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In 1991, after directing the critically acclaimed but commercially disappointing Days of Being Wild, Wong Kar Wai was finding it difficult to secure financing for his films. He decided to take matters into his own hands, and set up Jet Tone Films with screenwriter and director Jeffrey Lau to produce his own projects.
Over the ensuing 25 years, the company would release such box office successes as The Eagle Shooting Heroes (1993) and Chinese Odyssey 2002 (2002), and international award-winners like In the Mood For Love (2000), and The Grandmaster (2013).
Jet Tone Films CEO Jacky Pang was there all along. She began her career as an assistant director and production assistant, later becoming a successful director (Rose Rose I Love You, Lover of the Swindler). Her collaboration with Jet Tone began in 1990 when she was a production assistant on Days of Being Wild. Since then, she has been an indispensable part of the Jet Tone organization, eventually rising to become the company’s CEO.
As Jet Tone prepares to shop the $26 million action comedy Europe Raiders, at Filmart, Pang, who divides her time between Hong Kong and Shanghai, talked to The Hollywood Reporter about her passion for filmmaking, why she loves working with Wong and the company’s future.
What made you decide to give up directing to become a producer?
I became a director because I love film. But eventually I realized that the most important thing in filmmaking is having a good team, to have a good producer, a good cinematographer, and so on. So I changed my direction to become part of a team. I felt I was effective there.
You were at Jet Tone when Wong Kar Wai and Jeffrey Lau set up the company 25 years ago. What was the founding philosophy?
I was a production assistant at Jet Tone when it was founded. Wong Kar Wai felt he needed to be fully responsible for his productions and his investors, so he established the company to mark his commitment.
The films Jet Tone produces are often critically acclaimed and film festival favorites. How do you choose projects?
Our philosophy is to make films that we like, films that we find interesting. That’s it.
Jet Tone also manages talent, such as Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Carina Lau, Chang Chen, Alice Ko and Sandrine Pinna. Is there a vision behind deciding whom you sign?
We look for artists with potential, someone we can work with. Fate plays a big part in finding the artists you sign. We also hope to expand the international reputation of an artist, to give him or her a platform to explore their talent on a larger stage.
How do you balance your roles as producer of Wong Kar Wai’s films and CEO of Jet Tone?
To me, it’s the same thing. It all comes down to having a passion for film. I find making films is a very joyful thing. There is something precious in having to work with so many people, but there are of course challenges along the way. Sometimes it’s difficult, but I enjoy all of us working together like a family.
Wong Kar Wai is famous for taking his time while making a film. What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in all these years of working with him?
Every day is a new challenge. He has new ideas coming out every day, but I’m happy to accommodate them. That is the reason why I gave up directing to become a producer — to create more space for Wong to be the creative visionary that he is.
In the late 1990s you went with Wong to Argentina to make Happy Together. Many obstacles slowed down the production, which became the stuff of legend. What was the most unforgettable incident for you?
In Argentina we met a lot of people, and there were many stories onscreen and off. We used a lot of people who had no acting experience for that film — like someone who was employed as a travel agent. The experience of making that film changed many of their lives. I remember there was a young Taiwanese woman we met there who had intended to settle down in Argentina, to get married and have kids, but at the end of the shoot she said to us, “Because of you I have changed my mind.” We are still in touch. She went back to Taiwan to be with her family, and now works as translator. We met her again at the premiere of the film and she was living with her grandmother in Taiwan. Those human experiences are the most unforgettable.
Wong Kar Wai went to the U.S. in 2007 to make Blueberry Nights. Did you have any difficulties adjusting to the U.S. system?
The American filmmaking system is very organized. It was a good learning experience and good training. Everything was on schedule. So we had to work harder at pre-production. The film was about getting from the East Coast to the West Coast, and we drove four or five times across the continent to scout locations. It was an adventure for all of us.
The previous Wong Kar Wai films were financed internationally, but The Grandmaster was financed only by Chinese investors, and there were many of them. Did this pose any challenge for you?
We were lucky that we found many Chinese investors who are as passionate for film as we are. The Chinese market is able to accommodate many different films, and we are as focused on the Chinese market as everyone is these days, but that doesn’t mean we’re giving up on other foreign markets. We hope to travel the globe with our films.
Jet Tone’s first collaboration with Alibaba Pictures, The Ferryman, is produced by Wong Kar Wai. There are rumors that the film is going through reshoots. True?
No, the rumors are not true. We hadn’t shot the special effects sequences before the Chinese New Year in February, and we’re shooting them now. We hope to release the film this year, but the exact date is to be determined.
What’s next for Jet Tone?
We would like to continue to work on projects that we are passionate about, and to work with new talent. New filmmakers need a platform to shine. We have a multi-picture deal with the director of Touch of the Light, Chang Jung-chi, and we’ve signed a new Taiwanese director named Lai Man-chieh. Wong Kar Wai is now working on producing The Ferryman, but for his next project as a director … he is, of course, entertaining a few ideas.
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