Jian Ping's column
A coming of age story
By Jian Ping
Weeds on Fire, a Hong Kong film by director Chan Chi-fat, was recently shown at the Asian Pop Up
Cinema in Chicago. Director Chan Chi-fat came all the way from Hong Kong to attend the
This is the Asian Pop Up Cinema’s third season, showcasing a dozenof films from different
countries in Asia. Chan met with his audience and did a discussion after the screening at the AMC
River East Theatre.
Sophia Wong Boccio, founder and executive director, is the driving force to establish and expand
the Asian Pop Up Cinema, a tribute to Asian films in Chicago.
I was intrigued by Weeds on Fire because it features a Hong Kong youth baseball team, which,
after being humiliated many times with defeats, rose to beat their strong rival, the Japanese
Buffaloes, under the tough guidance of their coach.
Baseball was not, and still is not, a popular sports in Asia (perhaps with some exception in Japan), and the redemption win,
despite being historical, hadlong been forgotten.
I met with director Chan and asked him why he selected to present this story.
Director Chan Chi-fat
Sitting across me in a hotel lobby where he was staying during his short visit, Chan responded
to my questions mostly in Cantonese, with Boccio acting as my translator.
He grew up in a poor neighborhood, just as the two young protagonists in the film. He had been
thinking of telling a story about the coming of age of two “brothers” growing up in a “project.”
When he came upon the victory of the 1984 baseball final by the Hong Kong team, the film in
him mind clicked.
The winning of the game and the coach are true, but the rest of the players are all fictionalized—
they are the vehicles to present what Chan wanted to say.
At 27, Chan doesn’t look much older than the youth in his film. Wearing a pair of jeans that is
threaded with holes, he spoke in a quiet but affirmative tone.
He studied film at Hong Kong Baptist University. He had worked as a self-taught editor and animator for a few years before
getting his associate degree in film.
“I had the technical skills,” he said. “But the studies at the university opened my eyes and taught me how to think.”
He regards filmmaking as his “mission in life” and believes it is the vocation where he can prove himself.
“It’s a path I’ll take the rest of my life,” he said without raising his voice.
It’s quite impressive that he received a grant of $250,000
from the Hong Kong Government to make his first film,
not long after he came out of school.
Chan devoted three years to work on the project.
The film has been accepted in several international film
festivals since its completion early this year, and Golden
Scene, a Hong Kong company, has picked it up for
Chan considers himself lucky. During the three years of
making the film, the pressure was high, so was the
doubt if the film would ever be completed and released.
“Even the female main character asked me if the film would ever have a chance to be shown,” he said, reflecting on the
He said the most difficult part was doubt in everyone’s mind.
Like the coming of age for his characters in the film, he grew with the progress of the film as a filmmaker as well.
“I feel the responsibility to do well (with this film),” he said. “I feel I’m representing the whole generation of my age.”
Like the poor players fought against all the odds,
most of all, their own selves, Chan presented a film
that is partially autobiographical about his own life.
It is the spirit of persistence and the determination to
“follow your dream and reach your goal” that delivered
the characters in Weeds on Fire and helped launch
Chan’s career as a filmmaker.
With the film being shown now at theatres in Hong
Kong, Chan got approached by investors to make
more films, and currently, is in the middle of making a
52-episode series for a new television station in
“Making a television series is quite different than
working on a film,” he said, referring the one episode
per week schedule makes it necessary to move
When being asked if he would do more television or
film in the future, he said it would all depend on the
No matter which form of art he will take, probably a
combination of the two, I feel certain that we will see
more films from Chan in the near future.