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Orchestrator Samuel Lam talks new Chinese blockbuster ‘Crazy Alien’ and passion for music

Since the dawn of time, music has told stories and evoked emotion. This is a well-accepted truth among all cultures. However, the beauty of music is that it can also aid in other forms of storytelling, from films to television shows to plays. A well-written score can often be the most memorable part of a film, living through generations and instantly recognized within the first few notes. Samuel Lam knows this well. Hailing from Hong Kong, this composer and orchestrator has risen to the forefront of his industry in China and has made quite a name for himself around the world. His determination and passion for what he does are unparalleled.

“As an orchestrator, my job is to turn the composer’s sketch into a finished composition, by choosing the right instruments, orchestrating the right dynamics and techniques for them, and also adding extra layers such as accompaniment parts and synthesis. I may sometimes also be responsible to produce midi orchestra demos for the director and producer before recording,” he described.

Lam’s distinctive sound has contributed to the success of all the projects he has worked on. His talent is exemplified on the films Delay of Game, My Ex-Girlfriend is a Shovel, Who Lives My Life? and so many more where the music allows the audience to feel every emotion that needs to be conveyed. Lam’s extensive musical knowledge allows him to be very versatile in his work, with a seemingly endless source of creativity.

“I love using synthesis, and I also love combining ethnic instruments with traditional orchestra. Just like food, I appreciate fusion and mixing up different cultures to try to create a whole new genre,” said Lam.

Lam has worked on many successes throughout his accomplished career, but the highlight came recently with his work on the Chinese feature film Crazy Alien, which raked in a whopping $300 million USD at the box office. The movie premiered on Chinese New Year, February 5th, 2019 in China and it is one of the top 10 highest-grossing films in the country.

The award-winning science-fiction comedy follows a monkey trainer whose act goes wrong after an alien crash lands on Earth and injures his monkey. Desperate to perform the act, he attempts to train the alien instead, though is punished after the alien regains his powers.

“I love the story of this project, some of the general audiences thought Crazy Alien is a pure comedy at the expense of extraterrestrials and Americans. For me, however, Crazy Alien is a native Chinese grassroots comedy that reflects the ironic culture of China, and I am so glad that a movie that is so related to the lower class people can actually be shown to the audience,” said Lam.

This movie required a very specific sound, and Lam needed to combine Chinese instruments with Western Orchestra to achieve it. For example, at the very last scene of the movie, the Americans are carrying out their final mission to hunt for the Aliens. They think the Aliens camouflaged as monkeys, and they need to identify them by using a Chinese Gong as it is used to train the monkey. It needed to sound glorious because of the military, but also comedic as they are carrying a Chinese Gong, and Lam achieved it by combining Western Orchestra with a lot of Chinese Percussion. This was the last impression the audience would have from the film, and Lam knew it was of the utmost importance. His decision to fuse those two genres more than paid off, and the score is stunning.

“I was extremely lucky to be able to work on the last movie of the Crazy series by Ning Hao. It was a very challenging project, because the cast and stories involve both Chinese and Americans, we needed to use a wide range of instruments and arrangement styles to fit in the scenes. It is very interesting to arrange the same thematic materials with totally different instrumentations and genre, and even more so when we combined Chinese and Western music,” he concluded.

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