The centrepiece of FEFF’s “Creative Visions: Hong Kong Cinema 1997-2017”
programme is the international premiere of the 4K restoration of Fruit
Chan’s Made in Hong Kong. FEFF commissioned the restoration of Chan’s
acclaimed picture to mark the 20th anniversary of its first public
screening after Hong Kong’s return to China in 1997. Restoration was
conducted from the original camera negative, with the supervision of
director Chan and cinematographer O Sing-pui, and was carried out in
2017 by L’Immagine Ritrovata in its Hong Kong office and Bologna
headquarters. We spoke with Fruit Chan about the project.
How did you feel when you were approached with the idea of restoring Made in Hong Kong?
began three years ago. We had just screened The Midnight After in
Udine, and we were approached with the idea of restoring Made in Hong
Kong. I’d wanted to restore this film for a long time, but the cost was
too high. When the Udine Far East Film Festival said it wanted to pay
for the restoration, I was really happy. First of all, I had faith in
the lab doing it. I don’t know about the quality of Hong Kong or Asian
labs, but this Italian lab has a good reputation, so I was more than
happy to say yes immediately.
The process ended up taking three
years because we had to search the warehouse for the sound reels, and
figure out how to remix the whole thing. In the process, we realised
that some things were missing. Fortunately, the lab was able to save it.
Back then, we had reels for dialogue, reels for sound effects and reels
for the score. The sound reels were mixed from those. You don’t need
that anymore today, so that simplifies things.
What input did you have during the process?
was worried that the restored version would look too polished, too
high-def. To be honest, the film was made on expired film stock, so it
had a very raw look to it. The colours didn’t match, which is a
distinguishing feature of the film. I was worried that the film would
become something else if it looked too clean. So I asked them to retain
the rawness and the grain of the visuals. It was easy for me to say
something like that, but I had no idea how they would go about it.
I saw the restored version, I was very pleased with the end result.
They didn’t do much to digitally polish the film. It was a faithful
replication of the original instead. Everything looked beautiful. The
only problem was the colour. I don’t know if it was a result of the
restoration process, but there was too much contrast between the
colours. Of course, that contrast existed in the original version.
Things either looked really blue or really green. I hadn’t seen the film
in a while, so I was asking myself if the contrast was really that
strong 20 years ago.
When we got to the colour grading stage, I was
wondering if we should keep it as is. But I thought the contrast was too
strong. Someone from the lab said to me, “But you asked them not to
change too much.” Still, I thought that it would be OK to change things
in the colour grading if it would make the colours less sharp. So they
fixed the parts where the contrast of the colours was too strong. But
there was, one thing that absolutely could not be touched: a strand of
hair. That hair was an eyesore the first time I saw it on the film
print. But then I thought, it’s quite iconic. (Laughs.) I haven’t seen
the final version of the restoration, but I have faith that the lab will
do a good job. So I left the rest up to them.
What kind of challenges did you run into during the process?
challenges probably resulted from a storage move. Films usually come in
nine or 10 reels. That meant 10 sound reels, 10 dialogue reels, 10
sound effects reels, 10 music reels. Somehow two of the sound reels went
missing. I was so angry, although I understand that these things
I was quite worried about the missing sound reels because I
didn’t know if the lab would be able to fix it. But when we couldn’t
find the reels, I had no choice but to ask them to fix it. I think they
sourced the sound from the Betacam version, because that was the best
possible version of the final film [outside of the original negative].
What’s amazing is that I know that the sound on Betacam is not as good
as the one on film, and yet I can’t tell the difference [on the restored
version]. I’ll have to ask the lab about this one day.
The film was sitting in a warehouse for nearly two decades. What condition was it in when you took it out?
Lau’s company has air-conditioned storage, so the film was fine. At
least it didn’t have any mould. The only problem was the missing sound
reels. The film print was fine – otherwise it would’ve been quite a
How did you feel when you saw the restored version?
thought the whole process was really worth doing. The lab really did a
great job. It’s a bit of a pity that there’s no money in Hong Kong to
restore independent films, and that we had to rely on foreign funding,
and a foreign firm to do it. I’d asked around for quotes, but it was too
How does it feel to see the film again after 20 years?
be honest, the film is still pretty good! (Laughs.) I’m not just saying
that because it’s my film. Anyway, that’s why I thought that this
restoration was something worth doing. I hadn’t seen the film in a long
time. Seeing it again made me realise that it was worth restoring. In
hindsight, I probably would’ve done the restoration eventually. So, now
I’m getting offers to also restore Durian Durian and Little Cheung. I’m
thinking that’s going to cost a fortune, but I’ve become addicted to
this restoration business. Still, [Made in Hong Kong] is a classic.
There’s no doubt about that. It sounds like I’m boasting about my own
film, but I still have to say that.
20 years have passed by. How have things changed for you as a filmmaker?
held off on making mainstream films for a decade. It’s a bit
pessimistic, but independent cinema will always only have a small
following. So, starting with The Midnight After, I decided to make more
mainstream films. It’s difficult to survive by just making independent
films. That’s a problem in Hong Kong. The US and other countries have
their own independent cinema scene, but the Hong Kong market doesn’t
really allow for it. I tried to hang in there for 10 years, but I
couldn’t do it any longer. Hong Kong’s [film industry] ecology didn’t
How were you able to hang on for 10 years?
kept working in the indie world until 2000 or 2001. I stopped because
the indie or art-house market had shrunk considerably. Besides, there
wasn’t even an international market for [local] art-house films, let
alone a local market. I needed the foreign market to survive. So I
stopped making independent films.
Of course, I would like to shoot
[independent films] again if given the chance, but it wouldn’t be a
long-term career move. If there’s a story that should be shot as a small
film, then I would do it that way. The good thing about shooting a
small film is that I can do whatever I want. There’s more freedom. When I
make a commercial film, there are too many considerations to make. If
there’s a chance for me to make one or two independent projects, I would
Do you miss the old days?
Of course I do. We
talk about them all the time. It was so much fun back then. We weren’t
afraid of anything, and we made whatever we wanted. But I sometimes ask
myself if it would be possible to recreate that [way of working] today.
It would have been impossible to make it back then if I didn’t have my
friends to help. It would be even harder now, because so much has