“I would love [In Broad Daylight] to have an impact like Spotlight or the Korean film Silenced,” says director Lawrence Kan Kwan-chun, sitting at a boardroom table in One Cool’s office in Wanchai. It’s opening day for his combination journalism thriller and social realist drama, and he’s reflecting on the power that filmmaking, like good reporting, can have.
“Those films had an impact on society,” he says. “It might be silly but I’d like to see systems change. The real heroes are the reporters and the social workers, who work 20 or 30 years for tiny changes. If my film makes one person do something – anything – that’s good enough.”
It’s not too much to hope for. Dressed all in black, with a ball cap firmly secured to his head (can we take it off for a photo? “No,” is Kan’s firm reply) and a third or fourth coffee cup at his fingertips, Kan is decidedly philosophical about filmmaking and the role filmmakers play in the cultural landscape. Growing up in Hong Kong, he got a taste for watching movies in childhood, and though he was studying painting in advanced placement art classes in high school, he switched tack to filmmaking after graduation.
“I grew up watching films. Movies play a different role in everyone’s life, and for me they’re like a friend,” he says. “Whenever I was feeling frustrated I’d watch [Giuseppe Tornatore’s] Cinema Paradiso. Maybe not the whole thing, just a few scenes. When Alfredo tells Toto, ‘Whatever you do in the future, love it,’ it always made me cry. I get encouragement from some film characters, and when I watched that same thing a few years later I got a different kind of encouragement, or support, or love. And I think that’s the magic of cinema. Back then I thought I would only ever connect to films as part of the audience.”
So, armed with Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather as an all time favourite and Ann Hui as an early influence, Kan went to the Vancouver Film School in the hopes of making films that would impact viewers the way they impacted him. When he returned to Hong Kong in 2009, he almost immediately got to work making his first feature, When C Goes with G7, which was released in 2013 when Kan was just 26. That film was essentially a coming-of-age dramedy about four friends working in a music shop. Loosely episodic and relatively intimate, G7 flew under the radar, but it did establish Kan as a new, accessible voice that could balance personal storytelling with wide appeal.
His 2022 ViuTV drama In Geek We Trust, a sort of Silicon Valley for Hong Kong, had a higher profile and proved Kan had narrative range. “I want to learn. I don’t want to stick to one genre,” he says, noting that he is currently working on a film about marriage. “I want to make mistakes and explore and see what I can do.”
The idea for In Broad Daylight (白日之下), based on a series of news articles from 2016, has been something Kan has been mulling for years. “I turned this over in my mind for about five years. Longer,” he says. “This news was huge when these investigative articles broke.
It was shocking to me. It hit me hard. It hit everybody hard,” he explains of the Ming Pao and HK01 investigate reports about rampant abuse, neglect and corruption at the for-profit residential care home, Bridge of Rehabilitation.
Kan was inspired to respond to the grim story in some way, but was unsure of what he could do as “just a filmmaker.” But he talked with friends and other filmmakers and finally reached out to the journalists who worked on the articles. “I realised there was a whole crazy journey behind them, behind publishing the story. It was a struggle, and that was the perspective I wanted to tell the story from,” he says.
And just in the knick of time. It’s no secret that journalism is under threat in every corner of the globe, something Kan heard about first hand while attending festivals in New York, Taipei, Vancouver, Tokyo and Barcelona among others. Having an impact like Hwang Dong-hyuk’s 2011 Silenced, which resulted in legislation abolishing the statute of limitation for sex offences involving minors and the disabled in Korea, or most famously Errol Morris’s 1988 doc The Thin Blue Line, which led to the release of a wrongfully convicted Texas death row inmate, may not be in the cards, but films have a long history of stepping in and raising awareness of important issues – like Derek Yee’s 1986 debut, The Lunatics, about a psychiatrist working with unhoused mentally ill Hongkongers, did, or Hui’s The Story of Woo Viet and Boat People for refugee struggles around the same time. (Yee would eventually serve as Kan’s producer on In Broad Daylight.)
