Vivienne Chow is a Hong Kong based journalist and has recently taken her first steps in creative writing with The Fair Warning web series, a story which can be described in her words as ‘a tale of greed, rivalries and broken hearts revolving around the art circus’.
I posed Vivienne a few questions with regards to her new writing venture and also about the Hong Kong movie industry of which she is an expert!
Interview with Vivienne Chow, journalist, lecturer, critic and aspiring fiction writer!
- Thank you for sending me your first published episode in this series, The Moon. Why is now the right time for you to start writing fiction?
One of the greatest driving forces of my career is the pursuit of truth. That’s what journalism and criticism is about. And lately I have come to realise that writing fiction isn’t only about creating a story from scratch. It’s also about the pursuit of truth – the kind of truth that sometimes cannot be told in journalistic writings due to the limitation of form, story angle, and publishing criteria. I’d like to experiment another way of telling the truth through a fictional story. And after nearly two decades of working as a journalist, I think I have seen a lot and experienced a lot, and I’m much more confident with my writing (English is my second language).
- You know how much I personally enjoyed this episode and loved the complexities of the mysterious main character, Lily May Wong. How did you conceive of this character?
A lot of writers begin with something they are familiar with and this is also the same for me. Both the characters and the scenarios are inspired by true stories. The absurdity of the art world, which I write about a lot, fascinates me. It’s a dramatic and colourful backdrop for a story.
And as for the female lead Lily May Wong, I think she is someone I want to be – carefree, creative, daring and persistent. I’m interested in astrology and Tarot cards but I’m not good enough to be a professional psychic. So I just create a character who can do everything I dream of doing.
- How much time did you spend researching the topics (tarot and the art world)? I assume that you are writing what you know yourself personally?
You are right. Since I write a lot about the art world and I do Tarot card reading for friends for fun, I just make use of what I know about these topics. I do have to conduct research, just to make sure the facts are correct. The process is quite similar to journalistic writing.
- Do you have the whole story mapped out, or are you writing as you feel for each episode?
I have an idea of how the story looks like but I tend to go episode by episode at this stage – shorter length is easier for this newbie to handle. There will be more characters joining the story.
- Will you stay within the art world theme or branch into other areas in the future?
For the time being this story is set in the art world. It is a rather mysterious world to many people, as it is glamorous and it involves a lot of money. I feel that it has a lot of resemblance of the finance world or political world, but art adds a bit of glamour to that. Whenever there is a lot of money and power game involved, there is drama.
- What are your sources of inspiration?
My real life experience. As a journalist and a critic, my job is an observer of the world, making sense of what is going on and translating what I know in plain language. A lot of it also comes from the dramas of my real life. I always wonder why I’m running to these dramas all the time. I suspect they happen for a reason, and that is to give me inspirations to write fiction.
- On another point, you recently attended the International Film Festival of Kerala in India to discuss new Hong Kong cinema. Where do you think the HK film industry is headed, back to the golden era of the 80’s or in an entirely new path?
That is a BIG question. At the moment I’d say the Hong Kong film industry is struggling. After the 1997 handover a lot of filmmakers moved to mainland China for the big market and investment. Comparatively speaking, Hong Kong has a very small market. In the old days Hong Kong films did well because mainland market was non-existent, and film industries in other Asian territories were not well developed. But today, countries that used to be major markets for Hong Kong films such as South Korea and Thailand are producing high quality films. Sales of Hong Kong films to these markets aren’t as strong as before. The rise of China also saw the film industry boom there, meaning that they needed talents to produce content that appeal to mainland audience. However, these films, despite they are made by Hong Kong filmmakers, they do not appeal to Hong Kong audience due to the vast cultural differences between Hong Kong and mainland China, as well as the on-going political controversies. The Hong Kong industry is in a bit of a limbo, but this gives young filmmakers the opportunity to come forward, making lower budget films that tell Hong Kong stories.
A more detailed explanation can be found in this story I wrote, published in Variety.
- What are your favourite S.E. Asian films and why?
I haven’t watched enough Southeast Asian films but one of them is a Thai comedy called Iron Ladies. It was about a bunch of transexuals becoming volleyball players. It was too hilarious. It has all the cultural references of the transgender culture that is unique in Thailand while the sports and the plot give a lighter take of such issue. I included this film in my pick for the BBC Culture’s 100 Greatest Comedies poll.
Singapore has been producing some great films in recent years. They are definitely worth checking.
- I remember we both started talking through a Twitter comment about Bruce Lee. Do you feel the film industry world in the West has given opportunities to non-white actors since he became such a big star in the 1970’s, or, is it still a problem?
The film industry in the West – primarily Hollywood – definitely does not give enough opportunities to non-white actors, particularly Asian actors, considering there are so many Asians who grew up in the West. But at the same time, does the Asian showbiz open its doors to Western faces? If you have an Asian face born in the West, then yes you might stand a chance. But if you are a Caucasian trying to break into the Asian showbiz, it is just as difficult as breaking into Hollywood if not more so. But recently I’ve been addicted to a hilarious Taiwanese quiz show called ½ Strong (literal translation) that features a bunch of international cast who are all fluent in Mandarin (and extremely good looking LOL). Here’s a clip on YouTube.
- Finally, any words of wisdom for me as I am embark on completing my own mini-series?
OMG I’m only a beginner in creative writing. Persistence and hard work are important no matter what you do. But I think one of the things that stop us from making our first step is the fear of failure. You will never know until you give it a try. But if you do not even make your first step, you are definitely a failure. So I think you are already just a few steps away from success!
Vivienne, I’d like to thank you for answering these questions for me and wanted to wish you all the best with The Fair Warning. See you in Lan Kwai Fong for those cocktails!
Follow The Fair Warning series on Vivienne’s website
You can find Vivienne on her social media links below:
Facebook public page: https://www.facebook.com/culturewithviviennechow/