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Christopher Doyle

Interview: Christopher Doyle

“Hong Kong cinema’s golden age was possible once, so why not again?”

Written by
Douglas Parkes

There are few individuals within Hong Kong cinema as internationally revered as Christopher Doyle. Audiences may not recognise the cinematographer’s face but he is responsible for some of the most gorgeous films of all time and some of the best Hong Kong movies ever.

Australian by birth, Doyle rocked up in Hong Kong in the mid-80s. His 10-year collaboration with Wong Kar-wai, beginning in 1991 with Days of Being Wild, is legendary, a partnership that culminated in the resplendent In the Mood for Love. A winner of numerous international awards from the likes of the Cannes and Venice film festivals as well as the Hong Kong Films Awards and Taiwan’s Golden Horse awards, Dou Ho-fung, as he’s known in Cantonese, is one of the most internationally decorated individual within the local film industry.

Away from the camera, Doyle regularly publishes books about his work and the art – mainly collage – that he creates in his spare time. At the launch of his latest publication, a twin set including Why I Am Not A Painter and Of The Film, we speak to him about his various creative outlets and the future of the local film industry.

Interview: Christopher Doyle

(Above) Maggie Cheung in Hero, Doyle’s 2002 collaboration with director Zhang Yimou.

What is it about writing that has made you want to release so many books over the years?

Because I get more space to blah blah blah, to say my shit [laughs]. No, it’s because of the different audience. I love books. I never go to the movies. I stay home and read. I spend more on books than I do on alcohol, which is very difficult! I think books have a different resonance and reach a different audience. I don’t know who’ll buy the book but I don’t think they necessarily go to the cinema every week.

As a solo endeavour, is writing a more liberating procedure?

Yes, but it’s also more intimidating. A writer is a loner. Like a painter or any other artist, it’s a very lonely profession. Filmmaking, once you get going, is a large group of people trying to share an idea.

What are your inspirations when it comes to writing and your collages?
Loneliness. We all need to know we’re not alone. To me, that’s what my art is about. We need to feel companionship. You know, that was what the Umbrella Movement was about, what Occupy was about. It didn’t go where it could have gone, or perhaps it was doomed from the start, but the sense of community was so beautiful, so honourable and so unexpected. Let’s get it together. This is our home. There are ideas we can share.

Is there a common approach between your writing and your film work?
A need to be loved. Ask any actor, why would you do this if you had a stable family environment? Look at one of the greatest loves of my life, Leslie [Cheung]. Look where it took him. But that was his choice. I have total respect for Leslie’s choice. But he went there and kept going because he was lonely. He always needed to be loved, that’s why he reached out to people.

Are you optimistic about the future of the Hong Kong film industry, what with its closer ties to the Mainland?
We’re in a period transition, for sure. But the history of Chinese film is the history of Chinese immigration. It’s a political history. The first films were made in Shanghai, then the centre moved to Beijing, then it went to Taiwan, then it came to Hong Kong – where many people were originally from Shanghai – and now it’s gone back to China. Cinema follows the politics and it follows the money. We’ve got to work on it. Hong Kong people are in transition. Let’s give it some time. I was there back in the golden age; it was possible once so why not again?

What’s next then?
Changing the world. Film by film. More Hong Kong films, of course. More films that are personal to us, more films that celebrate this city. I care about the space and the people within the space. That’s what film’s all about to me – to celebrate places. To me, The White Girl [Doyle’s most recent film, which premiered last year], the celebration of Hong Kong in it was the most valuable thing, the most beautiful aspect of the film. Whether the film works, it doesn’t matter. But to remind you how beautiful Hong Kong is, we’ll work on that. In the meantime, trying not to get banned in China [laughs]. If we talk, I think we can negotiate some space. Mainland Chinese filmmakers are also trying to negotiate a space for ideas. I think we’re all on the same path. We’re negotiating the same path so more voices can be heard.

Doyle’s books Why I Am Not A Painter and Of The Film are available from $280.

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