Alan Lo’s first film, Zombiology: Enjoy Yourself Tonight (Hong Kong 2017), starring Carrie Ng (Naked Killer), Alex Man (Rouge), Michael Ning (Port of Call), and Louis Cheung (Ip Man 3), opened July 18 as part of the 16th New York Asian Film Festival. The film revolves around a pair of immature men who find themselves confronted with a genuine zombie outbreak. I had a chance to speak with Lo and Ng, in NYC to present the film, about the genesis of the film, flying guillotines, and the merits of Western zombies vs. Chinese hopping vampires.
CSB: What was the basis for the story?
Alan Lo: My first introduction to zombies was through a video game called Resident Evil. That interested me in zombies. And I actually made an earlier film called Zombie Guillotines. But the two films are not directly related. Zombiology is based on a novel, but the thing is that it is not really based on the novel. The novel has a sense of time and space, but film has its own sense of time and space, so we’ve added many other different elements.
CSB: I saw that your characters used an improvised version of the classic Hong Kong film weapon the Flying Guillotine in the film. Was that something you always wanted to work into the film?
Alan Lo: The short film, Zombie Guillotines, is a combination of the Western idea of zombies and the idea of ancient Chinese weaponry and martial arts. I really liked that, and I wanted to work that idea back into this new film. And think of it this way. The zombie’s weak point is its head, so if you think of the traditional ancient Chinese flying guillotine, it’s actually a perfect weapon for fighting zombies.
CSB: While Zombiology is a comedy, it’s also a horror movie. How has the mainland ban on horror movies affected the production of Hong Kong horror films?
Alan Lo: Mainland China won’t allow ghosts or ghost stories, or zombies, in film. And the other problem, which is very important, is that you’re not allowed to depict any kind of big catastrophes happening in mainland China. So what we do instead is we put, for example, animation or other things that are supposed to be taking place in somebody’s imagination. So there are ways of adjusting, perhaps adjusting other parts of the plot, so that we can hope to get into China. But we still haven’t gotten into China at this point.
CSB: Ms. Ng, you’ve worked on a few horror movies in the past few years, including directing a horror film (Angel Whispers (2015)). What attracts you to horror as a genre?
Carrie Ng: I really like horror. The possibilities are endless in zombie and other types of horror films because anything can happen. And so the range is so much bigger than, for example, a romantic story or anything like that because those are within the human realm.
CSB: And how did you enjoy having the opportunity to direct?
Carrie Ng: I liked it. I’m interested in investigating the idea of death, the feeling of death, because we live within the human realm, and there is something that is underneath.
CSB: A lot of zombie movies never explain what leads to their zombie outbreak, but it’s pretty clear from the beginning in your film that the outbreak is caused by an evil chicken. Why a chicken?
Alan Lo: Zombie films as a genre exist in many different countries. They’ve already made many of these films. I wanted to add something different in my film. The chicken is a symbol of the greatest fear, and that greatest fear has to do with the fear of the zombie apocalypse but also, at the same time, it is a reflection of the emotional turmoil that is inside the male lead played by Michael Ning.
Also, 2017 is the year of the rooster. Imagine being a chicken. It’s a very, very sad life, a tragic life. (Laughs). Very sad. From when you are very young, the hens are kept because they can lay eggs, but the male chicks are very quickly turned into Chicken McNuggets. So you can imagine the level of negativity in that species. And that negativity can also be associated with Michael Ning’s character.
But, of course, we don’t explain exactly what the chicken symbolizes because film allows for many different readings and interpretations, so when you see that chicken you can decide for yourself what it means. And why is the chicken in a cube shape? Well, one possibility is because, as the chicken grows, it is still stuck in the tiny cage. And so it became shaped like the cage that trapped it.
CSB: The movie features Western style zombies, but also teases more traditional Chinese hopping vampires or Jiangshi. Which do each of you prefer working with?
Alan Lo: I prefer zombies, but I am interested in mixing the two.
Carrie Ng: Zombies will just attack you no matter what. But the Chinese believe that the way to avoid or combat a Jiangshi is by not breathing. So all you need is one little precaution – just stop breathing.
CSB: Any chance we might see a sequel?
Alan Lo: Well, at the end of the film, there is a hint that you might see hopping vampires versus zombies. So there is a possibility.
Carrie Ng: I really wish there would be a sequel. And the fact that my character may die at the end of the first film shouldn’t rule out the possibility that I might exist in a different realm for the sequel.
CSB: You could come back as a zombie.
Carrie Ng: (laughs) I like that.
Thanks to Alan Lo and Carrie Ng for their time, and to Emma Griffiths for arranging this interview.