Peter Chan Ho-Sun is one of the most prominent directors working in Chinese cinema today, having made many successful movies in a filmmaking career that has spanned over two decades. He has proven himself to be an actor’s director, having worked with numerous superstars and bringing out award winning performances from them. Peter also has a proven track record of straddling both commercial and critical success and is not afraid to try out new genres, to experiment with new techniques and set new trends in filmmaking, making him one of the most versatile and innovative directors working today.
Peter also has a proven track record of straddling both commercial and critical success and is not afraid to try out new genres
1990’s UFO Period – He’s A Woman, She’s A Man and Comrades: Almost A Love Story
The 1990’s were Peter Chan’s most prolific period as a director, making seven movies in seven years with the United Filmmakers Organisation (UFO), which he co-founded. His most commercially successful movie of this period has to be He’s A Woman, She’s A Man (1994), starring Cantopop legend Leslie Cheung and a young Anita Yuen, with Carina Lau playing a key supporting role. This gender bender romance comedy explores how Cheung’s pop music producer becomes a little confused when he falls for one of his male protégés. It turns out that his muse is actually Anita Yuen masquerading as a boyish teen idol. Incredibly funny with its situational comedy and sexual innuendos, the movie daringly and cleverly pokes fun at many of the absurdities of the pop music industry, as well as gender stereotypes and homophobia. Its theme song Chase, written by Singaporean songwriter Dick Lee and sung by Cheung, became one of the most popular Cantonese movie theme songs ever released, along with its soundtrack album, proving Peter Chan’s acumen at using music to connect with audiences. He has continued to have successful soundtracks in many of his subsequent films. He’s A Woman would spawn a sequel, Who’s The Man, Who’s The Woman (1997), which stars another Cantopop legend Anita Mui, joining the original cast of Leslie Cheung and Anita Yuen.
He’s A Woman, She’s A Man (1994), starring Cantopop legend Leslie Cheung and a young Anita Yuen, with Carina Lau playing a key supporting role
Comrades: Almost a Love Story (1996) is to date the pinnacle of Peter Chan’s critical success as a filmmaker, having won a record-breaking nine Hong Kong Film Awards and also his first Best Feature Film at the Golden Horse Awards. Maggie Cheung deservingly won Best Leading Actress accolades in both Hong Kong and Taiwan for her layered and heart-breaking performance. Two migrant Chinese, played by Maggie Cheung and Leon Lai, seem fated to cross each other’s paths and yet their relationship never quite materialises into a happy ending, serving as an allegory for the passing of an era and the anxiety of Hong Kong’s reunification with Mainland China. The use of the late Teresa Teng’s evergreen classic Tian Mi Mi, also the Chinese title of the film, further brings out the heartache and nostalgia for a bygone era that is shared by both lovers. The themes explored in this film are much deeper than just the romance seen on the surface.
Maggie Cheung deservingly won Best Leading Actress accolades in both Hong Kong and Taiwan for her layered and heart-breaking performance
Genres for Pan-Asia audiences – Going Home and About Love
After a short foray into Hollywood with The Love Letter (1999), Peter Chan returned to Hong Kong and started Applause Pictures, whose goal is to make genre movies that appeal to pan Asian audiences. He directed Going Home (2002), a short horror film that is part of the Three anthology and that was extremely well received, especially for its shock ending. The layered performances also won a first career Best Actor for Leon Lai at the Golden Horse Awards, and critics started to take notice of the pop idol’s acting ability.
Critics started to take notice of the pop idol Leon Lai's acting ability after he won Best Actor at the Golden Horse Awards
Peter Chan switched gears and genre when he directed Perhaps Love (2005), a musical drama that centres on the love triangle between characters played by Takeshi Kaneshiro, Zhou Xun and Jacky Cheung. This song-and-dance extravaganza, featuring choreography by Bollywood maestro Farah Khan, was a huge box office smash in China, and won multiple Golden Horse Awards including Best Director, Best Actress, Best Cinematography and Best Original Song. The film’s Art Direction and Costume Design were also lauded at the Hong Kong Film Awards.
Perhaps Love (2005), a musical drama that centres on the love triangle between characters played by Takeshi Kaneshiro, Zhou Xun and Jacky Cheung
Period action blockbusters – The Warlords and Dragon
After directing love stories for most of his career, Peter Chan upped the ante and challenged himself by making a period war epic, The Warlords (2007), a remake of the 1970’s Wuxia classic The Blood Brothers by Chang Cheh. He cast A-list actors Jet Lee, Andy Lau and Takeshi Kaneshiro to play the three sworn brothers caught in a conflict against rebellious forces during the Ching Dynasty. Besides touching on themes of loyalty and morality, The Warlords is ultimately an anti-war film, grittily showing the horrors of the trenches and of the unspoken cruelty against humanity. Costing $40 million, The Warlords is certainly the most expensive and challenging film of Peter Chan’s illustrious career. It was a blockbuster commercial success and also won Peter Chan his second Golden Horse Best Picture and Best Director trophies, in addition to sweeping eight Hong Kong Film Awards.
The Warlords is certainly the most expensive and challenging film of Peter Chan’s illustrious career
With his follow up period movie, Dragon (2011), he once again chose to work with regular collaborator Takeshi Kaneshiro, and this time cast action superstar Donnie Yen and former screen legend Wang Yu. This Wuxia revisionist film not only pays homage to the genre, but also pushes the boundaries of what’s possible with its new elements. Boasting top notch action choreography by Donnie Yen, who also plays a fugitive trying to hide his martial arts prowess in order to lead a normal life as a peasant, the film also innovatively mixes contemporary elements of crime investigation with a super clever and analytical detective played by Takeshi. Visual effects were creatively used to help the re-enactment and the film was rightfully awarded Best Visual Effects and Best Action Choreography awards at the Golden Horse for its technical innovation.
Boasting top notch action choreography by Donnie Yen, who also plays a fugitive trying to hide his martial arts prowess in order to lead a normal life as a peasant
Social realist films – American Dreams in China and Dearest
After directing two period action blockbusters, Peter Chan turned his focus to contemporary China, adapting true stories for the cinema screen. American Dreams in China (2013) is based on the rags to riches story of three friends who became successful entrepreneurs by building one of the largest English learning education centres in China, catering to millions of Chinese citizens who chase the American dream. This is a tale of youth, dreams and, ultimately, the trials and tribulations of friendship. For the first time in his career, Peter Chan did not cast a single Hong Kong superstar, instead relying on Chinese actors Xiaoming Huang, Dawei Tong and Chao Deng, drawing career best performances from the three leading men.
American Dreams in China (2013) is based on the rags to riches story of three friends who became successful entrepreneurs by building one of the largest English learning education centres in China
Dearest (2014) continued the social realism of the previous film with Chan telling the true story of a child kidnapping, while also touching on several issues such as the one child policy, the rural-urban social divide, poverty and the court justice system. Moving performances by Huang Bo, Hao Lei and Zhao Wei not only tugged at your heartstrings, but also powered the film to box office success, proving that even social drama can have a strong impact when it is well made and directed.
Dearest (2014) continued the social realism of the previous film with Chan telling the true story of a child kidnapping
Filmmaker in Focus - Peter Chan at the 2012 Hong Kong International Film Festival explaining why he remains upbeat about the industry's future.