Kylie Boltin meets Hong Kong cinema legend, actor Simon Yam, a staunch advocate of low budget filmmaking.
25 Nov 2008 - 10:16 AM  UPDATED 7 Nov 2012 - 1:30 AM

KB: You’ve made a considerable number of films with director, Johnnie To. What’s it like working continuously with one director over a career — Have you and To developed a particular understanding from working together on so many occasions?

SY: When I first met him we were both working at a TV station – a very different scene. 1997 (the Hong Kong handover to China) was a moment of good timing for us both and we joined together in films. It’s the most important aspect of filmmaking – the relationships between the actor/director and producer [Yam is himself a successful producer in Hong Kong]. Communication is very important. We make low budget films with the idea of connecting people; films about human beings. Our films are not commercial. You won’t find lots of 3D or bullets. Myself and Johnnie To are sentimental men. We sit and we talk about China, our country and communicating ideas to the audience.

Low budget films don’t mean 'not good’ films – they just mean independent!

KB: How much of yourself do you bring to a character like Kei, in Sparrow?

SY: Hong Kong has been an industry interested in 'Gangster’ films and 'Police stories’ — the government doesn’t care about old buildings or the environment. It’s all high-rises and commercial buildings. Johnnie and I long for the atmosphere of the 1960s; the memories, the buildings. When we started Sparrow about four or five years ago we thought about the people, memories, the atmosphere of Hong Kong — that’s why I play a pickpocket! It’s a reflection of the changing nature of Hong Kong.

KB: With almost 160 acting credits you are a walking encyclopaedia of the Hong Kong Film industry and must know it exceptionally well. Can you share any insights about the Industry?

SY: Since 1997, the Hong Kong film industry has slowed to about 50 or 60 films per year. In the past the films were all commercial; now the industry demands quality. With budgets so low, the scriptwriter and the director have to really think about how they are going to make good movies. So, the industry is slow but I can guarantee we still have a lot of good quality movies coming out of Hong Kong!

Simon Yam was in Australia representing Man Jeuk (Sparrow), which was nominated for four Asia Pacific Screen Awards in November: Best Feature Film, Best Achievement in Directing, Achievement in Cinematography and Best Performance by an Actor (Simon Yam).