Frederick Tsui

Nous redoutions initialement que personne de l’équipe d’Infernal Affairs ne soit présent au cours du Festival... jusqu’à ce que le nom de Frederick Tsui, Responsable de la Co-Production et de la Distribution chez Media Asia Films, fasse surface. Même s’il s’est avéré que M. Tsui n’était pas vraiment le producteur du film, notre rencontre avec lui s’est parfaitement déroulée : l’homme est souriant et enthousiaste, drôle, et peu avare en informations ! Jugez par vous-même - dans la langue de Shakespeare... ;-)

ATTENTION, SPOILERS ENORMES !!! Ne pas lire cette itv si vous n’avez pas vu le film !

Sancho : Could you tell us who you are and what it is you do ?

Frederick Tsui : Basically, I’m into Co-Production, Development and Distribution. So, before a project is green-lighted, I’m involved in reading the script, and deciding wether the film should go into production and so forth. And then, once it’s in production, I’m out of the picture - until it’s done, where I come back and try to sell the film.

So you could say I’m not part of the creative side of production. But then, I’m also involved in working with the scriptwriters, looking at their script and seeing how we should change it in order to make it work. But most of my work takes places before we green-light a project.

When we read about the HK film industry, the script often seems to be very secondary. The most important part of making a movie really seems to be getting the stars to play in it...

Not for us - basically not. With Infernal Affairs for instance, when we read the script, we didn’t know who the stars were going to be. Normally nonetheless, we have a director attached already. So it’s not as if some scriptwriter sends us a script and we look at it and say "oh, it’s good" and then we try to find a director.

In HK, usually the script and the director are "grouped" together. A director usually brings us a script, written by someone else. We look at it and see whether it works, and decide whether we should invest in it or produce it.
To me, the script is very important. At Media Asia, we always have to look at the script before we produce a film. Unless we’re working with Wong Kar-Wai, who never has a script - but then he’s not with Media Asia. [laughs] For every other people, we have to look at the script.

Was it Andrew Lau who brought you the script for Infernal Affairs ?

Yes.

How did the movie come to be, in its final form ?

I think the scriptwriters [Alan Lak & Felix Chong] had written the script quite some time before it arrived at Media Asia. It had been circulating in different film companies, but had obviously not had the right attention. When we got it, it wasn’t in its final version yet - I read many different versions of the script, and it changed quite drastically from the original version to the one that was shot - but we already wanted to work with Andrew Lau, because we had already shot a film with him...

... which was...

Dance of a Dream - a wholly different film. When I first read the script for Infernal Affairs, I really liked it, even though it was quite different from Dance of a Dream. And it ended out really good, so...

How has the HK film industry evolved since 1997 ? There seem to have been so many difficulties...

Yes, there have been difficulties. For quite some time, people seem to have lost interest in going to the cinema. One of the big problems has of course been piracy - we always knew it would be. People can buy a pirate VCD very easily, sometimes even before the film is released - for Hollywood films especially. And the VCDs are so cheap, that people don’t need to go to the cinema anymore.

But then, the success of Infernal Affairs proves that people still want to go to the cinema - it’s just that they are looking for the right film. The success of the film was quite out of our expectations. We didn’t think it would be that successfull, because this film - for us - is too "arthouse" sometimes. It’s commercial, yes, but not the kind of commercial films that normal HK companies turn out - not a Jackie Chan kind of film. So we were kind of surprised to see how well people responded to it.

It turns out that the combination of quality, stars, script and production value made a huge difference. People actually have the need to see films, so when they do find the right one, everyone is going to go see it, and people will be lining up to get into the cinema again.

It was very touching to see people lining up to get tickets for Infernal Affairs. For almost a year, you could go and watch any film you wanted, anytime - and never find a full house. And with the release of this film, people actually had to line up and pre-buy tickets and everything ! And that’s good, not only for our film, but for other films as well : Once people have gone back to the cinema, they feel like going to the cinema again.

So I think if HK can keep on producing good quality films - on a continous basis and not only once in a while - these people will keep going to the cinema. But we don’t know - yet - how it’s gonna work.

Still, this is a very good sign, and it’s a huge success for a film like Infernal Affairs, since it can only be because of its quality : we have all these Andy Lau films, Tony Leung films out there, that never do so well. It just has to be the combination of everything - that and word of mouth.

What about the cost of the movie ?

It’s not a cheap one - but it’s not the most costly film out there either. It’s much cheaper then, say, The Touch, that Michelle Yeoh produced, and it’s cheaper than any Jackie Chan film - but it’s not cheap, because just having Andy Lau and Tony Leung in it means there’s already a lot of budget.

Furthermore, as you have seen, there’s not so much action in the film - it’s not like there’re CGI effecs or whatever. It’s more character driven. But the two stars, yes, they already cost a lot of money. So it is expensive, but it can’t be any cheaper because then we wouldn’t have the stars - and without the stars it would probably not be the same film.

You said it was both a commercial and an arthouse film. One thing that surprised us is that Andrew Lau is often cited as the sole director of the movie, when we know Alan Mak co-directed it. The thing is, that Infernal Affairs looks a lot more like an Alan Mak movie, than an Andrew Lau movie. Could you tell us what input each of them had ?

They actually worked together on the set. They are good friends and they were always together, talking about how they should direct the film. Each one, I think, has his own expertise : Andrew Lau was a cameraman, so he’s good with the cinematography and the camera and everything. Alan Mak was inlvolved in the script, so he has his own different input. I think that, together, they created a kind of chemistry. Because it’s not really an Alan Mak or an Andrew Law film. You have seen Alan Mak’s films before, right ?

Yes.

