Clara Law on set - S&I
Clara Law on set - S&I
Stories & Ideas

Thu 12 Jan 2023

Director's notes: Clara Law

Film Retrospective
Clara Law

Clara Law


The groundbreaking writer/director muses on six key works in her oeuvre, screening as part of our 16–26 Feb 2023 focus season.

Floating Life (1996)

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Floating Life (1996)

Floating Life describes most aptly for me the world of an immigrant. An immigrant is cut off from history, both from one’s personal history and the nation’s history. They have to learn to live “floatingly”. What does existence mean away from one’s country, the non-existence of an existence when one is cut off from one’s roots?

Yet aren’t we all transient beings passing through this place called Earth? We are mortals that will pass away. We always try to hold hard onto a little space and call it our own. Aren’t we not all immigrants in this world? Where are our roots? At the end of the 20th century, we still try to differentiate by our colours, by our gods, by where we come from, the East or the West. The paradox.

Ancient Chinese philosophy teaches that there is a cosmic order to the universe. This order extends from heaven to earth, from country to man, from father to son... And so forth. I believe in this. This belief has given me strength and faith when I was making this film.

Showing at ACMI

Drifting Petals (2021)

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Drifting Petals (2021)

As I watched my niece and nephews grow up from zero age to teenagers, I reflected on my own life journey and the fact that I was lucky enough to be given the chance to carve my own path.

And so I grieved, as I watched young lives stunted prematurely and unnecessarily from their growth and the chance to fully realise their potentials as they fought for their dreams.

Yet I hope, as I also watched with the utmost admiration and respect the resilience and strength of the human spirits, as the yearning for freedom transcended all difficulties. History had taught me how the human spirits could rise and soar, and history repeated itself in front of my very eyes.

“The world might end one day but the will of humans will not.” These words from a Chinese philosopher are my guiding light, especially in dark times like this.

The freedom of giving my best with no time constraint (in a way!), knowing the limitation yet finding as I dug deep into myself the pure limitless inner resources that could only come through a creative process like this, I relied on that exhilaration of “the first time”, to feel, think, see, experience everything like it had never been shown to me before, and found as I searched, and let the truth revealed itself.

Showing at ACMI

They Say the Moon is Fuller Here (1985)

Cast of They Say the moon is fuller here

They Say The Moon Is Fuller Here (1985)

I thought I would be fully at home in England when I went there to study. Instead, I felt a deep sense of loss, of yearning, of nostalgia. It was the early eighties, when Hong Kong’s future was yet to be decided, changes imminent yet unnameable. They Say The Moon Is Fuller Here was born in this state of limbo. With an acute awareness of being foreign, a heightened sense of cultural difference, I felt an insatiable urge to seek for my root, especially when I had always felt caught between the East and the West, a splitting self identity crisis.

I tried to capture those moments, distilled them, believing less is more, nuances and ambiguity more interesting, the unsaid more captivating. To be truthful to my own vision, painting that Chinese-ness with all its unique tenderness and subtleties, searching, the eastern aesthetics.

Red Earth (short film, 2010)

Still from Clara Law's short film Red Earth (2010)

Red Earth (2010)

The contemporary New Confucian philosopher Mou Zongsan wrote, "The world will have an end but there is no limit to the human spirit." In times of darkness I turned to this for comfort. It reassured me of the power of human kindness, of dream and beauty.

The stills captured the moment and distilled it. I couldn’t have found a better medium to tell this story.

Showing at ACMI

Autumn Moon (1992)

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Autumn Moon (1992)

Lately, the word 'fading' keeps coming back to me. Maybe because I found out Mid-Autumn lanterns were no longer made with bamboo and paper lit by candles but plastic and light bulbs. Or walking into huge housing complexes I could only see kids with their videogames playing by themselves and no longer running wild playing hide-and-seek. Buildings kept on being pulled down. I kept on hurrying from place to place. And suddenly I woke up one morning and discovered recently I rarely have dreams.

I remembered as a kid I was taught to read Chinese poems and write calligraphy by my grandfather. Then I was sent to an English school, where I was taught to think in English. In fact, in my English school, as in all high schools in Hong Kong, I was not taught any Chinese history after 1911. I never realised what that meant until I went to England to study. In those three years, I was stuck in the middle, neither too Chinese nor very English.

I wonder how kids of today will grow up to be. And what will become of the kids in future? As our culture fades away, what will they remember? Will they be nomadic modernists that wander, with no attachments, no memories, no dreams?

Showing at ACMI

The Goddess of 1967 (2000)

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The Goddess of 1967 (2000)

Neither silent or moving

Neither perceivable or imperceptible,

Neither nothing or everything

A state of mystery, paradox, ambiguity

That was what I tried to capture in this film.

Showing at ACMI

Clara Law studied film at the National Film School, England after graduating from the Hong Kong University in English Literature. Returning to Hong Kong she crafted a number of internationally acclaimed features including Autumn Moon (winner Golden Leopard Locarno, Best Picture European Art Theatres Association, Youth Special Jury Award Switzerland, 1992), Temptation of a Monk (competition Venice 1993, Grand Prix Creteil 1994). She moved to Australia in 1995 and continued to win many international awards including Floating Life (Silver Leopard Locarno, Best Film and Best Director Gijon, Grand Prix Creteil, Grand Prix Asturias, 1996), The Goddess of 1967 (Best Actress Award Venice, Best Director Chicago, Best Director Teplice Artfilm, FIPRESCI Critics' Award Best Film Tromso, 2000), Letters to Ali (credited as 100 greatest films of Australian cinema by the critics), Like A Dream (opening film Hong Kong Film Festival 2010), Red Earth, (commissioned by HKFF, competition Venice 2010). Drifting Petals, a bold feature exploring the possibility of alternate cinema shot in Australia, Hong Kong and Macau, won the Best Director Award in the Golden Horse International Film Festival 2021. Through the years her films have had innumerable nominations in the Golden Horse FF, HK Film Awards, AACTA Awards and been selected in many international film festivals including New York, Venice, Toronto, Sundance, Locarno, Rotterdam, Pusan, Jerusalem and London.

View the program

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