‘All Shall Be Well’ Interview with Ray Yeung

In 2020, Ray Yeung’s film Suk Suk (Twilight’s Kiss) was nominated at the Hong Kong Film Awards, with lead actor Tai-Bo taking home Best Actor. However, due to the pandemic, the film never found international audiences. Now, four years later, Yeung hopes to bring his next feature, All Shall Be Well, to more audiences this time around. The film recently won the Teddy Award at the Berlin International Film Festival. 

All Shall Be Well follows an aging lesbian couple, Angie (Patra Au Ga Man) and Pat (Maggie Li Lin-Lin), who are living together, unmarried, in Hong Kong. After Pat passes away, Angie must deal with the ramifications of their coupling up. Hong Kong law forbids same-sex marriage, and the deceased Pat does not have a signed will, so the law leaves the estate to her next of kin: A brother without a steady job and a nephew who doesn’t own a home.

All Shall Be Well explores the grey areas around the legal and moral rights of LGBTQ+ couples, with Angie not having a right to the home she bought with Pat and no control over Pat’s wishes surrounding her funeral arrangements, along with commentary on the housing crisis within Hong Kong. Our review called the film elegant and tender while having a powerful voice underneath pregnant pauses and meticulous craft. 

At the Berlinale 2024, film critic Connor Lightbody sat down with director Ray Yeung to discuss All Shall Be Well, which discusses LGBTQ+ rights, the housing crisis, and getting Hong Kong to feel as grey as London.

The Interview with All Shall Be Well writer and director Ray Yeung

[Editor’s note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.]

Connor Lightbody: Hi. First of all, lovely to meet you. Loved the film.

Ray Yeung: Oh, thanks.

Connor Lightbody: Big fan. It made me want to go back through your filmography. [your previous film] Suk Suk has never been distributed in the United Kingdom. Where can I see it?

Ray Yeung: I actually don’t know. In the UK, I don’t know actually. I think Amazon maybe or YouTube, I think. I think you have to pay, I think. I don’t know, I have to ask my producer actually.

Connor Lightbody: I will keep looking until then. If it’s anything similar to All Shall be Well, I’m going to love it. How are you enjoying Berlin?

Ray Yeung: Good, so far.

Connor Lightbody: Is this your first time here, or have you been before?

Ray Yeung: Well, I was here with Suk Suk in 2020, I think. Just before the pandemic.

Connor Lightbody: Oh, just before.

Ray Yeung: Yeah, we came, and we had very, very good reception, and had a lot of inquiry from distributors and film festivals. And then the world collapsed and shut down.

Connor Lightbody: I mean, that will kind of curb the momentum of a film.

Ray Yeung: Yeah.

On how the story of of All Shall Be Well came to be

Connor Lightbody: So, I want to talk about the plot and story. Where did it come from? Where did this thread begin?

Ray Yeung: Well, it’s actually also around 2020. I went to talk in Hong Kong about the LGBT inheritance rights and during the talk, the speaker quoted a few cases about long-term couples. One passed away and the other one lost everything. So I asked him, the speaker, whether he could introduce me to some of these people. Some of them said yes, some of them said no. I met up with three widows and quickly I found out that they have a very common theme, which was that they were very close to the deceased’s families and for years they would be hanging out together, go on holidays, and everything. But once, when that particular family member passed away, the whole thing changed quite quickly.

Ray Yeung: In one particular situation, the woman said to me that the next day after her partner passed away, the family members asked her, “Where are all her watches?”. They said, “Because we want her to have a nice watch for the funeral, so can you bring all her watches back to us?” It was that drastic. So, I realized that was something that I want to explore in the script. But I didn’t want it to be so dramatic, because if you do it that way, then the audience immediately is going to feel that “Well, those are villains. Those are nasty, greedy people. I do not identify with them. That’s not me.”

Ray Yeung: So, I wanted to make those characters, the family members, to be more rounded, more three dimensional. And we understand what their needs are, so that the audience can empathize with them. But at the same time, question, “If I’m in that situation, would I let this woman who has no legal rights [to the home] carry on living there? Or would I just take the flat? Legally, it’s now mine.”. What would you do? So, I want the audience to put in that dilemma and basically examine how homophobic they are. It was not really a right or wrong in some ways, because it’s also depending on how you see the situation as well. So I think I also want to present it in that way.

On how the cinematography influenced the tone of All Shall Be Well

Connor Lightbody: Yeah, I think you balance it really well. I was definitely in that kind of moral gray head space through it. I want to talk about your collaboration with [cinematographer] Ming-Kai Yeung. The death of Pat strips away the color and the life in the film. What conversations did you have with them about achieving that?

Ray Yeung: So, Ming-Kai said, “Oh yeah, what kind of look do you want?” I said, “Have you ever been in London in January? You know how you wake up, it’s grey. You spend a whole day there, it’s still grey. The next day you get up, it’s still grey. I want that.” I wanted the characters to be trapped in that atmosphere, that vacuum where everything is in a vacuum of that greyness. Also, we didn’t use any music because we felt that music would take away the tension that we were building. Almost like life in this grayness, you’re also trapped in this music-less, just using sound and silence to trap her in this situation.

