Translated by Susanna Ho (Daydreamer)
Venue: The Auditorium, Hong Kong International Trade & Exhibition Centre
Organizer: Gor Gor’s Website
Topic…..Leslie Cheung’s Truthfulness and Sincerity in His Movies
Speakers…..Mr. Jacob Cheung (Film Director), Mr. Jason Lam Kee To (Film Critic and Screenplay Writer)
Jason Lam Kee To:
The subject of today’s seminar is “Leslie Cheung’s Truthfulness and Sincerity in His Movies”. In the later stage of his movie career, Leslie has not put the “truthfulness and sincerity” in his heart only; rather, he expressed them through the movies that he played.
I would like to share with all of you something that I experienced yesterday. Yesterday was April 1st and to make a living, we still had to work as usual. I met with three movie workers. In our meeting, we all talked about Gorgor unexpectedly. We felt it necessary to give a minute to him. We therefore observed a minute’s silence to commemorate this good friend of ours and of the movie world too. We will continue to do so every year because we all miss Gorgor. After we observed one minute’s silence, Mr. Joe Cheung Tung-Cho, whom we called “daddy” in the movie circle, said that we all could not forget Gorgor because his acts and doings in the later stage of his movie-making career have become a paragon, an example for all movie workers. In “The Kid”, Gorgor only accepted $1 as his remuneration. He expressed his love and sincerity towards movies by taking actual action. In this year’s commemorative activity, therefore, it is of perfect timing and most appropriate for us to invite Mr. Jacob Cheung to be our guest speaker. Mr. Cheung has exchanged many experiences with Gorgor in the movie “The Kid”, some of which even I myself have not had the chance to be aware of. Moreover, Mr. Cheung has also participated in the production of the short film “From Ashes to Ashes” that Gorgor later directed. Let me pass the mike on to Mr. Cheung.
The Preliminary Idea of “The Kid”
I am not very good in expressing myself in words. Today, I am here to share with you my own personal feeling and sentiment towards Gorgor, as well as some of the things that you may or may not have already known about him. What I can say is that because of my collaboration with him, I therefore have had the opportunity to be here today to share with you about Gorgor. Today’s topic is about the truthfulness and sincerity of his artistic life, actually, I am inappropriate to talk about this topic because I am not too familiar with Gorgor’s performance and his life. The things that I may share with you are only those I actually saw and came across when we shot the movie “The Kid” together.
I remember that in 1998, the movie industry in Hong Kong was at its lowest point. Many workers in that industry were jobless. One of the reasons why it went downhill was due to the rampant video piracy. Besides, people were disappointed with the Hong Kong movies and so they did not go to the cinema any more. At that time, under the motivation of some twenty directors, “Creative Alliance” was established with a hope to revive the industry. We were thinking of inviting some respectable directors, such as Ann Hui On-Wah (許鞍華), Mabel Cheung Yuen Ting (張婉婷), Wong Kar Wai (王家衛) and Stanley Kwan Kam Pang (關錦鵬) to earnestly shoot some movies. We also wished to invite some famous actors, like Gorgor, to play in those movies. The way it would work is first we had the directors, then the stories and actors. Afterwards, we would arrange for the movies to be sold to overseas. After calculating how much money we could earn from the sale of the movie to Taiwan, how much rewards we could expect from the Hong Kong video tapes and how much money the cinema owners would lend us. With the actors not receiving any remuneration and the main crew members cutting their salaries as much as possible, we hoped that the costs of the whole production could be reduced by 30 to 40% because we knew that the major part of the production costs would probably be spent on the remuneration of the actors.
