Up close with Stephen and Show
Writer: Ng Suzhen
Cinema Online had the opportunity to sit down with legendary actor-director Stephen Chow and popular Taiwanese singer Show Luo recently in an interview for "Journey To The West".
Walking into an interview room knowing full well that you will be talking to one of the biggest names in Asian cinema is a daunting one. And it does not help that an entourage is surrounding you while the interview is going on. But you soon let your guard down when you realise that the comedic legend known as Stephen Chow, is really just an ordinary guy whose sense of humour reverberates cross the seven seas (Quentin Tarantino has been known to be a fan) and who happens to have enough talent packed in him to show what he can offer to the world.
Whatever gossip or scandals surrounding the director ironically, remains a mystery to the man himself as his focus is sharply pointed at his films. And judging by where his comfort zone lies in the interview, it is apparent that the man of the hour would have been uneasy if he were left alone to handle the media, especially a stranger hailing all the way from Malaysia.
Stephen Chow opens up with laughter when Show Luo is around.
While some may wonder about the presence of popular Taiwanese pop star, Show Luo, in a Stephen Chow movie, his appearance at the Taiwan press conference for "Journey To The West" alongside the director proved to be a blessing in disguise as we get to witness first-hand the fun both have taking jabs at each other (actually Show was mostly at the short end of the stick but who in their right mind would poke fun at Stephen Chow), a scene probably lost to the rest of the world should Stephen be alone.
The director was all praises for Show's performance in the movie but a little bird had revealed to us prior to the interview that Show was a little shy being in the limelight with "Journey To The West" as he felt that his role in the movie was only a cameo.
"I can't really tell much about my interaction with the other actors as I didn't have that many scenes with them," said Show.
Show is a little apprehensive about all the attention sprung onto him despite only playing a cameo role in "Journey To The West".
But Stephen was quick to dismiss the idea.
"Says who? You had a big battle scene and you were the only one who was surrounded by four ladies showering you with flower petals constantly. What more can you ask for? Have you any idea how envious we are of you?" laughed Stephen.
"I take great pride in my capability to pick out the perfect actor for a role," he continued, turning to us. "It all comes down to your gut feeling when making the choice. Take a close look at Show, doesn't he look empty, lonely and cold as The Impotent Prince? He may not look that way on the surface but you can see the 'qualities' in him. And don't you agree that the effect he produced with the role given to him was good? That proves that I am right with my choice."
"Even Shu Qi. She is such a beauty but I can see beyond that beautiful face that she has the capability to stretch her martial arts prowess in the film, complete with a tough tomboyish quality. You can easily see that there are two sides to her. Doesn't her performance prove that I was right again? Just look at her in the movie, how tough her character turned out to be. Not gentle at all. That is what I was looking for in that role."
For those who do not already know, the legend himself has dedicated his time fully behind the camera for this Chinese New Year epic. There had been rumours that he gave himself a cameo in the movie, but the director neither acknowledged nor denied it.
"You're going to need to watch the movie more than once if you want to try and spot Stephen," laughed Show. "He might just be a passer-by in the movie!"
When we passed on the message that fans might be disappointed without seeing him in a classic Stephen Chow movie, the director seemed oblivious that his absence would matter that much to fans.
"Nah, I don't think they will be that upset. "Journey To The West" is pretty much me. I put everything about myself into the movie. Every single thing you see in there is all me!" declared Stephen.
Despite rumours claiming Stephen Chow picked Shu Qi for personal reasons, he is adamant that his decision to cast the actress was the right one.
Which leads to the next question in our minds: we had heard that the movie was filmed without a script and that he had taken upon himself to personally show the actors how every scene is conducted on the set instead. How true is that rumour?
"Who told you that? The staff? Well, don't listen to them!" he exclaimed good-naturedly. "Of course we had a script."
Jumping to the rescue, Show, who was the perfect witness to the statement, was able to confirm that there was indeed a script.
"All I can say is that there were contents in the script, but they turned out to be all fake," said Show, while sneaking a cheeky glance at Stephen. "The moment I arrived on the set, I went 'Ooohhhh....' and proceeded to throw the script aside," he joked.
But the singer quickly added, "Actually, it's because the situation entails some impromptu additions that would make the scene funnier. The script is 'dead' whereas people are 'alive'. So when you start with the scenes and improvise on the spot, Stephen would sometimes go "Hey, this piece of dialogue sounds good, how would you continue with that?" This was how we went about going through the script and making it better."
Stephen Chow is all about his work, which embodies the essence of what the man is like in real life.
As this is Stephen's first attempt at a movie conducted entirely in Mandarin, he admitted that improvisation by the Mandarin-speaking actors helped him out a lot. They were able to come up with jokes that worked in Mandarin, which Stephen found some difficulty with as his first language is Cantonese, limiting certain jokes when it comes to converting the dialogue. However, Malaysian audience might be able to fully appreciate Stephen's jokes as "Journey To The West" will be dubbed in Cantonese for the local release.
Which character would you play in "Journey To The West" if you absolutely had to?
"Show's character because I am also empty, lonely and cold," he joked.
The funny thing was, Stephen does not seem to remember much detail from his past movies. He had added that the phrase of 'empty, lonely and cold' would have been a great Cantonese quote for the movie when we pointed out that it had already been previously used by his character, Bao Sing, in 1994's "Hail The Judge" (and also by various characters in his subsequent films through the years).
Huang Bo and Wen Zhang having a classic Stephen Chow style funny moment.
And now, back to the quizzical presence of Show in the movie which was at the back of our minds from the very start. How did a Taiwanese pop singer who had not had much experience in film end up in the movie of a legendary Hong Kong actor-director?
The two had met while attending a comic book event in Mainland China, according to Show. He was a huge fan of the director and when he spotted his idol walking past; he just had to shout out his name and declared his admiration for him on the spot. He was then invited to have tea with Stephen sometime but was warned by Stephen's staff members that it might just be an invitation extended out of courtesy more than anything else, which means that the meeting might not happen at all. Show did not hold much hope until he got a surprising call from the director.
The not so suave Impotent Prince that Show Luo was 'conned' into playing.
"He really did ask me out for tea. I wasn't even paying attention to anything Stephen was saying during the meeting. I was just feeling incredulous about where I was, to be able to see this familiar face at such a close range in real life."
And just like that, without knowing what Stephen was saying throughout the meeting, Show was 'conned' to be in "Journey To The West".
"I thought I was supposed to be a suave, formidable swordsman, and see how I end up looking in the movie!"
Well, suave or not, we trust Show does not mind the 'con'. It is, after all, a potential Stephen Chow classic he is starring in. And what more can a fan ask for?
Cinema Online, 06 February 2013
"Journey To The West" will be opening in Malaysia and Singapore on 7 February.