AWARD-WINNING MUSICAL ON SAINT JOSEPH FREINADEMETZ SOON IN MACAU – First HK missionary to be canonized now on film

– ROBAIRD O’CEARBHAILL

The USA and Canada award-winning musical film covering Hong Kong’s saint will be in Macau soon for a special screening. Saint Joseph Freinademetz was the first ever missionary in Hong Kong to be canonized. The 2019 Catholic Gabriel award was the first for the movie but on 22 September it was also one of two nominated for best feature at the XXXIV international Catholic film festival in the capital Warsaw of Poland.

The success belongs to the talent of the top professional star music director, Anthony Cheng, who composed much of the music, and a household name star actor, Dicky Cheung. The director Lan-Lei Ngan is a professional choreographer and Mildred Mei-liu (narrator) is a professional actor,  the technical director, Edward Chan is a veteran television producer. Likewise for their dedication, executive producer Danny Shiu and the producer Father Joseph Tam Lei Tao, SVD, were fast learners despite having no previous background in professional performance, film or theatre productions.

The free screening in Macau is Sunday, 6 October, at 3 PM at Cinemateca in Cantonese with Portuguese subtitles. After the movie,  Divine Word Missionaries (SVD) priests will talk about St Joseph who was SVD.

Austrian Joseph Freinademetz was canonized in 2003 because of his exceptional missionary work in 19th – 20th century China and for his love of Chinese people.

After his mission in Hong Kong learning Chinese he went to Shandong province. He wanted to be Chinese, spoke Chinese, wore Chinese clothes, and said on his deathbed: “I want to be Chinese in heaven.” The saint loved China so much he never returned to Europe. He left China once in thirty years for Japan, and died after bravely treating typhus patients and catching the disease in his province of Shandong. He was also courageous during the Boxer Rebellion where many foreigners were attacked including two fellow missionaries who were murdered.

The film’s music director Anthony Cheng is a top record producer and songwriter with 60 pop songs and classical compositions and performances including in UK.  The musical was a stage show before becoming a film revealed felt about the project and being a Catholics.

Here’s Clarim’s conversation with Danny Shiu, the show and film’s executive producer.

Why this project?

Most of us didn’t know or hadn’t heard about this saint, but together we learnt about him by acting in his story.  Most of us are Catholics and we all saw this project as a Church service and as a unique and effective way to evangelize, thus most of us were very proud for being part of it. 

I think the music director with his experience was the main creative force behind the material.

Yes.  This musical would have been less attractive if Anthony weren’t part of it. He rearranged most of the church songs that we used, composed three new songs and all the soundtracks, which gave this musical a personality.  He took this musical to the industry level that we never dared to imagine.

How did you get Dicky and Anthony into the project?

Producer Fr Tan had Dicky’s number and called him in late April 2018 if he could help.  Anthony and Director Ngan worked together previously.  She invited him to join the team in Feb 2018.

How did the film get into the American and Canada Gabriel awards?

In late 2018 the musical was aired on Canada’s Salt & Light TV network, then I was told there’s Gabriel Awards for the works which had been shown in North America.  Therefore I checked out their website and then filled up the online form. 

How did you get those critics reviews and praise?

No clue.  Maybe someone told them.  Maybe they found us on the internet because we are on IMDB.

How are the screenings around the world?

We’ve shared the high-resolution files with all SVD missionaries in over 70 countries around via the SVD Curia (read “headquarters”) and encourage them to share/screen the movie locally.  I won’t be surprised if there are other screenings that we are not aware, because all along we meant to let this movie be a tool of evangelization.

You have a worldwide performance and an award. How did you manage public and media relations?

No one is in a better position than the 6000 missionaries of Divine Word Missionaries in over 70 countries to promote this musical.  They’ve been the main force promoting the saint’s story in where they station since we gave the digital files to SVD Curia.  One proof is that we keep receiving emails of kind words from around the world.  Regarding the award and the critics, we only see them as a channel to let more people know about the musical. Therefore, we try not to focus too much on them.  We’re pleased with the way that the musical is promoted.

Did anyone in the crew get paid to do this?

None of the producers, directors or professional cast members were paid to work on this musical.  They all are Catholics and thus all saw it like a church service.

How long did the project take?

We’d started planning since early May 2017, then the first rehearsal was in Aug 2017.  On average 2-3 rehearsals per week through the performance in Jun 2018.

Clarim then talked to Anthony Cheng, show and film music director.

How important was St Joseph?

St Joseph had spent most of his adult life and finally died in China for preaching. This unconditional contribution to the development of Roman Catholicism moved me a lot after reading the playwright script of this musical.

How is it important in your life being Catholic?

I am a born Catholic and I served the church in different ways since I was young. For instance, altar boy, organ accompanist, choir conductor and music preacher in different stages. I feel a lot of love from Jesus in my ups and downs. I cannot live without my religion.

How important was your faith in becoming musical director of the musical?

I strongly trust that my music talent is a gift from God. This is the faith that I need to contribute my music ability as much as I can to the musical. I have written some of my best songs of the year for the musical.

In creating the cast you only took the best even among the amateurs with talent.  I know your unusual versatility from your musical experience. How did you migrate to classical music to rock and pop?

I learned classical piano as my first instrument when I was 11. However, I listened to many Canto-pop and Japanese cover songs in early 80s in my childhood and hence, my first impact of musical experience was pop music but not classical music. After my undergraduate study, I started my composing life by merging different genres of music since I learnt into my music compositions. So, I work from the range of pop songs, commercial jingles, modern music, to even electro-acoustic and intermedia works. Film scoring is my final destination as a composer since it comprises of all genres of music which I can write freely.

Does Catholic music, in song and music relate to you, for example on this musical?

I have rearranged several existing songs from Catholic songbooks to fit into the style of this musical. In addition, I wrote a few songs including the theme song of the musical in Catholic hymnal style.

Do you like performing concerts as well as recording production?

Sure. Yes, audiences appreciated much. And yes, my original music were performed in various countries and cities, people enjoyed  especially with a bit of Chinese music flavor.

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