Once we had those ideas in mind, the directors were to come up with some subject matters for the movies. At that time, I was one of them. I was thinking what the society required most with people facing financial crisis and negative assets then. One day, when I was on the bus, I saw a pregnant woman. Giving birth to a new life was a happy thing but all I could see on her face was sadness. I thought what Hong Kong needed most at that time. As a movie worker, I was thinking of the message that I could convey and share with the audience. Actually, it was a very happy thing to bring happiness to others. Uncle Qiao Hong (喬宏), an actor who has already passed away, said that he did not mind playing comical roles because comedies could bring happiness to the audience. I thought to myself, under what circumstances would Hong Kong people smile again and how could we make a comedy. We therefore watched Charlie Chaplin’s movies over and over again. One of them which touched me most was called “The Kid [Charlie and the Kid]” (差利與小孩). We thought who could play Charlie’s role. If the movie “The Kid” was to be re-made, we hoped the people would realize how much they had lost: the loss of loved ones and departure of relatives, failure of business investment, and many other unfortunate things. However, no matter how unfortunate those things were, they could not replace the ones whom we loved in our lives. In order to deal with daily life’s worries and troubles, many Hong Kong people have therefore neglected their closest friends and relatives. At that moment, I thought it would be good to convey such a message by way of a comedy. In the “Creative Alliance”, different director was to make a movie with a different theme, and one of them was “The Kid”.
We then started looking for Charlie. Derek Yee suggested that I should try contacting Gorgor, yet I was doubtful how could Gorgor play the role of Charlie. At that same time, something else was bothering me too. Although I concurred with the ideas of the “Creative Alliance”, yet I was worried about how people would think of us. We were merely a team of back stage crew members who were jobless, yet we tried to find an excuse to ask the group of famous actors to help out the Hong Kong movie industry by not receiving any remuneration, that feeling was not very good! I therefore could not make up my mind whether I should contact Gorgor or not. Finally, I realized that if we did not invite a famous actor to participate, the movie would likely be unable to be completed. Even if it was completed, there might not be any audience. Not that other directors and I had not made movies of similar theme before, the thing was not too many people were interested in watching them. Moreover, our self-complexity and doubts towards others restrained us from taking any action, including our thinking of using a “popular” actor; we thought that there were too many con games in human nature that we did not want to get involved. Derek Yee eventually contacted Gorgor. He mentioned the project to him on the phone. After Gorgor knew about it, and I remember that in less than a week’s time, a meeting was set up.
Some Day at 3 p.m. in the Coffee Shop of the Peninsula Hotel
That day, we met in the Coffee Shop of the Peninsula Hotel at 3 p.m. I was very nervous. On the one hand, he was a true superstar, someone whom I like very much, and on the other hand, it was as if I had to market to him the idea of not accepting any remuneration. Before I had had the opportunity to explain the script to Gorgor, he already indicated that he understood it. Most probably before we met, he had learned of the complete issue from Nansun Shi (施南生) or from some other people. My worry therefore was unnecessary. He understood well that the group of movie workers involved merely wanted to do something good. Gorgor mentioned that he would participate in the making of the movie because he hoped that everyone could go back to work, and the most important thing was that the crew members could have some income; he would not mind about any other arrangements. He only wanted to make a good film and that everyone could work together. I thought, “Everything happens so quickly, I haven’t even had a chance to tell him about my story!” (Jason Lam Kee To: Right, you still haven’t said what you’ve prepared to say!) From that moment onwards, Gorgor never had any regret or any complaint. For one dollar only, he signed a contract to play in that movie. In order for a contract to be valid, it required a value, we therefore put in the amount of $1. That was the beginning of the whole issue. The Gorgor I saw then was the same Gorgor I met twenty years ago at the making of the movie “Merry Christmas”. I was the producer then. At that time, the role that Gorgor played only required him to work for three to four days. He was the boyfriend of Loretta Lee Lai Chun in the movie. During the shooting of that film, he came and went quietly after his part was finished. At that time, I did not know Gorgor well. Until our collaboration this time, I still had not told him that I was the person who used to call and notify him of the schedule for shooting the movie “Merry Christmas”. I was too shy to do that. (Jason Lam Kee To: I think he would remember you in any event.)