Connor Lightbody: You had lots of little pregnant pauses throughout where you just watch her deal with that. I welled up at the shot of her going to the florist, and then she went into the phone booth and starts crying. It’s just so impactful. I agree with you, I think music in those situations would’ve just undercut a little bit of that nuance, that emotion. Yeah. So, grey in London is right. It’s grey about 11 months out of the year for London. I live in the north of England, so we have grey pretty much all the time.

Ray Yeung: Yeah, and January is after Christmas, so there’s nothing to look forward to, either.

Connor Lightbody: It’s like Christmas has that crescendo of all the emotion, where you’ve got all the festivities. It doesn’t help that in the UK you’ll get paid from your job at the very end of January, but you’ll get paid before Christmas so that pay window is long.

Ray Yeung: Oh, okay.

Connor Lightbody: So, in January, no one has any money. Everyone’s a bit broke and a bit sad, because there’s about six weeks until you get paid. It’s the longest gap of the year between wages.

Ray Yeung: And the longest hangover.

Connor Lightbody: (laughs) There’s definitely a lot of hangovers in January.

On finding lead actresses Maggie Lin Lin Li and Patra Au Ga Man

Connor Lightbody: With the lead actresses, Maggie Lin Lin Li and Patra Au Ga Man, how did you cast them? And did you do a chemistry test? Because they are magnetic.

Ray Yeung: I met Patra when we were doing Suk Suk. She was a theater actress before. Suk Suk was the first movie she has ever done on screen, and she was playing a woman who’s married to a gay man, but he was in the closet, and she kind of knew about it but didn’t really want to confront it. So, I thought she was very good in that movie and wanted to work with her more. So, when I was developing this script, I kind of had her in mind as I was writing. And then eventually after I finished it, I showed it to her and she said she was very, very interested in doing it. So that part was easy.

Ray Yeung: But to find Pat was quite difficult, because actresses of her age group, most have retired already. The ones who are left in the industry in Hong Kong mainly worked for the main television channel, and they do soap opera mainly. So, I had to search and search and search. And I remembered her, so I looked at old TV shows and Maggie just come across as something very refreshing, even then in the ’90s, someone who has a very smart and a very modern energy to her.

Ray Yeung: So I approached her husband who’s still working, and asked whether I could see her, and she said yes. We met up and I gave her the script and two days later she came back and said, “Okay, I’ll do it.” She hadn’t done any acting for 30 years, but she said, “Well, actually, throughout the years, a lot of people have offered me roles. But I’m always being a mother or someone’s grandmother.” She said, “I don’t really want to just be a mother or grandmother. But in your script, I’m playing an individual person with a character, my own wants and everything. So that’s why I’m interested in doing it.”

Ray Yeung: I thought that was very good. So, I then put her and Patra together and we had high tea. And we start chit chatting, and we talk, and the chemistry was really good at that time already. I can already see that it can really match up. So therefore… I mean, I didn’t do an audition situation, but we were having high tea together, and I kind of created a situation where they will have to help each other and see how it goes.

Connor Lightbody: To see how they interacted with each other.

Ray Yeung: Yeah, how they interacted.

On Pat’s wishes for burial in All Shall Be Well

Connor Lightbody: One of the scenes in the film is the deflection from Pat’s wishes to be buried at sea [in favour of buried in a Niche]. It’s the use of the lunar chart. We don’t really have that in the UK. Can you go into that and explain that a bit more for me?

Ray Yeung: You mean when they’ve got the fortuneteller to come over and all those things? Yeah, I think that is just a device to show that the family are very traditional, and they have their own way of seeing things. And also, the fact that it brings in the next generation. I feel that for a lot of the times, heterosexuals use the next generation as their way of suppressing LGBTQ community. It’s always for the benefit of the next generation, for the kids, for the children.

Connor Lightbody: It’s that whole “won’t someone please think of the children” phrase.

Ray Yeung: Yes, they always use that. So, I wanted to use something similar to that kind of saying that “Oh, for the benefit of the next generation, we have to do this, we have to do this.” So therefore, even though the deceased wish is different, while we want to honor this belief, the next generation will benefit from it, so therefore we can put it aside. And it’s another thing to basically undermine Angie’s wish as well, and to show how unimportant she is, once she had passed away. In reality, people do that quite a lot. People in Hong Kong are quite superstitious, I would say. They still get feng shui master to at least choose the right dates for the funeral.

Connor Lightbody: So, if you could go into the whole niche situation, because obviously we don’t have anything like that. We have graveyards. They don’t go into a big kind of mausoleum. So in that culture, do they choose a niche before they die usually? How does that work because I’m quite curious.

