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A coming-of-age film for everyone
HAVING been in front and behind the camera, Derek Tsang knows what it is like to be both actor and director.
So while shooting his new film Soul Mate, he took extra care to make sure the cast and crew always knew he was there with them.
"Everyone has his or her method but as an actor, I don't like a director who just sits in front of the monitor and doesn't interact with the actors," says the 36-year-old who was in town last week to promote the drama.
"So I always try to interact (with the cast) as much as possible on set - after every single take, I'd walk over and talk to them, even if it's just for a minute."
That effort has paid off with Tsang getting the best out of his leading ladies, to the extent Ma Sichun (The Left Ear, 2015) and Zhou Dongyu (Under the Hawthorn Tree, 2010) are both vying for Best Actress at the upcoming Golden Horse awards.
Soul Mate has received seven nominations in total, including Best Director for Tsang, whose father is veteran Hong Kong comedian-producer Eric Tsang. "I was surprised and really excited when I heard the Golden Horse news; my hopes were on the two actresses but I didn't think I'd be nominated - my mind just went blank," he quips.
The coming-of-age love-triangle drama, which has grossed an impressive 171 million yuan (S$35 million) in mainland China and is now showing in Singapore, is adapted from an online serialised novella that was a joannahhit with women because of the two female characters in it.
But Tsang insists it is not a chick flick: "From the first time I read the original story, I could already relate to the characters - their growing pains, the losing of friends and the process of self-discovery. Those things are universal, whether you're from Hong Kong, China or Singapore, so immediately I knew I could turn it into a film and I never felt like I needed to find a male or female angle."
Soul Mate marks the first time he is working alone behind the camera as his previous directorial efforts, Lover's Discourse (2010) and Lacuna (2012), were both collaborations with fellow Hong Kong director-writer Jimmy Wan.
"The biggest challenge this time was I didn't have someone whom I could talk to about the film 24-7 (as previously Jimmy and I) did everything together," he notes. "But other than that, it's the same but definitely more lonely."
Besides his two leading ladies Ma and Zhou making headlines and drawing praises for their performances in Soul Mate, the movie also features the work of another up-and-coming female artiste who doesn't actually appear on-screen.
Leah Dou, who is Chinese pop diva Faye Wong's teenage daughter, wrote and performed (It's Not a Crime) It's Just What We Do for the film and it is in the running for Best Original Song.
The idea to get a millennial to record the track was a deliberate one.
"We knew we needed a theme song but didn't give much thought to it until we finished filming," Tsang shares. "That was around the time Leah's debut album (Stone Cafe) came out and I really liked it so I thought we should get someone who was born in the 1990s (the period which Soul Mate is set in) to do it."