If everyone in the Hong
Kong film industry spoke the way the superficial characters do in Chinese movies
and TV series, the world could turn out to be a scary place to live in. You know,
like "David ah, kam man oi hoi DIS-co moe?" (David, wanna go to the disco
With this disturbing thought, and dreading
that the whole interview with Cheph Chaang would be an intolerable pain, I waited
for the only Malaysian and foreign producer who has managed to penetrate the Hong
Kong film world.
After a few minutes of waiting, I see Cheph glide
in, smiling affably. Immaculately dressed in black and looking like a million bucks,
she makes her grand entrance, very much like a film star herself. After the usual
formalities, we sit and she starts talking about her humble beginnings in her earnest
Within a few minutes, the ice begins to melt,
along with my silly preconceived notions of how a producer working in the glam HK
film industry would behave. As we have our small talk, and as cliche as it sounds,
I begin to see that sitting before me is a daring and self-made woman who knows exactly
what she wants. And, thankfully, she does not talk in the way that I dreaded she
Cheph Chaang has, to her production credit, some
of the biggest movies Hong Kong has ever put out - The Great Adventure (starring
Andy Lau), The Chinese Feast (Leslie Cheung), and Armour of God II (Jackie Chan).
She has worked with the hottest names in Hong
Kong filmdom, and knows plenty about the industry. With quite a few tricks up her
sleeve to get her job done, there is hardly a hitch that she cannot overcome. Now,
she is back in Malaysia to share her technical knowledge with the hope of advancing
the local film industry.
Seeing how far Cheph has come as a producer,
it is not easy to picture her years ago when she had just finished her `A' level
and was searching for her true vocation. Although Cheph could not then put her finger
on her exact calling, she knew that a 9 to 5 job that means staying cooped up in
an office would not be compatible with her extrovert nature.
Which was why Cheph joined a computer software
company as a sales executive. "At that time, PCs were very, very new in Malaysia.
I enjoyed the chance of meeting a lot of people, including corporate MDs and others
who had reached the peak," Cheph reminisces.
Two months after starting work, she moved on
after being offered a job by one of her clients. Reasoning that she had nothing to
lose and much to gain from the different and new contacts that she would make, Cheph
eventually worked for four different companies within six months.
"I did wonder if I was doing the right thing,
but I have no regrets. Young people must take risks, although what I did was really
not much risk at all," Cheph explains. It was her job in a media house that
eventually prepared her for her future career as a production manager.
"The media company that I worked in was very small,
and we had to do everything from organising and co-ordinating events to management
and what-not," recalls Cheph. In no time, she was offered a job as "assistant
producer". Without her realising it, that job put Cheph on her way to becoming
a sought- after producer.
The first project that she worked on as a green
assistant producer was a doomed joint-venture between locals and Hong Kong film-makers.
Ironically, she did not know what exactly the job entailed, but was prepared to try
it out anyway. Soon, Cheph found out that the job was similar to what she had done
before - organising, managing, and putting things together.
But as luck would have it, the whole venture
folded when an investor suddenly died in a car accident. With that, Cheph decided
to leave, not wanting to be embroiled in the chaotic power tussle to salvage the
ill-fated feature film.
One thing led to another, and Cheph got into
producing advertisements, including those for Paddle Pop, Rothmans, and Peter Stuyvesant.
It was then that she began to properly pick up the skills of a producer.
She explains that "as a producer, you get
to do everything - casting, buying and setting up props, sourcing for locations.
In fact, you start from zero!" Although the pay was not great, she was more
than happy as "people were paying (her) to learn and to widen (her) contacts."
After a few years at it, she left for Hong Kong for a break, but got more than she
bargained for. Golden Harvest, one of the colony's biggest film companies found out
about Cheph, and immediately hired her to help Jackie Chan who wanted to part-shoot
Operation Condor 2 in Malaysia.
A producer's job is not
at all easy, says Cheph. Some producers consolidate funds from investors, and they
are called 'executive producers'. She is a production manager, the person in charge
of making sure that each shoot gets done smoothly.
As a production manager, she goes through the
script with the director, looks at the budget, and tries to optimise the product
quality with available funds. To do that, one needs to have knowledge and experience
to deal with the director and the creative people behind the film.
Cheph also had to handle and bear the brunt of
the director's, and the investors' whims and tantrums. "Not many people can
take the Hong Kong style of making movies," admits Cheph. "Although there
is a script, it is more often than not a mere skeleton. Anything can happen between
the start and the finished product.
"There may be a bare plot to these movies, but dialogues are changed nearly
every day by the director, bosses, and writers!" Last minute requests for new
locations and props too are the norm. Once, when a request for a particular quantity
of cups was made by the director at 4:00 a.m., Cheph and her assistants had to bang
at the gate of a shop to wake the owners up!