All songs tell a story, but not all music enhances one: that is where a composer comes into play. As a film composer, Hong Kong’s Ho-Ling Tang elaborates on the unspoken elements of a story, developing the emotion of a scene. A score can completely alter the feeling of a shot, and a good score will immerse audiences. As an industry leading composer in her home country, Tang understands these intricacies of her craft better than most, and her ability to take words of a script and transform them into notes of a song is extraordinary.
Throughout her career, Tang has shown worldwide audiences just what she is capable of as a composer. Her work on productions such as Wu Lin Guai Shou, The Lunnis and the Great Fairy Tales Adventure and The Accidental Prime Minister have been seen on the big screen around the world, and her musical contributions to the RTHK (Radio Television of Hong Kong) series Volunteer Stories transformed the story into a dramatic listening experience.
“I compose, orchestrate, and produce music that suits the image best. The music does not only enhance the story, I try my best to make it aesthetically appealing to the audience as a standalone art piece. I spend a lot of time in my craftsmanship, to ensure music itself has an artistic value and interests the audience,” said Tang. “In my job, I aim for a balance between both – to make great music and enrich the storytelling of a film.”
Tang’s most recent project allowed her to experiment with a genre she had yet to work in: horror. The film, Willa, is a highly-anticipated adaptation of the popular Stephen King tale. The story follows a man who finds himself aboard a stalled train, stranded in the middle of nowhere and unable to locate his fiancée, Willa. He decides to set out in search of her, but what he discovers instead is both shocking and haunting.
“The film’s writers made a nice twist from the original story. It emphasizes the relationship between Willa and her fiancé, and their shared love. That brings another dimension to the story. There have been a lot of horror films on the market, but one that has such perspective is rare,” said Tang.
When Tang heard that Stephen King had given his permission to the film’s Director, Corey Mayne, and the Producer, Barbara Szeman, to adapt his story, Tang was eager to join the team. She sent a demo to the filmmakers, including a Willa theme that she wrote. They enjoyed the demo so much that they asked her to come on board, with that theme becoming the main score for the film.
“Working with Ho-Ling was a breeze. Her talent and sensibilities as a musician helped ensure the success of our show. We will be working with her again the first chance we get. Her apt ability to translate the heart of the scene and overall film into music that haunts the audience. We have consistently received excellent feedback from test screenings about the soundtrack she created,” said Corey Mayne. "People who have seen the test screenings have given amazing feedback about the music and they agree that it’s essential in contributing to the project’s success."
Music is tremendously important to create tension and highlight moments of suspense in the horror genre. Tang’s music helped with highlighting these moments and kept the audience on edge and her Willa theme tied the entire story together. The melodic theme was adapted into different scenes in the film, and it creates a lingering feeling that continues throughout the story. It helps enhance the emotional part of the script and gives a voice to the characters’ feelings.
“Ho-Ling is such an expert at what she does and has proven so with all the feedback from studios, producers, critics and various audiences. Her music stays in your head and tells a story on its own. Recent national press articles have given feedback on our film, with the music being the predominant highlight. Ho-Ling clearly understands more than just music, she understands storytelling, filmmaking, directing and what humans are drawn to visually, internally and in sound. She's a true artist in all capacities,” said Barbara Szeman.
Even though it was a thriller, Tang and the director both agreed that the most important message of the story is about love, and that the score had to be emotional and moving. The theme was played on a piano, and with a repetitive melodic arc giving a lingering sense. She also brought train sounds into the composition as a sound design element, and as an inspiration for the piece.
“Corey and Barbara are both very dedicated and passionate about the project. They both devoted a lot of time and effort into the project and it really showed in the final product. I was really moved and inspired by their passion and I’m very glad that my contribution has made an impact on the film,” said Tang.
Willa is the largest-scale independent film of this size to ever shoot in the Greater Toronto Area. It is currently in the running in over 40 Canadian and International film festivals and has already received press in several national magazines and newspapers. Be sure to keep your eyes, and ears, open for its release.