Ten Minutes with Luna Kwok

It's a slightly grey day in early December. We are gathered here today for the Swarovski Inspiring Woman in Film Award Welcome Reception, it is almost four and the energy in the room is oscillating between bubbly excitement and the shifting restlessness of the reporters covering the culture/entertainment beat and the filmmakers who follow them. The PR team is zipping across the narrow corridor to check on things, their collective necks bobbing with the nervous tic of migratory birds prospecting the marshes for worms as they inspect documents: name lists, itineraries, releases; behind them the film festival team switches between the easy charm of the generous host and the cordial professionalism of the organisers who, through the quiet sweat and tears characteristic of such staffers, make Singapore’s most important film event happen.

The set is complete, the lights are on, the camera is running, but where is the star?

Across the bar, people are sipping hibiscus tea and snacking on hors d’oeuvre, attention flitting between the Who’s Who and (friendly?) competitors when a subtle ripple goes through the crowd; the Swarovksi and the Reception has been here all this while, and now, finally, the Inspiring Woman appears. Luna Kwok has arrived.

From the Chinese platform QQ, a quick description: “Luna is a girl who exudes coolness without being chilling, who remains warm but not cloying, who keeps her dreams alive with a burning passion. She is unique; due to her directorial background, she is different from professionally trained actors because she possesses a certain refinement and clarity of thought for the film profession; she is meticulous in picking her projects and never blindly board immature, shoddy projects. Kudos to her for her performance in Kaili Blues.

For those who don’t know her, some quick facts: Born in early Nineties Mainland China, Luna graduated from the National Academy of Chinese Theatre Arts, majoring in Directing. Her feature debut as an actress, Women Directors, received a Jury’s Special Mention at the 9th Beijing Independent Film Festival; a string of small independent features later, she landed a part in Bi Gan’s 2015 Golden Horse and Locarno winning debut Kaili Blues, and shortly thereafter, in Yeo Siew Hua’s historic Golden Leopard winner, A Land Imagined. And now, here we are.

After she smiled for the big press with her Swarovski trophy, Luna sits down with editor-at-large Alfonse for a quick fireside chat on her life now, philosophy, and new prospects:

How did your involvement with this production start?

My teacher Peggy from Taiwan gave me a call and told me about this project. And after that they send over the script, and I thought it was very interesting. So this was an opportunity given by my teacher. And I liked the project. 

Having participated in many different production formats and scales, from short films to TV to feature films, were there any difference in your experiences between these different project formats?

In terms of short films, most of them are artistic. I get approached by many students on these projects. The biggest differences are between theatre and film acting! In theatre, your acting needs to be more exaggerated. In film, if you do that, it looks silly. And of course, you just need to act with your own heart.

You initially studied directing. What made you try acting?

Many people asked me to act. In fact, I had so many projects that I didn’t have time to finish my directing school graduation project!

In the end, my professor allowed me to graduate on the ground that I was so involved in everybody’s films. I didn’t know much about acting and I really wanted to be a director. Maybe it is because I just didn’t really have a firm goal at that time—so whatever my friends asked me to do, I would oblige. 

Now that you have the time and resources, have you thought of making your own films?

I think I may make a documentary. Documentaries give me more freedom and there is less pressure on the fundraising side, and of course, there is the need to communicate with your subjects. I feel that making a narrative feature is very difficult, maybe you can make it only if you are very talented.

Have you ever thought of expanding internationally? Or would you prefer to stay within the Sinophone countries?

I do not have any particular geographical preference; if I like the project, I would take it, even if it is in outer space! I think it is a good to thing to venture out of your home. It would be so boring to always stay in Beijing or Singapore. I like to immerse myself in more ethnically-diverse environments.

What were the most challenging parts about making films for you as an actress?

The most difficult part for me is meeting what the director has in mind. For example, the director may have an idea of what a Chinese person should be like and I also have my own notion of what a Chinese person should be like. In delivering the role, our ideas need to meet somewhere. 

Is it an organic process for you to get into character?

I feel that it cannot be too organic. Otherwise, I will just end up acting as myself. Our sense of self overpowers everything else, more than something that has been written, like in a script. And I have been living for so long; if I let it be, my own personality will dominate my perception of the role but I think it does not benefit the production. It is more important to see other people’s perception of the role, and let them drive me.

How do you see yourself in your role, especially in this film and the last film you were involved in?

I think from the point of view of an audience.  As I receive so many scripts, to see things from the point of view of an audience is what I consider the best way to approach my roles. So, when I start reading the script, I need to first like it as an audience. Looking at the production from this perspective is the best for me, because it gives me the most clarity. 

Any projects you are currently working? What would you like to work on next?

I will be involved in Geng Jun’s film. It is an arthouse comedy. I really like the script a lot. It is very creative and it depicts some realities in northern China. I wish to act in a martial arts movie. Maybe the Xu Haofeng type, which involves some real fighting. I want some real fighting. 

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