An Interview with Composer Chan Kwong Wing

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In the twenty-two years since the beginning of his film music career, Chan Kwong Wing (also known as Comfort Chan) has scored more than seventy films and won three Hong Kong Film Awards, not to mention fourteen additional nominations. A true mainstay of the Hong Kong film industry, he’s also been shepherding aspiring and fledgling composers through his music studio Click Music Ltd, as well as being the record producer of Ekin Cheng, Pakho Chau and Fiona Fung, to name but a few. Simply put, if you love Hong Kong and Chinese cinema, whether or not you know his name, you know his music.

Where to begin when sampling the superb creativity and versatility of one of the most prolific and talented composers in film music? The iconic, mournful elegy to Anthony Wong’s character in Infernal Affairs? The thumping, single-minded call to duty and danger of Infernal Affairs 2? The insidious whirls that accompany Andy Lau’s psychological downfall in Infernal Affairs 3? For indeed, the Infernal Affairs trilogycould be considered Chan Kwong Wing’s masterpiece. Equally iconic is “Store The Sun“, the brutal yet ethereal piece that accompanies Donnie Yen and Wu Jing’s duel to the death in SPL, or the edgy electro and middle-eastern tones of the Flashpoint soundtrack. Some of his best work also includes Confession of Pain with its quietly heart-wrenching piano theme, the irrepressible bombast of Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen, the tragic sprawl of A Man Called Hero, the tense, anguished strings of Overheard, the grand melodrama of its sequel, or another one of his masterworks, the quirky and brooding Wu Xia (co-composed with Peter Kam and Chatchai Pongrapaphan). And that’s only scratching the surface.

Still as sought-after as ever, Chan Kwong Wing was kind enough to take the time to answer our questions, during a European vacation in between major scoring assignments :

 Can you tell us about your academic background, and how you originally came to become a film composer?

I started by studying classical guitar and formed a band named “Fundamental “during high school. We joined a band open-contest, finished first runner up, after which a record company invited us to have our first album released. That’s how I got the opportunity to become a pop producer and composer. And when I wrote the theme song to Young & Dangerous, director Andrew Lau then invited me to score most of his films.

 The Storm Riders was the first time you scored a hugely-successful film, and the first time you won an award for your music. How do you recall the experience?

With The Storm Riders, I was able to use and mix both dance beat music and traditional Chinese music together. Back then, period movies usually would not use this kind of ‘East meets West’ elements in their soundtrack. I went with two main themes:  “風雲” (Storm Riders) is for the men’s side, more powerful and strong, while “一對對” (the love theme) is full of elegant beauty, matching the romantic story.

Director Andrew Lau gives me full support and always believes in my work. His movies give me lots of inspiration as well. We trust each other and have a good partnership.

  Some of your best and most popular work has been for the Infernal Affairs trilogy. How was the experience of scoring a trilogy over such a small time-span?

Infernal Affairs is the first movie for which I used a full orchestra. Infernal Affairs 1 were recorded in Beijing, while for Internal Affairs 2 I flew to Budapest. The scoring schedule was so packed and rushed that I had to write some of the pieces of music even when I was on the plane, on the way to meet up the orchestra! Nevertheless, I enjoyed the whole creative process a lot.

  Two of your Hong Kong film Awards have been shared with Peter Kam. How did you work with him on The WarlordsBodyguards & Assassins and Wu Xia?

All three movies were directed and/or produced by Peter Chan. He invited me and Peter Kam to do The Warlords and Bodyguards & Assassins together. Peter Kam and I are old friends, we had a happy and good partnership on these two movies, and therefore when Peter Chan asked me to score Wu Xia, I invited Peter Kam to join me and work together again, adding Thai composer Chatchai Pongprapaphan. We used lots of emails and calls to discuss and listen to our music when we were working on these three movies!

  You’ve scored films from a great variety of genres. What genre of film do you prefer scoring, and why?

I enjoy doing different kinds of movie genres, and among all the genres, action movies would be my favourite, as music plays an important role which can enhance the tension. The quick-cut editing requires various kinds of music, especially different rhythms in percussion music.

