Q&A: Lau Ho-leung - Two Thumbs Up
Lau Ho-leung makes his directorial debut and tells Arthur Tam why his first film needs to be very Hong Kong
After screenwriting around 20 films, Lau Ho-leung makes his directorial debut with Two Thumbs Up – a Hong Kong catered dark comedy about four incompetent gangsters bound by loyalty and opportunity. The gangsters, played by heavyweight stars including Francis Ng and Simon Yam, decide they want to transform a minibus into a police vehicle so they can hijack a hearse headed to the Mainland with dead bodies stuffed with money. It sounds bizarre and yes, there are a few jokes making jabs at the Mainland Chinese. But as kooky as it all sounds, it has all the makings of a good cult film.
Lau’s catalogue of work doesn’t initially inspire much confidence. Titles such as The Great Magician, Painted Skin and Kung Fu Jungle, leave much to be desired. But on watching Two Thumbs Up, we realise the pains of being a screenwriter include not having full control over your storyline.
So, for the first time, Lau has taken the helm and triumphed with a film that makes us reminisce about the glorious days of Hong Kong cinema. Stylised in a pulp tradition with themes of brotherhood flushed out through amusing gags and fatalistic humour, Two Thumbs Up is worthy of its title. Time Out speaks with Lau about his debut and inspirations for the film.
You’ve been a screenwriter for a long time now, but what motivated you to take the leap as a director?
I’ve never thought about transitioning from screenwriter to director after any particular number of years. You make the change when you feel there’s a story that no one else can tell.
How do you feel about the shift?
There is a lot more pressure.
What inspired the story?
I was a reporter in entertainment before. When I was in the US for a job, I met an Argentinian peer who had seen some Cantonese films and asked me why there were so many police and Triad themed films and if Hong Kong was in a state of unrest. I realised that was the essence of Hong Kong cinema – unrest. It’s the defining part of our industry that we are bold enough to approach these topics. So, for my directorial debut, I knew I wanted to do something very Hong Kong, and it was natural to think of police and triads.
I sought out a real crime boss and watched a cops and robbers film with him. He was strangely excited when the police caught the villain. When I asked him why, he said it was because the film made him root for the police. I noticed how films frequently engage our sense of justice. That’s why I wanted to reverse the roles and show that even villains can have that sense of justice if given the right situation. Then came the idea of turning a minibus into a police van, which in retrospect is a brilliant idea for marketing.
What do you want the audience to take away from the film?
It’s a bizarre film in terms of structure and perspective. It’s not a Die Hard type. It’s not a traditional cop movie. I’ve put in a lot of moral lessons, which I find inspiring, that I hope the audience will take away.
What are these lessons?
I won’t reveal too much yet, but just imagine the scenario where a gang of robbers put on police uniforms and end up doing what the police are supposed to do. The lesson is that your attire doesn’t define you, your actions do. We’re in an era of confusion, and I think this lesson resounds strongly with Hong Kong people at the moment.
Why did you choose four 90s heartthrobs as the main cast?
It’s necessary. I didn’t want to find someone young. They have to be men, not boys and they still have to look like cool models who can pull off a catwalk. The rationale is that if they’re still in shape at their age, it shows definitively that they’re still passionate about life.
You’ve written many scripts and storylines. Which ones are your favourites?
So far this story is my favourite and I think there is room to develop it further in the future. But ultimately it’s a commercial world and you have to see whether it’s well-received.
What I really like is just writing about a group of people working passionately together to do something really silly or dumb, even when there isn’t hope for success. Just like the movie Waterboys. I find that touching. In film, we might be working together to do something silly and fabricated, but our passion for it is real. Whereas in reality there’s a lot of people that are just faking it without passion.
Is it a pity that the HK film industry has fewer gangster-themed films now?
Every year people predict the downfall of our industry, but if it hasn’t happened yet, in spite of people harping over it for the past decade, I’m not worried. The genre won’t fade away.
Two Thumbs Up In cinemas now.