New film Big Blue Lake is an ode to Ho Chung, where its director, Jessey Tsang Tsui-shan, grew up. She talks to Coco Marett about homecoming.
It’s not often that Sai Kung appears on the silver screen, let alone in a movie that knocked the socks off movie-goers at the Vancouver International Film Festival. Big Blue Lake is set in Ho Chung, the Sai Kung village and life-long home of its director, Jessey Tsang Tsui-shan. Her grandmother’s house is one of the sets. Released in November, Tsang’s second feature-length film follows a fictional actress returning home and struggling to reconnect with the villagers she left behind – including some real-life Ho Chungers that appear in “talking-head” monologues – a mother with Alzheimer’s, a childhood friend and a half-remembered lake.
Is Big Blue Lake fiction or documentary?
There is a blurry line between fiction and non-fiction: we can find plenty of drama in reality. I would not label Big Blue Lake as either. Its documentary-like part is, of course, part of the fiction – the real-life villagers that are playing villagers in the film are telling their true stories. When we call Big Blue Lake a fictional film, it is also a documentary to me, because it records my memories of the village from my childhood and the valuable moments of the 2011 Da Jiu village festival. My films are always related to my village, including my previous documentary shorts, experimental videos, web-based artworks, etc. Big Blue Lake is my second feature film, and it’s my first time setting a feature film story in Ho Chung.
What inspired you to based a film in Ho Chung?
I claim to be a Ho Chung villager rather than a Hong Kong citizen because my life is so closely linked with the village community. The Da Jiu festival occurs only every 10 years, so the 2011 festival was the main calling for me to make a movie on homecoming.
How did you select people to interview?
I chose the interviewees in Big Blue Lake before filming started. I wanted to have them share their versions of the past – one granny could share an old village song, another old man could share his farming life, etc. I like oral history and little stories are important to me.
What is your fondest memory of the village?
My childhood was so memorable – fishing in the river, stealing sweet potatoes, picking wild berries, rolling in the grassy fields around the village, swimming with friends in the hills… Unfortunately, the village has changed a lot. There are no longer open grassy fields – houses are now built on them. Rivers have become ditches. The village and river are so distant now; the village was once close to the river. There are no more wild berries.
How do you feel about the way Sai Kung is being developed?
It is becoming similar to other districts – more chain stores are appearing with fewer individual local stores. It’s becoming a tourist area. Rents are high, which cannot allow a diversity of stores. I wish Sai Kung could keep its unique character.
What do you think the future holds for Ho Chung?
I think the village will become a hot tourist area and will become more packed. A Shaolin Temple might be built on the upper hill of Ho Chung, so it might become another Lamma.
Like your lead, many people leave Hong Kong seeking a better life abroad. What brings them back?
Villagers might get a “better quality of life” abroad, but their fondest memories are from the village before they migrated. For me, reunion between the villagers and the village is beautiful. It’s a cosmic renewal – maintaining a bond with the village is very important to me.
This was the first feature film sponsored by the Hong Kong Art Centre. What drew them to it?
As an alumnus of the Hong Kong Independent Short Film & Video Awards (ifva), which is organized by the Hong Kong Arts Centre, I’m very glad to be supported by the Arts Centre. It is very supportive of local artists – it’s really important for an independent filmmaker like me to have such support.