Chris Chung individual project 'Soho Jimbo' is an action/comedy film associated with the Directors UK: Challenge Alexa. Already, Chung has plans to adapt his recent short into feature length film. He's been a finalist for Virgin Media Shorts for his film 'Haduken', not to mention attending the BFI Future Film Festival. Plus, he came third in the MOFilm Competition for Sony Playstation. Chung has already has a sweep of successes under his belt, and has professional experience with producing content for corporate such as Channel 4 and Youth Music.
However, we are surprised to learn that his journey into becoming a film director isn't fluent as it seems. In this interview, he talks about his upbringing (as he's half Chinese) and how that has somewhat an influence and interest for all things film. He gives his thoughts about the recent movie streaming boom and his hopes for a Season 2 of 'Wok'.
- Before you choose your degree in Film & Television Broadcast Production, what was you like a teen?
I’d say clueless, I wasn’t sure what I really wanted to do. My father is a engineer for the City of London...so for a while, I was interested in architecture. But that “dream" soon diminished after I got a hold of my fathers old digital camera which can capture video.
Growing up, me and my friends had no cash; nothing to do but play football, jam and talk for hours on end about films etc. It was these conversations which spurred on the trial of making our own home movies. It all started with imitating Bruce Lee’s ‘Game of Death’.
2. Since completing your degree at London Metropolitan please tell (and explain) to us your career journey so far.
That was many moons ago! In short, I went straight into freelancing. I became a camera trainee on a few TV commercials then gradually an assistant to a corporate Director at Sky. From there I learned some key differences between a large crew and smaller crew, it taught me to understand the importance of each discipline and how every crew member is vital on set.
From there I entered tonnes of competitions, which includes a project I did with MOFILM for Sony Playstation. We won third place. Sony acquired the usage rights of the project and that kick started the possibility of directing. I then invested in my own camera gear and became a corporate/freelance camera man for a solid year. I realised creatively, this isn’t what I wanted to be doing, however during the course of the year I had met some very talented crew members, who I still work with today.These guys helped me out tremendously. I owe my team big time.
So, back to the camera operator days. I became somewhat frustrated with what I was shooting whilst still gaining invaluable experience. I set to shoot a short film, shot over 2 days...now that rinsed all my savings with added favours. I was able to produce my short film ‘Handuken’, which won a handful of awards on the festival circuit and a finalist in the Virgin Media Shorts 2013. This kick started my career in directing, but was the first step on the long road thus far.
Since then, I've directed a number of commercial/advertising spots, a few more short films and have been on the FILM4 affiliated B3 Media talent lab and the Directors UK: Challenge Alexa.
3. It is clear that action and comedy type projects are your favourites to create. Can you tell us where this love for these two genres started from, or if there is any specific reason why you favours these genres over all others? Please use as a highlight one or two film directors and their films that represent your love or preference for these two genres.
Yep. I love action-comedy; it’s so fun to me and I enjoy the genre very much. What I found during the last few years is that my voice as a director had begun developing. I trialled projects across different genres and found the action/comedy themed projects is where I excelled. Maybe from my upbringing/childhood...as I’ve always been practising martial arts and its a huge part of my life. I also like a good laugh and try to not take things too seriously.
Stephen Chow is a big inspiration in my recent work; his commitment to the comedy genre is unrivalled. Like many others, I absolutely adored 'Kung Fu Hustle’ and 'Shaolin Soccer’. I found myself as an audience member wanting to see more of these films like ’The Good, the Bad, the Weird’. So here I am, looking to contribute to the genre.
4. Now that you have become an established filmmaker (Winner of MOFILMs commercial Playstation 2012, Virgin Media Shorts 2013 finalist and 2 awards at the International Action On Film Festival) were you aware of the gap in the UK film market for British Asian action and comedy films? If so, did you see your career as a trailblazing or just creative path? If no, did you find it hard to incorporate these two genres together?
To be honest, no -- not at first. I was always making these films for myself and not really targeting anything. I’m not that smart! I’m just following my creative path and doing what interests me for now. I enjoy playing with both genres and it’s great fun when they come together. It’s always fun to find the humour in a serious moment and what can be done to make the scene feel that bit more ridiculous within the genre.
5. Give your personality a blockbuster movie title.
Hangry - The tale of a guy and his hunger.
6. Your two short films ‘Handuken’ and ‘Soho Jimbo’ have received great praise and positive feedback. Do you think you are ready to make the leap to your first feature length film? If so, will you continue your interest of action & comedy, or try something new? Do mention and speak on 'My Enemy' if this is a feature length film.
I certainly think so, now feels like the right time for me to commit to a feature ‘Handuken’ and ’Soho Jimbo’ both reflect the tone of comedy I’m looking to achieve in my first feature, which will be ’Soho Jimbo’. We’re in development for it, right now, so fingers crossed. ‘My Enemy’ is a drama short film which deals with knife crime and vengeance, another film which was a great learning experience, I got to work pretty deeply with two very talented and hard working actors on that short.. play around with angles and framing with my DOP.
