William Chang on the Art of (Movie) Design
William Chang Suk-ping was busy on a Beijing film set when he got a phone call from his octogenarian mother, who lives in Hong Kong. She'd read in the newspaper that his costume designs for 'The Grandmaster,' directed by Wong Kar-wai, were nominated for an Academy Award. She told him: 'You have to go!' Several friends also got in touch, urging him to attend the March 2 ceremony. 'Everyone is calling, trying to convince me to go because they all thought I won't go since they know I don't like attending awards,' Mr. Chang recently said, laughing. 'But of course I'm going to the Oscars. At least once, right?'
The Oscar nomination recognizes the 60-year-old Mr. Chang's meticulous interpretation of Chinese style from the early 1900s to the 1950s. The honor comes after almost four decades of filmmaking punctuated by dozens of international accolades--including a technical prize at Cannes for 'In the Mood for Love,' set in the 1960s Hong Kong of his childhood. Famously publicity-shy, the multitasking Mr. Chang has art-directed, designed costumes for, and edited all of Mr. Wong's feature films, and has worked with nearly every major Chinese director.
Straight from dim sum in Hong Kong with his mother and brother, he spoke with the Journal about his careers in film and interior decoration, shopping on eBay for inspiration, and his pursuit of authenticity in Chinese design. Edited excerpts:
Usually editing, production design and costume design are different jobs on a movie set, but you did all of these for 'The Grandmaster.' How did you juggle them?
They all concern the look of the film. Art direction is about the texture, the feeling, the lighting. Editing is creating the rhythm, the timing, a sense of flow. Mixed together, you can create a world. It makes people believe.
What was your biggest challenge in making sets for 'The Grandmaster'?
The brothel is so elaborate. We found a similar house with gold carving in Guangdong [province in southern China]. We hired carving guys, did the gold leaf. The lighting fixtures we hand-made. Everything we created. We needed quantity so we could not just buy. Even spoons, bowls, silver chopsticks, wineglasses--all of this we had made.
The film spans the first half of the 20th century. What was your research for the costumes?
Mostly old pictures, documentaries, old films. I want to show something to be as authentic as possible. I'd never done the 1900s or 1920s. There are four kinds of silhouettes [in the film]. We had to do research very carefully so we wouldn't mix up the details. Most people will hardly notice, but the details differentiate the periods.
What is your costume team like?
I had 18 tailors, many who I trained a long time. Then I also had eight people to do embroidery, trimming, piping, beading. We designed the jewelry. We bought cheap jade, then had real jewelers use real gold because I wanted the color and the mounting. My team is mostly from China. It took one and a half years to produce the costumes for just the ladies in the brothel. We made, like, 120 cheongsams. For winter scenes, we had others hand-stitch the quilts, to do the fur lining. We bought vintage Western fur coats from eBay and remade them.
Do you use eBay a lot?
Yes. I have an assistant who just does eBay searching. Sometimes just small things like handkerchiefs. The things are from all around the world. Also hats, shoes, handbags. Even if I cannot use them, I need the shape and the look I can reproduce.
Do you have an archive?
I don't like to keep things. I do a rough sketch, give it to my tailor and he throws it away after. What's done is done. I don't reuse things for different films.
Are costumes still fun for you?
Yes. I would like to do a film in the Song dynasty--very subtle, very minimal. Or the opposite in the Tang dynasty, so elaborate, so garish. I have not done these before.
What are your other creative interests?
Everything I want to do is in art direction--I can be a graphic designer, an interior designer, a fashion designer--it's all in film. I also work on commercials. I do interiors, which is like set design. I used to paint.
What art do you like now?
When I work in China, I go to museums and galleries. I collect some paintings by Chinese artists. I like Zhang Enli. I like more-abstract painting. For Chinese, abstract painting is not so popular, but I like things that need more imagination. I also like sculpture. I have two small ones by Antony Gormley. I love the big ones, but they are too expensive. Sculpture has construction. When I'm doing clothes, I am interested in structure. Cheongsams in the 1920s and 1930s had no darts, but had shape from the way the tailor ironed, twisted and cut the fabric. I told my tailor: 'You have to do it like this.'
When you started as a film student in Canada, what was your dream?
I wanted to become a director, of course. When I came back to Hong Kong, I did fashion design for two years--the garment industry in Hong Kong was very big then. Then in the early 1980s I did art direction. One day, Wong Kar-wai, who was a scriptwriter, asked me to do the art of his first film and he asked me to cut the film. It worked well for us. Then we did it again. I thought, Why not? Why should I suffer to become a director? A lot of people are asking me to direct, but I turned them down. I'm happy.
How do you pick your projects?
I don't pick. If I have time, I accept every project. Low-budget films, big-budget films. And I'm always doing interiors for private residences at the same time. For that the clients pick us.
Are you expensive as an interior designer?
Not really. We charge the same as everyone. Doing interiors is like exercise. When not making a film, I work with real people, making real things that people can use in daily life.
How do you know what visuals will create the best impact?
When I encounter it, I immediately know. In 'The Grandmaster' it is the use of black. It was very risky. We used hundreds of black fabrics. Different textures, glossy, less glossy, matte, very matte. Black with blue in it, black with brown, black with red. Velvet creates a very deep black. One day my assistant said: 'Everyone is wearing black! Is it OK?' I said: 'Don't worry. I'm very sure.'
当张叔平(William Chang Suk-ping)接到他年迈的母亲从香港打来的电话时，他正忙着?一部电影布景。他的母亲在报纸上看到了他凭藉《一代宗师》(Grandmaster)获得奥斯卡金像奖(Academy Award)最佳服装设计提名的消息。她对张叔平说，你必须去！还有几位朋友也联系了他，力劝他出席3月2日举行的奥斯卡颁奖典礼。张叔平笑着说道，大家都给我打电话，想要说服我出席典礼，因为他们都觉得我不会去，他们知道我不喜欢出席颁奖典礼，不过，我肯定会去奥斯卡的，至少得去一次，对吗？
奥斯卡提名是对张叔平细致入微地刻画从二十世纪初到二十世纪五十年代中国风格的认可。在近四十年的电影制作生涯中，张叔平曾摘得数十项国际大奖，其中包括凭藉《花样年华》(In the Mood for Love)在戛纳电影节获得的技术大奖。张叔平多才多艺，常常身兼数职，王家卫导演的所有故事片都由他担任艺术指导、服装设计和剪辑。他和几乎所有中国大导演都有过合作。