They’re not anything like Infernal Affairs...

Still, he is more character driven than Andrew Lau is...

Yes, but he also wrote the script with someone else [Felix Chong]. They really created this chemistry together. And on the set they worked together all the time.

The "undercover" basis of the story is a very traditionnal one in HK "police movies" - particularly for Tony Leung, who already played this character in Hard Boiled. Did the script evolve along the way, to consciously make it different from every other movie that had been made before ?

The first version of the script I received already had - I think - this main idea, which was to have two undercovers on different sides right from the beginning of the film. We had never had that in HK, I don’t think so - normally it’s only on one side. Of course, there were other elements and other characters in the original script. But their identity crisis was always the central theme of the film.

What evolved along the way, in particular ?

The script got better and better, more tightened, with some side-characters eliminated. But the main theme remained the same throughout.

Did the ending - Tony Leung being killed - evolve a lot ?

There are lots of discussions about that. I’ve seen a version with him killed, and I’ve seen a version with him not killed. And I like the fact that he does get killed.

I think that the scriptwriters insisted that they wanted him killed in the end - because that’s the whole point of the story ! Right from the beginning, the two characters try to exchange their identities, and if they didn’t it wouldn’t make any sense. But there were lots of discussions from different sides on whether Tony Leung shoud be killed or not...

Did it surprise you that it was Anthony Wong that ultimately got the award for Best Actor for Infernal Affairs ?

At the Film Critics Awards ?

Yes...

He is good ! In HK, people tend to like Anthony Wong much better than anyone else in the film. The word of mouth is always "Anthony Wong". Even I think he’s better than the others ! I think he deserved it, because the Film Critics Awards don’t have different categories for main actor or main supporting actor - they just choose the best.

For the upcoming HK Film Awards - in April - Anthony Wong is nominated as Best Supporting Actor for three different films.

Princess-D...

Yes, Princess-D, Infernal Affairs and Just One Look. And he will win, for sure.

He’s a very impressive actor - have you often had the opportunity to work with him ?

Yes - even before I joined Media Asia I did. And on Princess-D too - and he did a very good job.

You worked on Princess-D too ?

I worked on it after it was shot. It was more on the co-production side, because that film is a co-production with Taiwan. So I was more into legal aspects for that particular project.

Anthony Wong is a fantastic guy - he can play totally different characters.

He’s very versatile indeed ! It seems he has this habit of always criticizing every director he works with...

[laughs] I don’t think he did so with Infernal Affairs... The good thing about this film is that we have four of the best actors in it. I think there was so much pressure among them, to try to outbest the others, that they were really working hard for the film. And I don’t think there was all this ego involved.

Was the choice of eliminating his character so soon in the story always present in the script ?

No. [insists] No.

It’s a very drastic decision...

It’s an evolving decision ! Because I don’t remember he was killed so soon the first time I read the script...

It tends to darken the tone of the movie, make it really serious from this point on...

Yes, everything changes from that point on - the pace of the film mostly.

We heard you’re going to make a prequel to Infernal Affairs...

Yes.

Have you started working on it already ?

The scriptwriters are very confidential about this project, so we haven’t had the chance to read the script yet, but we will start shooting it around late April or early May. I don’t know for sure because it hasn’t been confirmed yet, but the main emphasis will be on the Anthony Wong and Eric Tsang characters. And there will be other side-characters as well - new characters - brought in.

We also probably will have a stronger woman characater in the prequel. Because in this film, the two women characters are really not important at all, they were only there for some other reason...

... Eye-candy ?

Yes... [laughs] We need to have those commercial elements too, but in the prequel we might have a stronger woman character, and also more emphasis on the Anthony Wong character. What kind of person is he ? We don’t know really know, do we ? Is he a nice, good guy ? Maybe he’s a bad cop... We don’t know. There will also be more attention to the conflict opposing Eric Tsang and Anthony Wong. After all, they seem to know each other very well in Infernal Affairs.

Of course, the actors playing the younger parts of Andy Lau and Tony Leung will also be a part of the story, and maybe there will be more love interests and things like that. But it will still be a film driven by characters, I believe...

What’s very interesting about Infernal Affairs is that there are no evil characters. Even Eric Tsang’s doesn’t seem to be such a bad guy - he’s just on the wrong side of the law. Is this something you will try to maintain, or will you make the prequel more "right vs. wrong" ?

Like I said, I haven’t read the script so I really don’t know. But I guess it will be along the same line. It should be, because it’s still written by the same people. So I don’t think they will change this into a "good versus evil" film. They will propably make it even murkier. What you thought was good or bad in Infernal Affaires might even have a new twist to it - hopefully.

Will it still be an Andrew Lau and Alan Mak film ?

It will be directed by Alan Mak, and Andrew Lau will be the producer, he will not be directing - so we’ll see what happens. But then it’s still the two of them working together, all the time, so it doesn’t really matter whether they are co-directors or producers...

Was the prequel actually planned before Infernal Affairs’ release, or did it simply come to life because of the success of the movie ?

For Media Asia, it’s because of the success of the film. The scriptwriters however, claim to have planned to have a trilogy all along. But as a film company, it’s not a Lord of the Rings situation, where we green-light a whole trilogy early on. I wasn’t told there would be a prequel or a sequel. But the scritpwriters say they planned it all along, so maybe it’s true, I don’t know. The film company started out with this one. And then it worked so well, we decided to shoot a prequel. And we’ll probably make a sequel as well...

Interview réalisée à Deauville le 16 mars 2003 par l’équipe de SdA.

"In HK, people tend to like Anthony Wong much better than anyone else in the film. The word of mouth is always "Anthony Wong". Even I think he’s better than the others !"
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