  What are your main musical influences?

All kinds of music give me big and important influences, including classical, hip hop, jazz, electronic dance music, and so on. I love to use and mix different kinds of musical styles, instruments and sounds together to create the music that I need. For example, in the movie Confession of Pain, I used a Chinese traditional music instrument called the Erhu to play the main melody, and then added western music sounds plus a full set of orchestra, to create a special vibe for a brutal and sorrowful murder scene.

  Out of all your scores, which one do you prefer and which one was the most difficult to compose?

Wu Xia is my favourite scoring experience so far. I mixed rock music with orchestra to create mysterious and tense emotions, in the setting of a Chinese period Kung Fu movie. That was such a cool chemistry. I find modern and light-hearted love stories to be the most difficult for me. Like Breakup 100, for instance. But I would love to take up the challenges and try again if I get the chance.

 Only a few of your scores have been released on CD or download. Would you wish to release more of your music, or is it your choice to only release a few?

Oh, I’d love to have all my movie music released on CD or download. However, that’s not in my hands. The sound recording rights are owned by various movie companies, and they’re the ones who decide whether we can release a soundtrack or not. As soundtrack releases in Hong Kong are seldom profitable, movie companies have no incentive to release them. For a few scores that I really loved, like for the Infernal Affairs series or the Overheard series, I talked to the directors to persuade the movie company to authorize us to produce the soundtrack on my own money.

The Initial D soundtrack was actually released by the movie company  and was successful and profitable, but the movie company refused to re-print when it got sold out, and even I don’t have a copy for myself. From time to time, I receive email requests from my fans asking about some unreleased soundtrack, I think I will take the time to do a compilation of some interesting and unreleased movie music in the near future.

  What made you want to create your own studio, Click Music, and have you enjoyed the experience?

I started  Click Music in 2000, that was a great experience. Click Music has a supporting team including producers and engineers, so composer can focus solely on music creativity. It also creates a platform to support other young and passionate composers. Right now we have a team of six composers: they’re all very talented in scoring movies, producing pop music and TV commercial jingles, and so on. Experienced and young composers working together can inspire and assist each other, offering advice and exchanging ideas. We’re a small family now! So setting up Click Music is one of my proudest achievements. I hope our family grows bigger and the musical knowledge can be passed on to the next generation.

  What are your upcoming film projects?

I will work on three action movies soon. One of them is Alan Mak’s undercover thriller Extraordinary Mission. Another is the new chapter in the SPL series [Editor’s Note: Soi Cheang’s SPL3: War needs Lord]. And the one I anticipate most is about the building up of our country in the last century [Editor’s Note: Andrew Lau’s The Founding of an Army]: I’m excited to write passionate and patriotic themes for the movie!

Many thanks to Chan Kwong Wing for taking the time to answer my questions, and to Anders Lee for coordinating the interview.

Here’s where you can buy Chan Kwong Wing’s music:

The Warlords: on CD.
Overheard trilogy
: on iTunes or on CD.
Wu Xia: through MovieScoreMedia.
Break Up 100: on iTunes.
SPL2: A Time for Consequences: on iTunes.

Chan Kwong Wing’s scores to The Storm Riders, A Man Called Hero, The Twins Effect, the Infernal Affairs trilogy, Initial D, Confession of Pain, Look for a Star and Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen are now unfortunately out of print, though you can always try your luck on ebay.


SELECTED FILMOGRAPHY & AWARDS :

He & She (1994 –Lawrence Cheng), with Tang Siu Lam

First Option (1996 – Gordon Chan)

We’re No Bad Guys (1997 – Wong Jing)

Armageddon (1997 – Gordon Chan)

The Storm Riders (1998 – Andrew Lau) – Best Original Film Score (and Best Original Film Song nomination) at the Hong Kong Film Awards

Young and Dangerous 5 (1998 – Andrew Lau)

A Man Called Hero (1999 – Andrew Lau) – Best Original Film Score and Best Original Film Song nominations at the Hong Kong Film Awards

