Nature vs Nurture is a perennial debate. For producer Janice Lok Woo it’s a bit of both. The Hong Kong native had an actor for a father, peaking her interest as far back as she can remember. Of course, that initial spark could have faded away but Janice became taken with the idea of telling stories. She’s cultivated this into a career which boasts feature films, shorts, documentaries, television productions, and commercials. Woo’s generation has seen the huge transformation of the industry with the addition of streaming content, a facet which has redefined the types of stories being told as well as the process. It’s an exciting time to be a producer and Woo is constantly proving herself to be one of the most eclectic and powerful voices in this international community. You might wonder how a producer can have a style or a voice. Directors, actors, cinematographers; there are numerous examples of how these professionals do this. The projects which Janice produces possess a common thread of seeking self-awareness and personal empowerment, revealing a definable pattern for this producer. It’s a path she has made a personal and professional ethos.
Feature films produced by Woo, such as White Room and Angels Never Cry, are tales of people who find themselves challenged to identify themselves by either the world’s view of them or their own. This can be benevolent or malevolent. As in any great drama, it’s the main character’s self-belief that can point them in the right or wrong direction. White Room is hypnotic and destabilizing, as much for the viewer as for Bella (played by Katrina Schmidt) who is confronted with the question of whether reality is changing or her perception of it. With intriguing multiple layers, the heart of the film questions mercy killings and the viewers’ leanings toward supporting or condemning this practice. Though the film is referred to as a thriller, it is deeply philosophical as well. Angels Never Cry initially appears more mundane than White Room but illustrates how quickly life can transform into something threatening and terrifying. Shot in the harshness of Reykjavik, Iceland, Janice pulled the film from near catastrophe when key members of the production team failed to establish the pre-production components. Angels Never Cry not only completed production but received awards from the Virgin Spring Cinefest, Cult Critic Movie Awards, Berlin Flash Film Festival, and other. Janice comments, “Films have a much more global audience these days and it’s very beneficial. India has such a big market. After we won at the Calcutta International Cult Film Festival we were overwhelmed by offers.”
For the documentary MANipulation (currently in post-production) Woo felt compelled to create a film which related some of the stories of abusive relationships she had heard from others around her. After numerous conversations with professionals in the industry about their involvement in manipulative relationships, the producer wanted to display some of these in a way that would remove shame and establish some sense of community. Interviews are mixed with actors in recreations of events in MANipulation. Janice relates, “I really want to educate people about mental abuse. Very often the abused believes whatever the abuser is saying, even when they know the abuser is saying something wrong. I want people to at least know they’re in that situation and they can define if their partner is abusive. There’s no cure for the abuser. You have to take control of your own life. Maybe watching this documentary will help people to be aware of warning signs before they get into a situation like this.”
Proving that she is able to transfer emotion in a variety of offerings, Janice produced commercials for Chicken Essence and Literati/Curiosity II (Sotheby) in Hong Kong. These two are paired so well because they illustrate how different the tone can be in Janice’s work. The Chicken Essence ad (titled “Because of you, I learnt to treasure my health. Hungfooktong: Chicken essence”) features Cantopop singer and philanthropist Jade Kwan Sum-Yin in a tear producing story of mothers and daughters. It’s a prime example of what is referred to as a “good cry.” Conversely, Woo’s Literati/Curiosity II (Sotheby) commercial is modern, sleek, and polished. An energetic score accompanies the massive skull of an erstwhile Mammoth, chaste Song dynasty ceramics, and many other curious things formed by nature or man spanning millions of years to the present day; it’s proof that collectible art is exciting and relevant.
With feature films, documentaries, commercials, and a slew of award-winning productions to vet her in today’s entertainment industry, where does Janice Woo see her future? She reveals, “Wherever it is, I see myself doing it all across the world. I shot my first feature in Iceland and the next two in the USA. I’m currently working on a project that I’m hoping to shoot in Thailand.” Lungau Austria is the location for a feature film which Woo will be shooting next year. This Psychological-horror-comedy titled Krampus Town follows a musician from Vienna who has a dream to become a Chinese ghostbuster. A number of intriguing and varied productions give credence to this exciting filmmaker.