The emerging director brings her acute sensitivity for relationship dramas to her latest effort, Diva. Interview by Edmund Lee.
After her promising debut High Noon (2008) and the idiosyncratic relationship drama Ex (2010), writer-director Heiward Mak, who turns 28 this fortnight, is delving into the other side of Hong Kong’s showbiz with her latest film Diva, which features Joey Yung as a Cantopop star undergoing a soul-searching journey, as well as the film’s real-life producer Chapman To, who plays Yung’s manager.
When did the concept for Diva come to you?
When Chapman To first approached me about making a movie at the very beginning, I told him this story about a diva – and not just any ordinary singer, because I think the divas in modern times are fated with the awareness that they are capable of doing nothing but singing, while at the same time realising that their singing career isn’t simply about singing. They have to deal with the media, the manager, the fans, the paparazzi and a lot of other pressures from life. At the end of the day, all they want to do is to sing. I really wanted to write this story where this diva is contemplating a life outside her career. There’s also another young girl [played by Mag Lam] who really wants to make it in [showbiz]. The contrast between their situations would make for good drama. To said I should film it but that I should do something simpler first – and that movie became [my previous film] Ex.
But the fragmented story of Ex can hardly be described as a simple one…
Actually, Ex is [based on] a novel I’ve written but haven’t published – because I’m too lazy. I’ve written enough material to publish two or three books but am too lazy to reorganise [the transcripts for publication]. I’ve spent too much of my attention on filming.
It sounds quite intriguing that Diva is produced by Emperor Motion Pictures and fronted by Joey Yung – especially as there were so many past controversies and [unflattering] rumours surrounding both of them. Did you think about the potentially sensitive issues involved in making your film?
I knew [the issues] but I didn’t think about them – because it’s no use thinking about them. There are things that you knew would happen, opinions that you knew would arise, and rumours that you knew would spread out – but it doesn’t mean that they are facts or that they would affect your creative process. There’s some control [on me]… but it also depends on the type of producer of the film: Chapman To is someone who will fight for [the artistic choices] of the directors. Moreover, I’m a big admirer of Joey. Irrespective of the company that she grew up in, as well as all the gossip about her, you just can’t write off the supreme effort that she’s put into her professional career.
There’s a strong impression in the public arena that Diva may be a partly autobiographical story about Yung. What do you think?
It’s good that there’s a talking point. I mean, I didn’t set out to do that, but since it’s become a public impression I won’t be resistant to that either. The truth is that it’s not [an autobiographical story]. Many of the plotlines are fictional, although the emotions are genuine.
Do you sometimes feel as lost as Yung’s character in the film?
I haven’t reached [the success] of Joey Yung yet, so I’m not as lost as her character is. [Laughs] I haven’t reached the stage where I have everything. There are people around me who are in that situation: they’ve attained a certain status in the industry and their existing ideologies have rendered it impossible for them to properly process any new ideas. These people are well to do in a materialistic sense but they can be very ignorant about other aspects [of society].
Diva (DIVA華麗之後) opens on Aug 16.