The Legend of Speed (1999 – Andrew Lau)

For Bad Boys Only (2000 – Raymond Yip), with Ken Chan

Born to Be King (2000 – Andrew Lau)

Sausalito (2000 – Andrew Lau)

The Duel (2000 – Andrew Lau)

Those Were the Days (2000 – Raymond Yip)

Bullets of Love (2001 – Andrew Lau)

Love Me, Love My Money (2008 – Wong Jing)

The Avenging Fist (2001 – Andrew Lau)

Naked Weapon (2002 – Ching Siu Tung), with Ken Chan

Infernal Affairs (2002 – Andrew Lau & Alan Mak) – Best Original Film Score nomination at the Hong Kong Film Awards

Infernal Affairs II (2003 – Andrew Lau & Alan Mak) – Best Original Film Score nomination at the Hong Kong Film Awards

Infernal Affairs III (2003 – Andrew Lau & Alan Mak) – Best Original Film Score nomination at the Hong Kong Film Awards

The Twins Effect (2003 – Dante Lam & Donnie Yen)

Cat and Mouse (2003 – Gordon Chan), with Ken Chan

Enter the Phoenix (2004 – Stephen Fung), with Ken Chan

Koma (2004 – Law Chi Leung)

SPL (2005 – Wilson Yip)

Initial D (2005 – Andrew Lau & Alan Mak) – Best Original Film Score nomination at the Hong Kong Film Awards

Confession of Pain (2006 – Andrew Lau & Alan Mak) – Best Original Film Score nomination at the Hong Kong Film Awards

Daisy (2006 – Andrew Lau), with Shigeru Umebayashi

Flash Point (2007 – Wilson Yip)

The Warlords (2007 – Peter Chan), with Peter Kam, Leon Ko & Chatchai Pongrapaphan – Best Original Film Score nomination at the Hong Kong Film Awards

Lady Cop & Papa Crook  (2008 – Alan Mak & Felix Chong)

Look for a Star (2009 – Andrew Lau)

Overheard (2009 – Alan Mak & Felix Chong)

Bodyguards and Assassins (2009 – Teddy Chan), with Peter Chan – Best Original Film Score (and Best Original Film Song nomination) at the Hong Kong Film Awards

Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen (2010 – Andrew Lau)

Bruce Lee, My Brother (2010 – Raymond Yip)

Lost on Journey (2010 – Raymond Yip)

A Beautiful Life (2011 – Andrew Lau) – Best Original Film Score nomination at the Hong Kong Film Awards

Overheard 2 (2011 – Alan Mak & Felix Chong) – Best Original Film Score nomination at the Hong Kong Film Awards

Wu Xia (2011 – Peter Chan), with Peter Kam & Chatchai Pongrapaphan – Best Original Film Score at the Hong Kong Film Awards

The Silent War (2012 – Alan Mak & Felix Chong) – Best Original Film Score nomination at the Hong Kong Film Awards

The Last Tycoon (2012 – Wong Jing), with Chen Yu Peng – Best Original Film Score nomination at the Hong Kong Film Awards

The Guillotines (2012 – Andrew Lau)

Man of Tai Chi (2013 – Keanu Reeves)

From Vegas to Macau (2014 – Wong Jing & Billy Chung), with Chen Yu Peng

Overheard 3 (2014 – Alan Mak & Felix Chong)

From Vegas to Macau 2 (2015 – Wong Jing & Aman Chang), with Chen Yu Peng

SPL 2: A Time for Consequences (2015 – Soi Cheang), with Ken Chan

The Vanished Murderer (2015 – Law Chi Leung)

From Vegas to Macau 3 (2016 – Wong Jing, Billy Chung & Andrew Lau), with Chen Yu Peng

Skiptrace (2016 – Renny Harlin)

Cook up a Storm (2017 – Raymond Yip)

Extraordinary Mission (2017 – Alan Mak)

This is not what I expected (2017 – Derek Hui)

The Founding of an Army (2017 – Andrew Lau)

SPL3: War needs Lords (2018 – Soi Cheang)

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