Playing happy families

Playing happy families

Local movie man says parents and children need to spend more time together

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Alfred Cheung enjoys a game of soccer with son Jonathan and daughter Jasmine.
Alfred Cheung enjoys a game of soccer with son Jonathan and daughter Jasmine.
Photos: Dickson Lee/SCMP
Local film screenwriter and director Alfred Cheung Kin-ting says one of the toughest tasks facing a Hong Kong dad is finding time to spend with his children.

He says the long hours most people have to work means they have little time for family life.

What's more, he thinks schools in Hong Kong give children far too much homework. "Students studying the local curriculum often work late into the night," he says. "If their parents work late, too, how can they build good relationships?"

Cheung, whose three children all went to or are still at international schools, says he is lucky to work for himself.

As well as being an acclaimed scriptwriter and director of award-winning movies, he writes regular newspaper columns and runs a restaurant chain on the mainland.

"I am very lucky to not have to work for a boss so I can manage my time and be with my family, but it is not always that easy," he says. "I have a manager to run my restaurant chain. He often brings complaints to me, but I have to put up with them as I don't want him to leave. If he left I would have to be away from my family, and I don't want that."

Cheung says just finding time to get together is not enough. A family needs a bond. The Cheungs all share a love of soccer.

"My younger son Jonathan is quite a talented player and the family enjoys watching him play," says Cheung.

Jonathan plays for Hong Kong Kitchee Football Club.

Cheung thinks soccer has taught his son many useful things. He says he will never ask him to give up sports to study more. "Local education requires students to spend a long time drilling exam questions so they get good marks," he says.

"This is sad, children won't enjoy learning this way. They often only study because they want to earn good money. Their view of the world becomes too practical.

"My son is learning about teamwork, the importance of hard work and how to take care of himself through sports."

Cheung says many parents only care about exam results and don't think about the other aspects of their child's development.

His son's passion for soccer inspired him to keep in shape. "I started to become more careful about what I ate," he says.

"I don't smoke or drink and I work out regularly so I have a healthy body to play with my son. My children led me to care more about my health."

Cheung grew up in a working class family. It made him want to teach his children to stand on their own two feet and not rely on family money.

When he dies, Cheung plans to donate his money to charity. He thinks money can be poisonous.

"I told my elder son Justin, who is 18 and in his first year in university, that I'm not going to leave him any money," he says. "The best I can do is to provide him with an education and a flat.

"After seeing all those court cases about siblings fighting over their fathers' estates, I cannot allow that to happen to my family."

For Cheung, being with his family and creating movies is the best thing in life. "I can never afford a private jet but I am very happy with my life," he says.

"When Li Ka-shing [Hong Kong's richest man] dies, he will leave behind loads of bank notes, but I will leave behind my movies."

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