Gorgor and Ming Jai
From then on, we began to work on the script of “The Kid”. We would send the script to Gorgor for his review and comments once it was ready. Gorgor said to me, “Director, please arrange as you wish. I wish that on the whole issue you do not have to face a lot of pressure. The most important thing is let us work together to make a good film. I don’t want to affect your decision.” Therefore, Gorgor had not provided too much opinion on the revisions of the script or on anything else. Perhaps he did find the script satisfactory.
Another difficulty we were facing was to find a kid to play the role of Ming Jai. We needed to find a kid who could make people moved. I felt that to make this movie successful, apart from Gorgor, we also needed a lovely kid to make the audience feel that he was our own child, someone close to us. It was my preference that this kid did not know how to act and had no contact with film-making at all because I did not want his facial expression to be too formalized. At that time, we put up advertisement and invited many kids to come for audition. Finally, I reviewed the video tape of those kids who did not get elected and finally chose “the four-year-old Ming Jai”. Many thought that this kid was only four years old, and so it was impossible for him to know how to act. The reason was that we did not have too much fund, in reality we were not permitted to over-budget, nor were we allowed to spend more than thirty days to film the picture, we therefore had to choose a kid who knew how to control his own mood, and had a lovely, pure and naive appearance. Another candidate was eight years old. He understood well what he was required to do and he was very easy to communicate with. Comparatively, I found the four-year-old kid more favourable, feeling that he was Ming Jai. The kid who was eight years old was very sensible. What followed was that we sent the pictures of those two kids together with the casting to Gorgor for his review. Gorgor expressed that it was difficult to choose that way. He wanted to meet with them personally. We therefore arranged for a group of kids to meet with him. Since denying a kid at a one-on-one interview to determine his chance of playing in the movie would affect him psychologically and it was something we did not want to do, we therefore arranged for a large group of kids to attend together. They met and talked with Gorgor. Gorgor told me that personally he liked the four-year-old kid. I then said to him, “Well, that is your choice; if he does not listen to you, then….. hahaha!”
We had a mutual consensus that we would not use a reward-punish method to encourage the kid. That was not too good! The kid still had a long way to go. It was not a good method to show our encouragement by rewarding him with, say, an apple or jigsaw puzzle if he acted nicely. Gorgor felt the same. We could not affect the kid’s viewpoint about the value of things. It was adults’ business to make the movie; we should not affect the kid. As Gorgor said, he would arrive early every day at the set before the camera started to roll to play with the kid. They did play happily, just like good friends. He did so everyday in order to establish a good relationship with the kid, and to make him feel that he was a family member and not merely an actor. The kid’s family praised Gorgor for his understanding and kindness. Gorgor had become his friend, not merely for the sake of making the movie, but the important thing was that he hoped the kid would not change his viewpoint in the future about the value of acting or the core values in life. That was the method we adapted. We never gave him a gift. We wanted him to know that since he was not a professional, he could play the game poorly; however, once he participated in that game he has to finish it, just like every man must finish whatever he has started. Gorgor had imbued him with an education.
It was tough for Gorgor to be on the set everyday. On one hand, he had to put himself into his character, and on the other hand, he had to make the kid establish a good relationship with him. The pressure he faced came from two directions: on one hand, he did not want to let the audience down. He knew the image he gave to the audience was of the upper middle or white-collared class, yet now he had to portray himself as one who has lost all of his fortune overnight, he therefore had to deliver a good and persuasive performance making the audience appreciative of his acting skills; on the other hand, he had to consider whether the kid would understand his performance and must also take into consideration that his mood did not affect the kid. As he said, he was relatively laborious. First, his co-star was just a kid; second, he did not want to disappoint the audience with his performance; third, he did not want people to have the impression that because this was a pro bono movie and that he did not receive any reward, the movie therefore was not a good one. You can imagine how much pressure he was under.
