doesn’t have the academic qualifications to teach directing. So if I do teach, I’d have to spend a couple of years to get my Ph.D., and the path seems a little convoluted. That’s one of the reasons I decided to return to the film industry.