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First Person: Stanley Kwan
Famous for his subtle style and passionate movies starring strong females or gay men, Stanley Kwan has made such classics as “Women,” “Rouge,” “Centre Stage” and “Hold You Tight.” The soft-spoken Hong Kong director chats with Penny Zhou about family, career and homosexuality.

By Penny Zhou | Oct 21, 2010

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  • First Person: Stanley Kwan

My mother was a huge Cantonese opera fan. We lived right beside a big theater and she always took me to see operas and films, mostly those cheap morning shows.

By middle school, I started tutoring juniors and made some money so I could afford film tickets. I saw a lot of Shaw movies during those years.

I went to Pui Ching Middle School, which is a great Chinese school. That explains my good Putonghua, though I have a strong Taiwanese accent when I speak it.

It is a Christian school and everybody had to study the Bible, and learn about ethics and social manners there. I was a model student.

My father passed away when I was 13, and my mother never married again. I was the oldest child so I had to take on a lot of responsibilities and was expected to become a doctor or something to support the family. But I’m scared of blood—it makes me dizzy.

Every day after school, I’d tutor to make some money, then go home and
take care of my four younger siblings. This kind of life is probably unimaginable for today’s youngsters.

If my father had still been alive, it wouldn’t have been easy for me to choose a film career. But I was mom’s favorite child, so I took advantage of that.

I spent two years studying mass communications at Hong Kong Baptist College [now Baptist University]. During the second year I enrolled myself in an actor-training program and took evening classes.

After that, I entered TVB and started working with the crews there. I got to work with directors who later became big names, such as Ann Hui, Tsui Hark and Patrick Tam. We worked at least 16 hours a day and slept in the office. But it was truly happy times.

I was a devout Christian, so the realization of my sexual orientation in high school confused and depressed me.

Every time I had fantasies of men during the day, I’d pray to the Lord for forgiveness at night.

The major reason I liked Shaw movies is that I appreciated the close relationships between men in those stories—one man would risk his life, do anything for another man. Well, now they call it “bromance.” And male characters in Shaw movies always had great bodies.

I don’t keep copies of my films at home. Watching my own movies for fun? I don’t think so. That’s kind of a gross thing to do.

My new film “Showtime” stars a group of students from the Shanghai Theatre Academy, whom I first met in 2008 when I was directing a musical for writer and scholar Yu Qiuyu. I wanted to make a low-budget film for them, giving them a chance to try something different from stage acting.

I’m happy with their performances in general, but it bothers me that they speak their lines with the exact same rhythm. Mainland teachers like to teach everyone in the same way. They’d rather you don’t have your own colors. That’s a big problem.

The social environment for homosexuals in Hong Kong is, in my opinion, even more conservative than that of Taiwan or mainland China.

I don’t think I have to make more gay films just because I’m gay. I won’t avoid the topic, but I won’t push myself into it either.

Stanley Kwan’s latest film, “Showtime,” opens Nov 4. Preview screenings available Oct 22-30 at The Grand Cinema.


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