Gorgor’s Invisible Impetus
At all times, Gorgor tried not to affect the director’s creation, but on the whole matter, his impetus was very important. We had contacted several actresses inviting them to play the female role but they all declined our invitation. The reason was that playing the role of a mother, which role was eventually played by Qiqi, was unacceptable to them (Jason Lam Kee To: That role was not flattering! Perhaps the viewpoint about the value of that role was not too good; however, the truth was a different matter!) The viewpoint on value really is something worth discussing; however, today we are not going to do that. Some actors said that they wanted their image to be like this or like that, however, when they were an actor, their main job was to play the role well. The image of their life and the image of their performance are two different things. After Gorgor learned of the issue, he was not very happy. He voluntarily contacted several actresses, but from his perspective, he had his own difficulty because he had participated in this movie, he did not want to stand in the front line, he only wanted to stay behind to help. Afterwards, subsequent to some discussions, we decided to invite someone who was not an actress to play this role. Gorgor suggested Qiqi. He said, “Try to contact Qiqi, she is good!” I asked him if he minded. He said, “No, since we are not boyfriend and girlfriend in the movie!” As we all know, Qiqi is very tall and many actors will mind, but not Gorgor. Later on, I contacted Qiqi and she accepted my invitation right away. She also just received a symbolized amount as remuneration. Both Ti Lung and Carrie Ng Kar Lai were supportive of this movie too. It was simply because that even Gorgor was supportive of this movie, therefore no one had anything to say. As a result, many other people supported and participated.
Jason Lam Kee To:
In the seminar last year, we mentioned that Gorgor’s acting skills changed from the idol style of performance to the one with breadth and depth at the later stage of his career, and we believed that his in-depth performance started from the movie “The Kid”. His character in “The Kid” seemed to be a simple one, yet for an actor like Gorgor, who had status, to play such a role, he was under a lot of pressure. Using a simple word to describe the character, it was “dirt-poor” and of the lowest class. That character subsequently accepted a life style which required very low requirement and basic demand. It was a life style that Gorgor had never lived before. As a result, apart from the difficulty he was facing in putting himself fully into the role, that character would also bring a bad image to the actor. If an actor worried too much about his own image, then it would turn into a kind of pressure. Qiqi was also facing a similar kind of pressure because she played the role of a mother who abandoned her own child. Role of this type would very much scare the actresses away or make them worry. Probably it would not be easy for many actors to conquer this kind of hurdle but as Director Cheung has just said, Gorgor accepted to play this role without a second thought. With respect to the role of father that Gorgor played in “The Kid”, actually he had done a very good job. It was not an expression by merely looking at the outer appearance, but a feeling that could move people. It was like the touching story happened in America at the time of economic depression. A man became the father of an adopted child and they eventually established a very intimate sentimental relationship. In “The Kid”, Leslie’s performance was very very thorough, therefore when I watched it again this time it brought me yet a new feeling and at the same time I could see the pressure Gorgor was facing, i.e. in addition to doing his part well, he had to diligently let other actors had a chance to develop. Many actors who had collaborated with Gorgor before, such as Carina Lam, all said that when Gorgor was around, they would feel relieved and could fully go into the roles that they played. I believe he did not do this unintentionally, instead he was doing this on purpose so that the atmosphere on the set was more harmonious.
On some other occasions, Gorgor also took good care of the people around him. Such as once, although he was invited to attend the Film Critics Society as a guest presenting awards, he was more like a host himself. Not only that he did not require our special attention and care, he also dealt with the situation with calm and ease. At the end, he even asked us whether he had finished all the tasks that we wanted him to do, and if that was the case, would he be allowed to depart. At that moment, he was like working with us. Whenever Gorgor was around, the atmosphere would become very warm and cosy, something that could not be described in words, especially when that warmth came from Gorgor, that would become very touching. Because of him, we would reflect on our attitude towards our junior peers and on our manner in handling matters, and that we should not be imperious because even Gorgor who had such a high status would not do so.
