Speaking in loud images

Speaking in loud images

Three deaf filmmakers hope to bring attention to the world of hearing-impaired people through their movies

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From left: Jason Wong, Martin Mak and Fong Tsz-ying, whose movies were screened at the International Deaf Film Festival.
From left: Jason Wong, Martin Mak and Fong Tsz-ying, whose movies were screened at the International Deaf Film Festival.
Photo: Jonathan Wong
Jason Wong Yiu-pong's film The Unspeakable Love tells the story of a deaf son who convinces his despairing mother, who is also deaf, not to commit suicide. The plot is unconventional, but so is the filmmaker. Wong is himself deaf and his movie is partly autobiographical. His own mother once considered killing herself because of the hardships and discrimination she faced.

The Unspeakable Love is one of two films by three young deaf moviemakers shown at the third Hong Kong International Deaf Film Festival last week. They spoke to Young Post through a sign language interpreter.

And the stories they had to tell made for true, real-life dramas. Both of Wong's parents are deaf, and of his three siblings, only his elder sister can hear. Members of the family all communicate with sign language at home. Although Wong is lucky in that many of his colleagues know basic sign language, he still has problems communicating. At meetings, for instance, people may speak so fast that he can't follow while trying to lip-read.

This problem was worse for his mother, who dropped out after primary school. At home, she often needs his help to translate Chinese subtitles on TV programmes or articles in newspapers.

"Her life is 10 times more difficult than that of someone with hearing," he says. "She has had to endure lots of discrimination."

Deaf filmmakers also face challenges in making films. Movies are animated not just by images but also by sounds. And adding a soundtrack to footage might sound like mission impossible if you can't hear. To provide a score for his film, Wong got help from his elder sister. "I asked my sister to describe the mood of a piece of music - whether it was heart-rending or cheerful," he says.

His film has made his mother proud. "She was glad I understood her," Wong says. "And that I haven't given up. She hopes this film will be loud enough to let people understand deaf people more."

Filmmakers Fong Tsz-ying and Martin Mak Chun-hei have a similar ambition for their film Secluded Words. In the film, the main character, a computer geek, meets a friend online. She encourages him to venture out of his room, master sign language and become more socially active.

"He used to communicate with others through lip-reading," Fong says. "But it didn't work out too well so he turned to writing down messages. He had very low self-esteem."

Fong, who studied in normal schools, relied on lip-reading, too. She has no problems understanding Chinese speakers but has a harder time lip-reading English.

Sign language is more visual, more universal, and easier to understand. Reading lips is also fraught with the dangers of misreading spoken words.

Then there is of course the problem of not being able to understand people speaking with their heads turned away from you, such as when a teacher speaks while writing on a whiteboard.

By making the movie, Fong says, she and Mak "want to encourage deaf people to make more friends and participate in more activities."

"Even without 'ears'," she stresses, "we can find happiness in life and achieve plenty of success."

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