The last person you’d expect to make a film about Hong Kong school life is probably Checkley Sin Kwok-lam, the martial arts-loving finance tycoon behind Ip Man. But after a chance meeting with a secondary school principal in Tuen Mun, Sin was inspired to write and direct Our Days, a film about marginal students scheduled for release at the end of this year.
“If you look at the Ip Man films, even though they’re filled with action, at the core they are emotional films about relationships. So it wasn’t too different to make Our Days – and we do have fight scenes,” Sin tells Young Post.
It’s a huge commercial risk, but Sin is prepared to lose money if that’s what it takes to raise awareness about the importance of inclusivity on campuses. He has even pledged HK$1 million to start a fund for underprivileged students.
The film features the stories of four problematic teenagers who study in class 6E at a Tuen Mun school: Nara, an aggressive Nepalese boy; Siu Kong, a reserved new immigrant from mainland China; Sab, a Pakistani girl who is forced by her parents to marry; and JJ, a spoilt and emotional transfer student.
“It’s not the typical secondary school movie at all,” says Sin, who wrote the storylines after reading up on news reports and interviewing social workers. “It has some funny moments, but this is no rom-com. It’s more of a tear-jerker. I want to show that Band Three students aren’t worthless.”
To win tears from the audience though, he had to first pull emotional performances from his multicultural cast. While big stars like Eric Suen Yiu-wai and Alex Fong Lik-sun appear in the film, most of the young actors were new to the big screen, but Sin is confident in his cast. “I have a knack for seeing potential in actors after communicating with them and getting them to try different roles. At first Donnie Yen Ji-dan didn’t seem like Ip Man at all because he was too buff to be a wing chun master. But I had seen him in another film and knew he could do it. Same for this cast. Some people said the actor I chose for the disciplinary teacher didn’t look the part at all; but after we got on set, he completely changed their minds,” says Sin.
Prior to filming, he arranged for the young cast to join several workshops to teach them the basic know-how of acting, such as how to avoid looking into a camera and script interpretation. The final part of the workshops included rehearsals for more complicated scenes in the film.
Another important goal of the workshops was to get the cast become good friends so they’d come across convincingly as classmates. “It really shows in the film if they are genuinely at ease around each other. And when they fight, they are more comfortable to use more force,” says producer Charlie Wong Wing-fung. “It’s also a lot more fun. We have a whatsapp group where we just talk about random stuff. I’ve never had a group where I would get over 200 messages when I wake up in the morning.”
Kiranjeet Gill, who portrays Sab, used to dislike school because the other students would pull her long braids and call her dirty for her dark skin colour. But she feels at home with her fellow actors. “When we’re together, it just becomes this warm, crazy place,” says the 20-year-old.
The month-long filming began in mid June. 23-year-old Shirley Chan Yan-yin, who plays JJ, was shocked to learn that the first three days were all scenes that involved her crying. “It wasn’t plain crying, either. It was crying for different reasons, so it couldn’t all be the same,” she says. “I was crying non-stop, maybe like 50 hours in total, because they had to film from different angles. I seriously need an eye cream sponsor or I’ll get wrinkles real soon.”
Brian Yuen Chung-yeung, 24, who plays Siu Kong, also had to cry in the movie. For a week before filming the scene, he practised crying at home by listening to songs like Adele’s Make You Feel My Love. “I had to tell my mum that I was only acting so I wouldn’t freak her out,” he laughs.
Sin was impressed: “They’d be so into character that after some scenes I didn’t dare talk to them right afterwards, I needed to give them time to calm down.”
Portraying Nara wasn’t a huge challenge for 23-year-old Babar Khan, who says he could easily draw emotions from his own experiences. Having grown up studying in local schools, Khan has experienced all forms of discrimination, like being made to stay at the back of the football field even though he was a better striker. “I’m already better off than most people because I learnt Cantonese from watching TV, so I could mix with classmates and teachers, and find jobs more easily,” he says. “But many minorities still think traditionally and consider migrating away instead of trying to blend in. With an increasing number of ethnic minorities studying in local schools, I hope this movie will show them that it could be done.”