Gorgor’s Characteristic Performing Skill
Jason Lam Kee To:
As a result of the reformation of the Hong Kong movies, most of them that used to be produced locally in Hong Kong in the past have now had more opportunities to collaborate with Mainland China or overseas filming companies. When working together, skills and methods on how to perform will be discussed. There are a lot of significant differences in performing styles in northern China, southern China and eastern China. Performing method used in the Hong Kong movie industry could be considered as southern China’s performing method. South China includes Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Lingnan. Hong Kong’s performing method was derived from the Guangdong opera. We have discussed about the developments and characteristic performing skills of Hong Kong, however, the cultural mood towards movie commentary in Hong Kong was relatively low, therefore it became very difficult to reorganize the data and information. It is a pity that a lot of them have not been retained. We discovered that, among the Hong Kong performing methods, one of the skills was extinct, and the most obvious one was the failure to hand down to the next generation the performing method which was originally developed from the Guangdong operas, such as: Liang Xingbo and Liang Cibo. This year at Tong Tik-sang’s commemorative activities, we happened to review the three-dimensional and comprehensive performance of actors of previous generations. It is a pity that we do not have young generation to continue on with our movie culture. Very often after it sparkled, due to the poor movie industry, it was extinct. We find it worrisome that the performing style of Gorgor cannot be passed on. Gorgor has left us three years now and it is not a very long time, however, this crisis has already emerged. There are many roles that we cannot find an appropriate actor to play. Many times, we still feel that those roles can only be played by Gorgor.
No one could replace the roles that Gorgor played: Master Twelve, Cheng Deiyi, Ning Tsai-shen, and many others. I have a friend who studied literature; Mr. Lau Tai Mou, the scriptwriter of “A Chinese Ghost Story 2”. In his article which analyzes the actors whose performing skills have become the end of the era, he raised a simple example, such as the role of Ning Tsai-shen. Let me borrow his analysis in order to discuss it with all of you. The character of Ning Tsai-shen has been used to make into TV series and in some other similar scholar-type of characters. At a first glance, it seemed to be a very simple and easy character to play, but after Gorgor played the role, under the direction of Cheng Xiaodong and molded by Tsui Hark, it became a very unique Ning Tsai-shen. You will see that when other people played the role of a scholar who lived a drifting life, or of a feudal official, they could play them competently, but their characters could not make you laugh; when you found humour in their performance, there was no elegance; when there was elegance, the character was not complex enough. The character of Ning Tsai-shen was very complex. The change of the complex character from “A Chinese Ghost Story” to “A Chinese Ghost Story 2” could not put Gorgor on test. Actually there was no role that could put Gorgor on test because he did not consider himself acting. Gorgor himself said that, “Having been an actor for so long, if people still thought that I was acting, then that really was a big failure.” If it was merely the deduction of the character, then we would not be able to see the very many layers and levels in the character. No matter whether he was familiar with the characters that he played or not, he could merge himself with them. This was his most incredible ability. Even in the three movies he shot for the movie companies of Mainland China, he also could understand and grasp the characters perfectly.
Another role-type was the Peking opera character found in “Farewell To My Concubine”. Actually, Mr. Mei Lanfang was the representative of that character. On the stage, it was a female, but off stage it was a male. Another example was Bandoh Tamasaburo of Japan, a famous Kabuki actor specialized in onnagata [women's roles]. On stage, he had the feminine charm and beauty, yet he was not so off the stage. If an actor does not have any personal experience, it will be difficult for him to interpret the temperament and feeling of that specific type of character, however, Gorgor could manage the role perfectly well. The degree of difficulty in playing the role in “Farewell To My Concubine” was specially high because the actor, through that character, had to express concretely and precisely how the character existed in the two different worlds. In the Peking opera part of the movie, Gorgor’s excellent performance was highly appreciated by the audience; off the stage of the Peking opera, the sentimental part of the character was even much harder to handle because he had to turn the performance into a kind of life, showing human nature’s emotions and sensory pleasures, the unique sentiment shown in the movie as well as the envy that was deeply hidden inside him. Lau Tai Mou said he could only see this type of acting skill in “Farewell To My Concubine”. He also believes that only Leslie could perform it so perfectly well.
