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[InC-terview] 'Still Human' director Oliver Chan believes that despite whatever differences we have, we are all human at the end of the day

By Say Peng  /  21 Jun 2019 (Friday)

'Still Human' may be only Hong Kong director Oliver Chan Siu Kuen's debut film, but it has swept three big awards at the recent Hong Kong Film Awards - Best Actor, Best New Performer, and Best New Director.

Starring veteran Hong Kong actor Anthony Wong and newcomer Crisel Consunji, the film follows Cheong-wing, a middle-aged paraplegic and divorcee, and his new live-in Filipino domestic helper Evelyn. Despite their vastly different backgrounds, the two start to develop a close friendship.

'Still Human' was first screened in Singapore at this year's Singapore Chinese Film Festival, and will have a limited rerun at FilmGarde Cineplex this week.

InCinemas speak to director Chan about her film.

InCinemas: What was the inspiration behind the film?

Oliver Chan: A couple of years ago, one day I was walking in my neighborhood and saw two people that gave me the inspiration. One of them is a middle-aged man, sitting on an electric wheelchair, the other is a Filipino girl, standing on the footstep behind the wheelchair, which means the man was driving the girl around. I found this moment very beautiful, but also a bit confusing. I wondered why this guy would be so nice to a domestic helper, and also thought that their relationship was too close. I just can’t stop thinking about them. Then I finally figured it was my prejudice and my assumptions that made me feel weird. I assumed that the girl must be a domestic helper and that their relationship must have been employer-employee. I think a lot of us probably think the same way, and I feel the urge to show the world this beautiful relationship that I have witnessed. 

InCinemas: What was it like to work with Anthony Wong?

Oliver Chan: It is definitely my honor to have worked with Anthony. He is an icon of professional and amazing acting skills. Our generation basically grew up seeing his films and dramas. So it is really a golden opportunity to work with him. He really added a lot of values to the production, and I couldn’t imagine anyone else being Cheong-wing. 

InCinemas: Over the past few years, there have been a couple of notable films about domestic helpers. There is Alfonso Cuaron’s ‘Roma’; from Asia, there is Anthony Chen’s ‘Ilo Ilo’. Why do you think domestic helpers are such compelling subjects for film?

Oliver Chan: I have seen the two other films that you have mentioned, and they are both so great. I think the directors made them mostly because of their own experience with helpers when they were small. So I feel like I was seeing something very personal in their films. For me, I didn’t have the chance to work with domestic helpers, my angle of making this film is more of out of curiosity. I wondered what their relationships are with their employers, and I wanted to explore something more private and personal about them other than their identity of being a domestic helper. 

InCinemas: What has been the effect of your film on the public discourse on foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong? 

Oliver Chan: It has been great to hear that our film started quite some discussion about domestic workers and their situations in Hong Kong. But I think it is impossible to rely on one film to make a lot of changes, especially in our film we didn’t go into a lot of details about more problems that domestic workers are facing. However, our goal was to show the audience that despite our cultural and physical differences, we are all human and all equal and I feel that the moment people shed tears for Evelyn, our goal is somehow reached. I think empathy is a very good seed for erasing discriminations and prejudices. 

InCinemas: What were the biggest lessons you have learnt from directing ‘Still Human’? 

Oliver Chan: The biggest lessons are definitely about how to be a director. 'Still Human' is my first feature. I have made some short-films before, but the challenges of making a feature is beyond my imagination. It is about how to persist with the creation, while at certain times, compromise with the limited budget. I also learnt a lot about the techniques of pre-productions, on-set, post-production, and even during the distribution process. It is basically a filmmaking 101 for me, I feel very blessed to have the chance to get involved in every part of the process! 
'Still Human' will screen at FilmGarde from 28th-30th June. Get your tickets here: https://fgcineplex.com.sg/movies/details/3000000190
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