If Hong Kongers had reason to be proud with the inclusion of Pang Ho-cheung's Isabella in the official competition at this year's Berlinale, they now have even more reason to celebrate. Local composer Peter Kam has won the Silver Bear for Best Film Music at the 56th Berlin International Film Festival, for his work on Isabella.
Pang, slightly jet-lagged and still recovering from the madness of the Berlinale, said, "I am very glad that the film has won an award because it was the only Chinese-language film in the official competition."
Pang didn't expect to win an award in the official competition as it "featured films by many great directors whom I admire." He added, "I thought it would only be an eye-opening experience. When we made this film we didn't plan on wining anything. An award wasn't our goal. But for a rather low budget film winning an award helps a lot."
Peter Kam's win had added significance. "There hasn't been a Hong Kong film winning a music award at an international film festival," Pang proudly noted before adding, perhaps it will make "filmmakers pay more attention to film scores - investors didn't put much money into this aspect of filmmaking in the past."
On the topic of music and Isabella, Pang had a lot to say. "Music is very important to this film. When discussing it with Peter I made my point clear: often music in films isn't good because of a lack of communication. Music should not just be background, but tell a story. I told Peter to create something through the music, not just to fill in the gaps. Some dialogue was even cut out because he wanted to fit the image with the music."
The plot of Isabella, set on the eve of the 1999 Macau handover, revolves around a disgraced policeman who finds his long-lost daughter, (when all he was looking for was a one-night stand). "Macau was the 1st Chinese territory to be occupied by foreigners and the last place to be returned to China," Pang said. "Macau's history largely represents the culture clash between the East and the West. So I felt it was appropriate to use this story of a long-lost daughter reuniting with her father to illustrate the Macau handover."
"I have a deep emotional attachment with Macau. Many Hong Kong people treat Macau as a holiday retreat but I lived on Macau for some time when I was young and the relationship between the people in Macau is like in small towns, not like in Hong Kong where it's more cosmopolitan and interpersonal relationships are different."
When asked if the Berlin win would prompt him to aim at a more international audience with his next project Pang replied, "For a long time my films haven't just targeted local audiences. Film is a great international medium and should be appreciated by people in many countries. You should make a film that can touch peoples' hearts no matter where they come from."
He added, "I don't feel particularly ambitious after the Berlinale. Before going I already had a few film projects planned. I don't make a film just for a film festival or to please the market. The most important thing is that the film is of interest to me. I'm a filmmaker but also a film buff so I try to make a film that I would want to see at the cinema."
Isabella attracted the interest of many foreign distributors at the Berlin Film Market. Media Asia have set the tentative HK release date for the film at April 6th.
(hkfilmart March 8, 2006)