These two characters solidly and clearly demonstrate that Gorgor’s performance could never be replaced. They also prove the real and sincerity of Gorgor’s performance. He put himself into the world of the character and was capable to perform in a very unique way. When we enjoy Gorgor’s work, apart from the feelings that we may say out loud, there are also many that cannot be expressed in words. If we keep on researching, there are still a lot of contents and issues we may find to support our points and views. That is the biggest charm of Gorgor’s performance, and that also is the reason why his performance has marked the end of the era. Hong Kong movies actually need this kind of performing skill, but it is pitiful if it really has become extinct.
Directors Loved to Experience with Gorgor
Jason Lam Kee To:
A lot of times, when directors wanted to try out some new ideas or implement new changes to Hong Kong movies, they would ask Gorgor to perform in them. For example, after Tsui Hark finished the movie “Dragon Inn”, he wanted to alter his way of firm-directing. When discussing same with him, he said that both “The Chinese Feast” and “Tri-Star” were his experimental movies. In his world of experimental movies, Tsui Hark could go that far. Whenever he sought changes in his movies, he would simultaneously invite Gorgor and Anita Yuen to play in them because with them playing, the director would feel relieved. Another experimental movie is “Okinawa Rendez-Vous” which we called the “holiday type” of movie. The Director, Gordon Chan, was very good in calculating the market. After he worked out the budget for the production of the film, he negotiated with the owner of the movie company with a request that he be allowed to create the movie independently. The “holiday type” of movie I just mentioned was one he asked Gorgor to play. Likewise, when Derek Yee and Luo Zhiliang boldly shot movies with unique themes, such as “Viva Erotica”, they would feel relieved in getting Leslie to play the role. The directors knew well that Gorgor’s in-depth performance could make them relieved in their venture. Now let’s turn back to “The Kid”, everyone reduced the costs in order to make a film with all their hearts and it really was a piece of work that has preserved the true feelings of Hong Kong movies. It truly required a team of workers behind and in-front of the scene to achieve that.
There was Only Gorgor Alone
About “The Kid”, I believe that everyone’s opinion towards Gorgor’s acting skills in that movie is an affirmative one. For Gorgor, there would have been some regrets after he finished shooting “The Kid”. Towards the production of the film, he has contributed a great deal, for example, the Royce Rolls sedan you saw in the scene being shot in Shanghai actually belonged to his friend; the front of the car was later scratched by gravels. Also, the restaurant you saw in the film, it belonged to Gorgor. On the production of the film, he would do whatever he could to help without any hesitation. A long time ago, one of my lecturers said that as an actor, the most important thing he should possess is his ability to let go of himself, set himself free, open his eyes to look at the world and observe the people around him. That way, with a broad vision, he could see things clearer and his mind would become broader accordingly. When a person’s mind is broad, he must be a good actor. He may gather and then adopt the act and manner of the people around him as well as their responses towards things. If an actor is not broad-minded enough to accept people, it is impossible for him to play the roles of different characters. Everyone will say that Gorgor’s performance does not resemble acting at all. Just as he said, “Having been an actor for so long, if people still thought that I was acting, then that really was a big failure.” In my view, for a good actor, he will not allow you to realize that he is actually acting because he merely is living a new life with a new face, with the blood of the character flowing within him. That way, he can play the role well. If an actor does not have the breadth of mind to accept the character that he captures visually, then he will never be able to play that role. It is just like what we mentioned earlier. Gorgor could play the role of Peking opera actress well; yet when he played the role of a nobody, or a mafia, he could also do that well. In the overall production of “The Kid”, it has proven that, number 1, Gorgor had the ability to capture and observe people and their feelings and emotions; number two, his attitude of life was good. Ti Lung said that the Gorgor he worked with in “The Kid” was the same Gorgor he collaborated with in the past; his attitude towards life, towards people and towards his goal had not changed at all. Gorgor would not get close to you in order to be benefited. Gorgor made me admire him because of his sincerity and his attitude towards self-worthiness. Many people ask what should a best actor award winner possess. My view is that he should be broad-minded. If he does not know how to respect his own self and to appreciate his innate human worthiness, then he is not worth holding that title.
