Making a story across 30 years of a character’s life, capturing the Hong Kong of the 1980s and 1990s and doing justice to the story of Hong Kong Paralympic sprinter So Wa Wai were the challenges facing the team that brought Hong Kong Oscar submission Zero to Hero to the screen. 

Director and writer Jimmy Wan, So Wa Wai’s real-life mother Hon Siu Ching and producer and the film’s star Sandra Ng spoke to Screen about that complex and fascinating journey. 

Watch the interview above

Wan wanted to tell the true story of Hong Kong Paralympic sprinter So Wa Wai before it was forgotten. Zero To Hero tells how the boy, born with cerebral palsy, went on to win the first Paralympic gold medal for Hong Kong in 1996 as well as many other medals and achievements, all with the love and support of his formidable mother Hon Siu Ching. 

The film was produced by Hong Kong film star Sandra Ng, who plays So’s mother in the film, while two actors – Leung Chung Hang and Fung Ho Yeung – play So at different stages of his life. Ng produced the film through Louis Koo’s One Cool Film Production. 

Ng says she felt “pressure on playing a character across so many years” describing playing the part of this mother who raised a disabled child over so many years as a “tremendous challenge.”

Wan heard about the story in 2013 and realised a lot of people had forgotten about Wai’s achievements. “That gave me a lot of motivation to tell his story,” Wai says. “The story spans 30 years so one of the biggest challenges was how to condense it into one,” says Wan.

Because the story was set in the 1980s and 1990s the filmmakers also had to recreate that period and the races and competitions of the time. “We had a great costume designer [Law Pui-Sho] and Mrs Siu and her family gave us a lot of photographs of memories to go by.”

It was never going to be easy attracting investment to a production about a mother and her struggles to bring up a son born with cerebral palsy so severe that she was told he might never walk let alone run like the wind.

However, having Ng as producer and star made all the difference. Ng has been in over 100 films and wanted to bring her experience to this project and support director Wan. “If we attract more audiences because I am in it, good,” she smiles. 

Siu says entrusting her family’s story to Wan, Ng and the production team was easy given the pedigree of talent on both sides of the camera. “I felt very flattered but at the same time felt sorry for Sandra playing someone like me,” she says. 

Ng laughs: “Please don’t be sorry, I really wanted to play the part and tell the story. It’s a story about a mother’s greatness.”

Siu is pleased and honoured by the film. “Watching the phases of Wai’s life was like looking in a mirror,” she says. Wan’s hope is the international audiences will walk away inspired and invigorated by the film’s message of triumph over adversity.

The title is part of Screen’s 2021-22 FYC Awards Screening programme.