As the Hong Kong-Asia Film Forum (HAF) celebrates its 20th anniversary, two projects stand out this year as the first to climb the ladder of its own ecosystem: Ca Jie’s Borrowed time and Lau Kok Rui The sunny side of the street.
Early in development, both projects joined HAF’s Film Lab in 2019, where they both won script consulting service awards. HAF welcomed them to the Projects In Development (IDP) section in 2020 and now returns to the Projects In Progress (WIP) section, which runs virtually from March 14-16 alongside Filmart Online.
Right here, Screen explores the journey of each project to date and what comes next.
The sunny side of the street
Real. Lau Kok Rui
Products. Vinod Sekhar, Winnie Tsang, Soi Cheang, Peter Yam
Malaysian director Lau Kok-rui is often interested in migrants and asylum seekers living in his second home in Hong Kong. Sequel to his 2019 short film Good dayabout an unemployed Pakistani immigrant who becomes a carpool driver in the city, his feature debut The sunny side of the street centers on a Pakistani refugee child born in Hong Kong who forms a special bond with a local taxi driver.
While it’s not easy to focus on Hong Kong’s ethnic minorities, producer Peter Yam is grateful the project has gained publicity and exposure from HAF. “We went to the Film Lab with a full script and it was great to have lots of feedback and encouragement from mentors such as [filmmakers] Amy Chin and Liu Jiayin,” he says. “Our confidence grew as we progressed to IDP and entered with a clearer view of themes and styles.”
A meeting with the Hong Kong-based Golden Scene sales and production team during IDP in August 2020 proved crucial. Right after the event, Golden Scene connected the filmmakers with Petra Films, who would eventually become the main investor in the project. Petra Films is a new banner of the Petra Group, a global conglomerate led by Malaysian businessman Vinod Sekhar that focuses on sustainable industries. The sunny side of the street marks Petra Films’ first project.
Golden Scene’s Winnie Tsang got prolific, award-winning actor Anthony Wong (Always human) to play the main role of the taxi driver. Limbo director Soi Cheang, who previously produced Good day for Lau, is also on board as a producer.
“We’ve gone pretty far from a bandwagon of two, thanks to HAF,” Yam says. He plans to pique the interest of top festivals with a rough cut of the film, which will be ready for the next WIP.
Real. Cai Jie
Products. Stanley Kwan, Mo Jinjin
Chinese director Cai Jie’s feature debut Borrowed time is the story of two Cantonese-speaking towns, following a young woman who sets sail from Guangzhou to Hong Kong in search of her long-lost father, only to embark on a secret love affair similar to that of his parents three decades earlier.
Cai first pitched the project during the Talents Tokyo development program in 2016. Since then, he’s been on several trips for story research and location scouting – with producer Mo Jinjin in Hong Kong and with screenwriter Wang Yin in a rainforest in Malaysia. Famous Hong Kong director Stanley Kwan (center stage), whom Cai previously met at the Wu Tianming Film Foundation, joined the project as a producer in 2020.
“The 2019 HAF Film Lab gave us the opportunity to review our progress with mentors such as Yin Hongbo and Amy Chin for production, Lu Fei Yi and Liu Jiayin for screenwriting,” recalls Mo. “We continued to work with Mr. Lu on the script for another two years after the event.”
Filming was supposed to start in the summer of 2020, but the Covid-19 pandemic halted travel. “There have been suggestions that Guangzhou could be used to act as Hong Kong,” she says. “We were reluctant to make such a compromise, but ended up dropping Malaysia as a location.”
After changing filming schedules and production strategies, cameras finally started rolling in Guangzhou in July 2021 and in Hong Kong two months later. “We were able to start filming and wrap up production, all thanks to the wonderful help of Jacob [Wong, HKIFF Industry director] and the HAF team that helped us get the permits for Hong Kong,” says Mo.
To reduce quarantine expenses, only five production members – including actress Lin Dongping, who plays the girl – came to Hong Kong to work with a local production team and local actors including Tai Bo (Souk Souk) and theater actor Eddy Au Yeung.
At the next WIP, Mo is seeking completion funding as well as distribution and festival opportunities.