“There is no way out. We were born at the wrong time,” she says helplessly, before bursting into laughter. “Or you can also turn it around and say we are born at the right moment, since there are so many topics to choose from.”
Cheung has her own views about current issues in Hong Kong. Welfare for the elderly, preservation of traditional Chinese culture, and gender equality are themes frequently addressed in her films.
Rice Distribution (2003), a 35-minute documentary about the elderly collecting bags of rice from Taoist charity organisations during the Hungry Ghost Festival, was awarded the Grand Prize in the eighth Hong Kong Independent Short Film and Video Awards in 2003.
Video taken from Visible Records
Cheung clearly feels compassion for those at the margins of society and tries her best to highlight social problems. Yet, she understands it is never an easy job to influence the mindsets of others.
“This is not a goal that can simply be achieved by one or two documentaries,” Cheung notes. For example, Moving, one of her personal favourites, which portrays the difficult lives led by the elderly in Hong Kong, received a mixed response.
“I liked Moving a lot, but I know it is hard to find an audience, because it [the film] is about old people. Hong Kong people do not care much about the old,” she explains. “But I like the documentary’s subjects, and I like the bleak atmosphere – that sad and resigned feeling.”
For some critics, however, the problem is not the bleakness of the situations in the film, but what they see as Cheung’s inability to penetrate the surface and provide deeper insight or context.
Cheung’s style is influenced by the 1960s American style of documentary-making known as Direct Cinema. She eschews narratives, background music and interviews, preferring to use only the original footage, directly captured and truthfully presented.
However, Cheung does not believe her documentaries are totally objective. “There are my opinions [in them], because they have gone through my editing process,” she says.
Cheung’s style of fly-on-the-wall documentary filmmaking requires shooting hours of footage and more hours spent on editing the raw material.