Ray Yeung: Well, in Hong Kong they have to, because of the space. There’s so limited space. So, I think that’s one thing that I wanted to show in the movie because the place is so small that everything is stacked, like all the buildings are all vertical. Even when you are dead, you are put into a niche, and the niche is in this building and everything is stacked up. Even the car in the car park is stacked up. Because if you remember, there’s that scene that the cars are not like normal car parks. They’re all in that thing that is all stacked up and going around. Because everything has to be vertical. Really, it’s just a motif to show that in Hong Kong there is that lack of space, so everything has to be like in the supermarket rack.

On the lack of space in Hong Kong and what it means for housing and more

Connor Lightbody: That lack of space is something you get into when you’re discussing housing culture as well, with the nephew trying to find a house, and Angie’s house being available, even if it’s morally wrong but legally right.

Ray Yeung: In Hong Kong the housing prices are so high, so for anyone who is in their twenties, unless your parents help you out, it’s almost impossible to actually buy an apartment. So if you want to get married, start your own family, it’s almost impossible. So I think that wants to be reflected back in the film. And Victor, who always wanted to have a family, and idealized Pat and Angie’s relationship, and thinking that is what he wanted most. The ironic thing is, in the end, he’s the one who hurt Angie the most, by actually getting the apartment to fulfilling the dream that he wants for himself. So that whole thing is very ironic.

Connor Lightbody: I read the film as if it was a bit of more of Angie’s sacrifice. She sees the draft will, which Pat never signed.  Could that draft will have been used as a way of her getting the apartment?

Ray Yeung: The only problem, is that in the scene, Yvonne, the lawyer, said that “You cannot tell anybody about it, because otherwise I’ll be in big trouble.” Because Yvonne being the lawyer who drafts the will, she should not show that draft will to anybody, otherwise she will be in trouble. Because it’s meant to be a privilege between you and your client. You cannot show it to anyone else. So therefore she wouldn’t really be able to use it in the court. And if she does, then Yvonne will be in trouble.

Connor Lightbody: So, she doesn’t want to sacrifice that.

Ray Yeung: Yeah

Connor Lightbody: She’ll also be breaking the relationship she’s got with the family.

Ray Yeung: Well, I think it’s quite open in that sense. I mean, she’s sacrificial in that she didn’t really drag the lawsuit out. But she actually has no rights to retain the apartment anyway because her name is not on the deed. The only thing she could do is just stay there and be a trespasser until they drag her out. So she doesn’t want to make it so ugly. So I think she eventually gave up the apartment, but she did fight for the allowance. She did get the allowance, and that is really the best that she could do at this point in Hong Kong. That is the only rights that she has, which is very degrading in itself.

Connor Lightbody: In a way, it becomes a bit of a tragedy.

Ray Yeung: Yes. Because you have to tell the whole world that, “I have no way to look after myself, and all my life I’ve depended on this person, and now she’s gone, I’m useless.” Which is very degrading.

Connor Lightbody: It is. And it’s a horrible situation to be in.

Ray Yeung: Yes. But in Hong Kong, actually, in those relationships, a lot of the times where they actually start the business together, one person would be more outgoing and would be the one who go to the bank, to go to the lawyer to sign and put their name on the business or whatever. And the other person who is actually very supportive, they might actually go out and work as well, but just doesn’t bother to put their name on the deed, and actually has made an equal contribution to the business. But they just don’t really see that there’s a legal need to document everything. And that’s a lot of the cases that I encountered when I interviewed.

On if the script evolved through the filmmaking process

Connor Lightbody: What changes did you make in the script, throughout the process?

Ray Yeung: Oh, a lot of changes, actually. Because what I do is, I write many drafts. And then I’ll get people to come and do table read. I invite people to come and listen to the table read and then change stuff after their comments and make changes.

Ray Yeung: On one of them, I invited a lot of lesbians to come and do the readings and one of the main changes they said is, because originally Angie has a friend who’s a married straight woman, was, “For a lesbian from that age group, if they were there to live with another woman in that era in Hong Kong, they will have to have a very close knit of friends who are lesbians, to support each other. So it’s very unrealistic for your character not to have a group of friends who will support her. Therefore, I rewrote it and I got rid of that woman and wrote a group of lesbian friends to support her. So that was one of the main changes.

Connor Lightbody: That’s really sweet. That’s a really lovely way of making films.

Ray Yeung: It took me a long time.

Connor Lightbody: Any darlings, any scenes that you really loved, but just couldn’t quite get in there?

Ray Yeung: I think we did that on the script stage already. So when we come to shooting, we pretty much have almost everything. I also storyboard everything. It’s very crazy, yes. So before I shoot, I already have, like a Bible, and with every single frame. I pretty much know what I want on set, and it all makes sense already. So, no, we didn’t really cut out a lot, I think, apart from some expensive shots. Like, we hired another boat to shoot the boat going across the water. So that was very expensive, because we have to hire a boat and we didn’t use it in the end.

Connor Lightbody: Oh, no.

Ray Yeung: And we also paid for the music rights for a couple of songs, which in the end we didn’t use. So those are the darlings that I killed.

Connor Lightbody: This has been brilliant. Thank you once again for the film. It’s really, really lovely.

All Shall Be Well will screen at the Hong Kong International Film Festival.

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