Jack Ngu is an actor, model, dancer, photographer and director. His film CHUNKING ALL STATIONS, a satire of Hong Kong art and action films that also features Maria Tran, screened at the AAFFN 2011 event and can be seen at Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F7MYaIeIRHA .
He also stars in BULLIES, directed by Somchay Phakonkham and Maria Tran.
1. What’s the greatest challenge to you as a practitioner?
There are many challenges in this field and a variety of solutions for most things. Challenges include getting the components of cast, crew, location and weather all engaging and functioning together as a single entity,that almost seems like its against nature. On the individual level however, I believe the most challenging thing is just truly believing in yourself. I took a long time to see myself as a capable film maker. Before that, the possibility of being a filmmaker was something neither I nor anyone I knew could easily comprehend. And that’s understandable, because for previous generations filmmaking is just something that someone else does and you don’t really think about how its done, and you probably can’t do it. I am part of a unique generation that has had the most technology to adapt to. For instance, you need to pick up skills using the Internet, YouTube, High Definition and various digital cameras, and just achieving a good grasp on all this new technology is a fete for the average person, but we use them to tell stories that are accessible to the world. Studying film at university helped, but I still wasn’t really convinced, even after graduating three years of doing film projects. All I got was a bit of “how to” knowledge and a piece of paper. It took a bunch of passionate friends who believed in filmmaking and who saw potential in me. After that, another hurdle I faced was dealing with the procrastination.
In film making, it takes astronomical emotional strength to believe in your vision and follow it through thick and thin till the very end. This particular burden can last anywhere from up to a few hours to years, so one easily tends to procrastinate. I can get distracted by doing things like helping others with their projects. I mean, I enjoy giving others words of advice or crew equipment, but you can also find yourself actually believing in their projects more than you do your own, which you left on the shelf. I have lots of projects that I have shot and are now waiting to be edited, but because I also have to do other work to earn an income, my belief in my unfinished projects sometimes fades, no matter how much I try to resist.
From being a part of crew, I feel the ‘filmmaker’ title could however actually refer to many roles in the industry. We are capable of, and very often do, work as writers, storyboard artists, directors, assistant directors (AD), 2nd AD (sequel to assistant director), directors of photography, lighting technicians,, sound technicians, clapper loaders, set photographers, editors, special effects compositors, and the list goes on and on. And new roles are continuously invented for anyone willing to work on set. With so much skill, knowledge and adaptability displayed in the film world, it’s no wonder that I get so easily distracted from moving certain projects to the post-production phase. Being on set has become an addiction and I want to be there whether I am needed or not, paid or fed, rain or shine, and with a production value high or low. And that is the sad thing, most productions that are accessible have low budgets. I don’t like saying no to anything as it just might impact on the future of opportunities, and I speak for many filmmakers I know when I point out that we make very little money and can get desperate for any role on set. Sometimes, it’s no longer about gaining experience., It’s about making an impression and the hunger for paid work. You risk being taken advantage of, but you also can actually do something worthwhile in the film industry. It is a challenge to determine what project is worth your efforts, especially for a generous team player like myself.
The one important element of production I did not mention was the talent, from those who are leads, over to those who are hired as extras,. After doing work behind the camera for some time, I finally admitted to myself that where I really wanted to be was in front of the camera as an actor, which is probably the hardest role of all to land. I suppose this is the long and hard process of believing in what you can do for some one that isn’t born into it or had the opportunity thrusted upon them, it can take time to convince yourself to commit thought and energy to performing. Only a handful of filmmakers are actually capable actors as well. I’d like to think of myself as one of those people, which is lucky as technically it means I can cast myself in my own films, which only counts if I actually get around to finishing them.
After some time of practicing acting and crewing in Sydney I noticed how rare it was to see others with an Asian face in the industry. Even in the big budget crews there was perhaps one Asian. Growing up in Western Sydney meant that I was part of a diaspora of migrants from less privileged countries and we mostly kept to our own communities and to ‘our side’ of the map. We were raised to believe that we live in a country of equal opportunities and that there is no racial bias, but if that’s the case then why are all ‘ethnics’ congregated in the west of Sydney? Why are experienced crews I meet all from the north or east? Where are the TV programs with more Asian characters that actually talk featured? Like trying to buy an orange in a shop that only sold apples, it was apparent to me that I might be in the wrong market to grow as an actor or even a crew member. A few of the shop employees might have an orange in their lunch box, but that’s not enough for a fulfilling career. Acting as an Asian in Sydney, you could not get any more stereotyped. Every few months when I did get a job, it was as a Vietnamese gangster/thug, Japanese business man, masked ninja, fresh off the boat villager, unimportant geeky student or party goer. I became a professional extra which was satisfying for the nano second of screen time I got but it was not acting, I wanted bigger pieces of ‘orange’ to chew.
This brings me to Singapore, last year…Knowing almost no one, within one month I was able to land 3 roles and go to about 7 auditions, that happens over 4 or more months In Sydney and I’ve been in the industry for like 3 years. On the other hand, crews here are a lot younger and multicultural than in Singapore, meaning the industry here is more open and growing. I haven’t abandoned all hope for Sydney, I’m just practicing elsewhere as an acting holiday.
2. What do you hope audiences will take away from your films?
Deep meaningful life changing things, well actually, so far my films are not all that deep and meaningful but underneath it all, I want people to get the message that film making is fun and very possible. I want the audience to know I’m just a normal, everyday person doing things that can come close to amazing. I hope to inspire them to chase dreams, and that is a life changing thing.
3. What are you working on now/next?
I am still working on “Chungking all stations” which was given a unique genre of ‘foreign art house satire’ by the AAFFN when I submitted it. I didn’t even think about what genre it belonged in. The name is a parody of Wong Kar Wai’s cult film “Chungking Express”, which was about not exactly falling in love in the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong.
My film featured the building “Chungking Mansions”, which is filled with foreigners, hostel accommodation, currency exchangers, fruit stalls, clothing outlets, restraurants and other immigrant businesses, some not necessarily legal. I downloaded the Wong Kar Wai film while staying there for amusement and film study/analysis, which is perfectly legal. The next week I shot “Chungking all stations” with Maria Tran. I would at least like to say I am still working on it, but have been procrastinating on it for roughly a year and it has not gone beyond trailer stage. I am trying to focus on acting, so filmmaking things like editing are taking some backseat time. You can find the trailer by youtubing “Chungking all stations”.
I am still working also on my acting holiday in Singapore, just got off a student production where I’m playing 3 roles, all extras, an office associate yesterday, a waiter tomorrow and a funeral attendee the next day. I know this isn’t much a departure from being an extra back down under, but hey I just got here, and the opportunities are everywhere. Also just been told I got the lead role in a short archaeological thriller.
4. What’s your impression of the Asian Australian Film Forum and Network?
The network is good, warm but still small and weak if I dare say, and not strong enough yet.
Ultimately I want it to be a known and respected, if not a feared entity to the world. Perhaps the next small step would be to get the forum and presentations into highly accessible mainstream venues, and marketing should follow of course.
The best part of the forum is meeting other people like myself, to find out what they are working on and to know that we are not alone is essential in film making survival and mental health. We have not formed a legion of like minded Asians/Australians who want to change the world of film yet, but this is an acceptable start.
For more info on Jack you can visit the following links: