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East Wind: An Interview with Desmond Lam

Tell us about yourself. How did you become an artist?

Before entering the film world, I was a street artist and busked on the streets of Hong Kong as a drummer for upcycled percussion group No Drums Needed 無鼓用 from 2012 to 2015. After quitting my day job in 2018, I found myself to be a bit lost, not really knowing what to do or where to go.

So I followed my inner voice to make art again, which led me to take Werner Herzog’s film class on I also started taking acting lessons once a week at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts and met a group of aspiring actors and filmmakers.

That’s when I decided to become a film director. Since then, I created my own film production group Pensive Films 遐思電影, and shot my first short film The Lonely One 假如 in 2019. I also produced The Cell in 2021 and directed East Wind 風繼續吹 in 2021.

What was your first job in the art field?

It was being the co-founder and street drummer for No Drums Needed 無鼓用. One of the highlights was when my group was featured on an episode of TLC Discovery’s “A Taste of Hong Kong” reality TV show.

What makes you want to tell stories? In other words, what are the themes/issues you want to incorporate into your work?

I think telling stories is what makes us human. I’ve always aspired to create parallel realities with this medium of art. I hope you will see recurring themes like perpetual loneliness, heartbreak, and betrayal against the backdrop of an empty, postmodern city.

Please tell us about your vision and your method of approaching a new project.

It always starts with serendipity, a great script and a wonderful piece of music. I guess it’s because I am a musician at heart, and music drives every new project.

For East Wind 風繼續吹, I was incredibly lucky to happen upon Mike Park’s written universe of Sansu and XWaves’ Vaporwave For China album.

It was a marriage of creative visions, and it was my pleasure to bring these visions together in the form of a moving image.

Who are your filmmaking influencers? What are the films that were influential for you?

There are too many to mention as it depends on my mood! But today I’ll pick Werner Herzog and Wong Kar-wai. The films that were influential for me by the two masters are Fitzcarraldo and Chungking Express. Both films were shot with a small budget, but their uncompromising vision, distinct aesthetic and creative process fuels my filmmaking dreams.

What was the hardest part of making ‘East Wind’?

The hardest part of making East Wind 風繼續吹 was the short shooting schedule under a severely limited budget during COVID-19. I remember shooting 4 days in a row, sleeping for about 4 hours each night. I’m incredibly proud of my team that we did not do any reshoots.

The only reason why I was able to get through it was my stellar cast: Eugene Hsiang, Crystal Chu, Rahul Punjwani and Kenny Ho. Their professionalism and dedication held every scene (and me) together.

I’m really grateful for my entire production team: DOP - Eric Low, Assistant Director - Nasrul Ekram, VFX Director - Dennis Kim, Music Composer - Jason Tse, Production Designer - Bridget Steis, Makeup Artist - Gill Ng, and every single person who contributed to the film for bringing it to life.

How do you think the industry is changing?

The advent of artificial intelligence, proliferation of streaming channels and low financial resources are the biggest changes in the Hong Kong film industry. I was just creating storyboards on an A.I. app called Midjourney, which is both terrific and terrifying.

I think for an independent filmmaker like myself, the above could be seen as both good and bad. I think there’s much more competition, less financial resources and it’s gotten a lot harder for a viewer to identify your work in the sea of content.

But I noticed if you manage to hook a viewer in, they stay with you for longer. They rewatch your work and the discussion lives on and beyond your film. So I’ll keep fighting on for these audience members.

What advice would you give to aspiring artists? What are some of the things they must follow/avoid?

You have to love it, like really love it, almost to the point of sheer lunacy. Because it’s incredibly hard to endure the long and often, lonely journey.

My advice is to surround yourself with people who love film and art, but most importantly are willing to be candid with your mistakes, who are humble and open to improving their craft while providing a safe space where you can improve your own.

It’s never easy to do this by yourself, so bring a friend!

Do you think films/stories can bring about a change in the world?

To a certain extent. I see films as a mirror to society and it is my job to be the canary in the coal mine. But I do believe it is up to every single audience member (and myself) to enact change in the world. It’s not easy, but it’s worth a shot.

What do you think people like to watch these days? Has the pandemic changed people's taste?

I think people are spoiled for choice, there are so many different genres and subgenres available on demand. The pandemic fueled this even further, everybody is in their own rabbit hole these days.

Please tell us about your upcoming projects.

I am taking a short break from directing as it’s really important for me to have something important to say, rather than direct something just for the sake of it.

I am focused on producing a project at the moment called Bread and Circus 一剎那. It’s about a woman who escapes an assassin who is trying to take her baby away for the machine-gods, set in a dystopian future.

We are looking to get funding from a Hong Kong film festival organization in 2024 and will begin production then later in the year.

Hopefully this goes according to plan. I am looking forward to submitting our new work to the Tokyo International Short Film Festival again soon!


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