TNP PHOTO: CHOO CHWEE HUA

If you are unfamiliar with Derek Tsang’s films, you might assume he is in the business of being funny.

The 36-year-old Hong Kong actor and director is the son of popular comedian Eric Tsang.

As an actor, Derek displayed his comedic ability in several films, including SDU: Sex Duties Unit (2013), Naked Ambition 2 (2014) and Robbery (2016). But he is winning critical and commercial acclaim for his latest directorial effort, Soul Mate, a tender, coming-of-age, female-centric tearjerker. His directorial debut was the slow-burning arthouse film Lover’s Discourse (2010).

Soul Mate, which opens here on Nov 10, explores the friendship between Qi Yue (Ma Sichun) and An Sheng (Zhou Dongyu), who are bosom buddies from vastly different backgrounds. When both fall in love with the same boy, jealousy threatens to wreck their close bond. Not only has Soul Mate raked in an impressive RMB $171 million (S$35 million) at the Chinese box office, it is also up for seven nominations at the Golden Horse Awards this month, including a Best Director nomination for Derek.

In town to promote Soul Mate yesterday, he told The New Paper that while he was working on the project, he “never thought of it as a woman’s film or chick flick”.

“I just felt strong empathy for the two lead characters. I could understand what they were going through,” he said in Mandarin. “We have a strong scriptwriting team comprising four women. I relied on them quite a bit whenever I needed a female perspective.”

Could Derek’s female touch also be from years of being surrounded by women at home?

“To be honest, throughout my growing-up years, my dad wasn’t around much. I was brought up by my mum and grandma, and the two of them hung out with their female relatives and friends,” he said. “Till this day, memories of them playing mahjong with a big group of aunties remain vivid in my mind.

“I am drawn to films about women as well as female-centric literature, such as novels by (Shanghainese author) Eileen Chang. Women’s emotions are complicated and there is something appealing about these works.”

He grinned when asked if his celebrity dad has watched Soul Mate. “Yes, he has and he felt very comforted after watching it,” said Derek.

“For years, my dad was worried that I would remain a poor, struggling director who makes only arthouse films for niche audiences.

“With Soul Mate, I’ve proven that I can pull off a commercial film that many people can enjoy. That, to my dad, is hugely comforting.”

A version of this story was originally published in The New Paper