Interview 採訪: Kwong Wing-ka, Law Yuk-mui/ 鄺永嘉、羅玉梅
Editing 編輯、整理: Law Yuk-mui/ 羅玉梅
English Translation 英譯: Daniel Ho Sze-hin/ 何思衍
Hong Kong/ 香港
Yu Kah-luk (L) with his studio colleague (R)
Tomy Yu Ka-Luk, who entered the scene in the 1970s, has had many years of experience in film sound effects and mixing. He has participated in films such as The Legend of Zu, The Storm Warrios I & II, Infernal Affairs, Time and Tide, Perhaps Love, etc. Every time Tomy is asked to list the works he has been involved with, he invariably says, “Oh, there’re too many; I can’t remember.” His Foley studio has been called “one of the most organized studios in Hong Kong.” On the tip of his tongue are a whole bunch of older names and terms, earned through his long experience.
“Back then, after I was done with school, I didn’t have the faintest idea of what to do. Then I saw an ad for “recording sound work” at Shaw Brothers. They had never put up ads to hire people, and at first I just thought it was interesting. I didn’t think about the question of interest — it was just purely that I needed a job.”
From the “King of Two Canes” to the “Four Heavenly Kings”
Tomy Yu (abbreviated to Yu below): I entered Shaw Brothers back in the 1970s, when the film industry was in a slump, and stayed there for about six or seven years. Once I had the chance to cover for someone at a TV station, and ended up being invited to join ATV (Hong Kong’s Asia Television). ATV at the time was the age of Tsui Siu-ming and the trend was to make historical dramas; with martial arts and sword sequences, a single scene could use up to a dozen weapons. On the set, I whipped a cane with all my strength, first with one hand and then with two hands; afterwards, I felt sore all over, as though I had beaten up or something. At the time, Tsui Siu-ming nicknamed me “King of Two Canes”.
At first, broadcast television had this part-time system, but as things started growing, they felt they needed to build a professional sound effects team. So they found the best technicians to form a sound effects crew. Ching Siu-tung’s brother, Ching Siu-long, also worked in this field. Back then we had the “Four Heavenly Kings”; four people were responsible for the sound effects of the entire series. Back in the day, Foley and sound effects took place at the same time, so we had to know everything and be good at everything. Nowadays, things have been split up, with ambient sounds vs Foley
From Two Hands to Computers
Yu : A film of 90 minutes has about nine or ten acts of ten minutes each. Take a more relaxed drama: you had to split it into eight or ten segments, with thirty or forty seconds per segment. Once they yell “cut” everything has to start all over again, so you must have a great memory and a fast reaction! Back then, the vast majority of tasks had to be completed on set; since machinery couldn’t really help with much, most of the gun shots and car sounds were done right there. To record a sound track — whether it’s airplanes, cannons, or a volley of gun sounds — the most you could repeat was three times. The first and second times got you to 80-90%; the third time you made adjustments; and the fourth time, the sound was already “full”. It used to be really tough to make everything good and do things precisely; now you can record a hundred times if you want.
A hard disk with several GB used to cost several thousand dollars; now that would get you something with several TB (terabytes; 1 TB = 1000 GB) — just storage alone is completely different. An open reel used to cost 200 dollars — but how much would you have recorded? You couldn’t bear wasting anything! Recording used to be instantaneous and then that was that; you couldn’t improve on it. Whatever your reaction on the spot was it. Which was why some spots you really had to rush. Say you have a recording of 25 frames per second: being four frames slower is normal; being one or two frames slower is really incredible already — an excellent reaction. Back then, the cost was related to your manual skills, since no machine could replace you.
Turning Pennies into Gold
Yu: In principle, you need to watch the whole film in order to understand what the director is trying to express — and it’s not enough to watch it once! I look at the script once, and talk to the director about what he wanted; when you get down to doing it you have your own feelings, too, so nothing is completely cut off on its own. And if you manage to get something really complicated done in a simple and easy way, that was called “turning pennies into gold”. For instance, with an airplane crashing, I could use the sound of two metal rods striking one another, together with carefully arranged microphones, and I would have the sound. You need to know how to grasp the tricks within. A really good sound effect sounds like it walked right out of the image, in complete harmony with it. The best is when the sound effects don’t sound like effects!
There are so many sounds we have never experienced. Who has ever heard the sound of someone walking on the moon! In that case, I use a very muffled sound to express this sense of slowness and levity. Foley are more or less an art; there is no specific guide. All you have to do is to put your mind to it. Everyone’s level is different. If you do better than your colleagues, then you know you’re not doing too badly! This profession is all about others quietly recognizing your work; you can’t really yourself say whether you did well or not.
 “Four Heavenly Kings” refers to the four gods in Buddhism who looked after the cardinal directions of the wind (in Sanskrit, caturmaharaja).
起初無線電視台是兼職制的，但隨著其規模漸漸擴大，他們覺得有需要建立一隊專業的聲效團隊。那便找了當時全香港最「精壯」的師父組成一隊聲效組。程小東的弟弟程小龍也是從事這個行業的。當年我們有四大天王 — 風、調、雨、順，四個人負責整套劇的聲效。從前特殊音效與聲效是同時進行的，所以什麼都要懂，基本上是全能的，而現在都分開來做，環境聲歸環境聲、特殊音效歸特殊音效。
馬步聲 horse footsteps