7. Over the last few years, you have worked in partnership with large multi-million-pound corporations and businesses, such as Guinness, Youth Music and Macmillan Support.
7.1 How do you go about contacting these corporations to work with them or do they contact you?
7.2 Do you handle working with these corporations differently to your own work?
7.3 Is there a higher level of pressure and perfection when working with these bigger brands
7.4 What do you take away each time you work with these brands that you can possibly incorporate into your film work?
So, when I started directing for brands and business, I quickly learned that I was making a film surrounding the brand ethos, their message and really, to promote something. That took some adjusting to but was really useful in terms of working with client feedback or from agencies etc. It's always been very collaborative and most of the time the people I work with (from agencies and brands) are super experienced and know how to mould the film from the brand perspective. My projects and my work with agencies is very different, I suppose, not having so much feedback and changes etc. I think with my own shorts they can be a little more daring and feel somewhat authored. Whereas the commercial work I do will reflect the brand voice as opposed to my own. I wouldn’t say there is a high level of pressure in working with brands, they’re just people at the end of the day! However, equally I’m not shooting TVCs, I’m mainly shooting content, where you have some more wiggle room and play. So I imagine it is a little more hands off and related in content world over TVC world. I learn something new each time, I’m always pushing myself to try something different creatively and often when you are working with tighter budgets or time constraints it pushes you as a director to think creatively as a problem solver and come up with the best solutions.
8. Last year, you embarked on creating your first webseries 'Wok'. Is this based on your own personal experiences?
‘Wok’ was a proof of concept not quite a pilot...although, it was 20 minutes in duration. It’s loosely based on the upbringing of good friend and lead of the show Bruce Chong. There are some added vignettes and tropes from my childhood, but it’s a lot closer to home with Bruce and is authentic in that way. We even shot in his family's take away. What I would say...Experience-wise, it was a real eye opener for me as a director, and we shot over fiveish days. Most of my shorts are shot over one or two days, similar to my commercials. So, what I took away from that experience was I had the stamina to keep cracking on. These were 12 hour days and with a brilliant team so really, it never felt like work.
9. What lessons and differences have you learnt whilst creating this television show in comparison to making a film? Please give examples.
I’d say the biggest difference is the pace and performances. Things felt a little more put on for ‘Wok’ in comparison for to my shorts. The beats and rhythm is also different, which was something myself and editor Greg Hayes discovered quickly during the edit, you can’t let sitcoms breathe, they need to move long, very quickly.
10. Would there be a season 2? If so when can we expect to see it?
I hope we can get a Season One first!
11. Your films have been screened at BFI Future Film Festival. Plus you were the finalist for the Virgin Media Shorts. Would you say that these events have been a perfect kickstart to your career?
They have been fantastic for networking and meeting filmmakers who are also on their journey, we’re all in the same boat. I’ve stayed in touch with many of the filmmakers I’ve met at competitions and festivals. These guys become valuable later down the line. When you need someone you can trust to look at an edit, a script or find cast or crew for your next project.
12. Last year China’s government set in place a new law that “Bans film content deemed harmful to the dignity, honour and interests of the country”. This also encourages and forces filmmakers to do the relevant research into the culture of China’s history and present day way of life. What do you think of laws like this? is a good or bad for future filmmakers wanting to create?
Good question. I am half Chinese, but born and raised here. so it would be a little odd for me to have a valid opinion on this.. sorry!
13. The Sundance Festival has always been seen as the place where big movie companies come to purchase amazing creative and original content by independent filmmakers. Since the streaming boom by Amazon & Netflix, businesses have joined in the fierce fight between television and stream services. As an independent filmmaker, what do you have to say on this growing subject of television streaming. Please state the positive and negatives of both sides.
I think streaming is great. It’s presented a new avenue for filmmakers like me. I’d love to have a film up on Netflix or Amazon. As for me, that’s where I probably will find the majority of my audience. I also have to say, Netflix have been producing some really awesome and diverse, original content from allover the world, which is refreshing to see.
14. Since entering into the British filmmaking industry, what changes or improvements have you seen as a Director? How does this impact you and your vision or work for the future?
I think it’s still too early for me to say. What I would say is that we have a pool of very talented filmmakers here -- and it’s great to see everyone getting their projects going..the level of commitment is great. I do hope to see more diverse films coming from the UK, it does look like that is on the rise!
15. Are there any films in cinemas releasing soon that you are looking forward to seeing?
Wolverine looks pretty awesome and I’m looking forward to seeing the Johnnie To film but if Netflix are really getting the band back together of Scorsese, Al Pacino, De Niro and Pesci.. then that be the big one for me!
16. What advice would you give a young person who has chosen a career as a Director?
Keep going and most importantly, have fun with it. For me its always been about having fun and making films with my mates and hopefully make a few people laugh.
15) Do you have any future projects coming up that you can speak of?
For now, all of my spare time and energy is going into the development of the feature version of 'Soho Jimbo’.