“It’s a luxury to say I can choose when or where I make a film,” Kan says with a laugh. “It’s our job as filmmakers to keep exploring, keep questioning. Even five years ago, the threat to journalism was in how many content forums there are, our short attention spans, the desire for ‘juicy’ stories. Now it’s worse, and it’s everywhere.” Last year, the UNESCO Director-General’s Report on the Safety of Journalists declared “there are no safe spaces for journalists,” while this year’s Council of Europe report on journalist safety described it as a “war on journalists.”
“Journalists and filmmakers are very different, but there is a crossover there; an odd connection,” says Kan. “I wouldn’t say filmmakers can step in, but though this generation of filmmakers doesn’t have millions and millions of dollars for our budgets we do care about our societies, our cities, and these are emotions that go directly into our films. If these films can have an impact, great. But it’s not like that’s ever the primary goal.”
In Broad Daylight is cut from the same cloth as the great journalism movies, from All the President’s Men down to Spotlight. It follows Kay (Jennifer Yu Heung-ying, who broke out in 2018’s Distinction, Tracey), a seasoned and somewhat jaded reporter for the fictional A1 news, as she follows up on a tip about abuse of elderly and mentally challenged residents at a care facility. She gets into the home by pretending to visit her grandfather, Tung (veteran actor-director David Chiang Da-wei, famous for his martial arts films with Chang Cheh, like 1970’s Vengeance! and his own The One-Armed Swordsmen from 1976), and buddying up to its manager, Cheung (Bowie Lam Bo-yi, A Guilty Conscience). Ultimately she uncovers a horrifying story about physical and sexual abuse, as well as the institutional corruption that allowed it to continue.
The compelling story seems cut-and-dried on the surface, but Daylight is elevated by its nuance. Kan manages to remind us that there are consequences to Kay’s admittedly just actions — the residents are left homeless when the centre closes — and that justice comes in short bursts: Cheung is never held accountable for his actions. Kay and her editor also frequently lament the state of journalism and its vulnerability to sheer media volume and corporate interests, among other challenges.
The film has struck a nerve. In its opening weekend, it earned an impressive HK$3.5 million and racked up Golden Horse Award nominations for Yu and standout Rachel Leung Yung-ting (29+1, Far Far Away) and Lam for supporting work, as well as art direction, make-up and costume design. A murderers row of emerging and current Hong Kong talent rounds out the cast: Henick Chou Hon-ning (A Light Never Goes Out), Peter Chan Charm-man (Everyphone Everywhere) and Chu Pak-hong (My Prince Edward, The Narrow Road).
Despite its starry cast and polished production, In Broad Daylight’s budget was in the same neighbourhood as most first features these days, which average around HK$5 million based on CreateHK’s First Feature Film Initiative grants. As part of the next wave of Hong Kong directors, can Kan see a day where he’s tempted to try some new technologies and get that cast cheaper? The use of relatively inexpensive AI was a major sticking point in the recently ended Writers Guild of America strike, and continues to be in the Screen Actors Guild labour action. Filmmakers like Johnnie To have suggested AI could be part of a solution to the industry’s budget woes.
“AI is definitely a threat,” says Kan. “I was in New York and Chicago during the strike so I got to talk to filmmakers there and it’s definitely a concern. Hong Kong is a little more remote but it’s a threat anyway. Of course it’s not about AI alone. It’s about the [corporate] system. It can absolutely be a great tool for writers.”
Kan also thinks people are also irreplaceable. He recalls laying composer Wan Pin-chu’s MIDI-generated score over Daylight and Wan putting the kibosh on the CG idea. In the end, they went to legendary composer Ennio Morricone’s studio in Rome to finish the score.
“Now, don’t get me wrong, we didn’t have some crazy budget for that,” Kan points out quickly with a chuckle. But finding a real orchestra was tricky business in Hong Kong due to time and availability of musicians. Both he and Wan wanted to record someplace meaningful, and with Cinema Paradiso a touchstone for Kan to this day it seemed the logical choice. Wan sent a cold request to Rome, they listened to the music and came up with an affordable package.
“You can hear the difference between real artists and the computer-generated music,” Kan insists. “I can’t describe the difference, but you can feel it. In the end it’s all about people.” He pauses, silently waving off any real AI contributions. “Technology has changed a lot, but cinema has not.”
In Broad Daylight is now screening.
All Stills ar provided by One Cool Film