Gorgor would have some disappointment and regrets towards “The Kid” because due to his decency and magnanimity, he did not speak out uproariously on how much he had contributed towards the film, especially he did not do so to the media. However, we should not neglect that he had achieved great acting success. When he did not make it public, people took it as if it was a matter of course. That was why he felt a bit loss. During our conversation, I realized that he felt loss not because of the evaluation of the movie “The Kid”, but because there was indifference in the Hong Kong movie world and entertainment circle. Was there another movie other than “The Kid”? If Gorgor did not make this move, “Creative Alliance” would never be established. When looking at issues from all angles, we appreciate someone not because of what the newspaper or media has written about him; we saw the facts right in front of us. Gorgor personally took part and kept the whole thing moving. Although many people ostensibly said that they would do this and do that, however, in reality, how many of them did actually come out and do so? I may say that there was only Gorgor and no others.
Jason Lam Kee To:
Every tiny little thing about Gorgor is very precious. We should collect and put them together for other people to read about. He always was talented, but not lucky enough. When his days of stardom had not been too smooth, he still persisted in going his own direction. I believe he understood well that many times there was indifference in this world. However, if he was indifference himself, then this world would never be ideal any more. Gorgor was the first person coming out to melt this iceberg. His manner and attitude could easily influence other people. On movie sets, there was no barrier between the unskilled laborers and himself, and this really was very hard to come by. Therefore, every time when people mentioned about Gorgor, he was greatly missed.
Questions and Sharing
Jason Lam Kee To:
Perhaps some of you would like to post some questions on Director Cheung. I have never been in close contact with Gorgor like Director Cheung did, for that I am envious of him, because it was always enjoyable to have Gorgor around. Let’s take advantage of this opportunity and raise our questions.
“An actor who is worthy of my appreciation is his manner and attitude towards life”
I know that on many occasions, young actors would “ad-lib”; extemporaneously said some lines that were not put down on the script. How did Gorgor handle that situation?
I remember that there was a scene in “The Kid” whereby Gorgor was about to separate with Ming Jai. Most of the time, the stage properties were arranged in advance in order to make them look good; in that scene, the fried eggs and ham were therefore prepared beforehand. I told Gorgor that I wanted that scene to look like a normal everyday life, something he used to do daily with a feeling that came out naturally and not deliberately. I believed that the more natural and unintentional it was in handling the situation, the more anguished and sorry the audience would feel for the adult who had to, in a moment’s time, leave the kid who did not really belong to him. On the other hand, for the sake of the kid, he had to act so lightly that as if nothing had ever happened. According to the script, Gorgor was to put a slice of ham into Ming Jai’s mouth. For fear that Ming Jai would be burned by the ham which was pretended to be hot, Gorgor therefore had to take a bite first to ensure that it was just right for Ming Jai, then the ham be put in Ming Jai’s mouth. However, Ming Jai suddenly said, “It is cold!” (it was an “ad-lib”). Gorgor immediately reacted by saying, “I am afraid that it’s too hot for you!” Originally, I originally planned to say “cut” but then I was curious to find out how Gorgor would react. Since the response was good, I was happy with it! (Jason Lam Kee To: It thus became a good take!)
Most of the times, an actor may control the situation and communicate with his opponent by means of dialogues. He would come across a lot of “ad-libs” if he had to act against a four-year old kid. However, we could not repeat shooting the same scene too often because the kid would refuse to do so over and over again. Moreover, he would feel defeated and frustrated and would think, “I did not do anything wrong, the food was really cold!” Just as Gorgor said, the horse and the trainer, the kid and the dog, they were most difficult to play against. However, Gorgor still controlled the situation splendidly and he hoped that the opponent could keep on playing smoothly. (Jason Lam: We could see that the kid really treated Gorgor as a family member and was very close to him.)
At first, there truly were some difficulties; luckily Gorgor was very experienced in movie-making. I remember there was a scene in which the kid was home alone. He took a pineapple bun out of the refrigerator; however, it fell on the ground. The kid stepped on it and then said, “Oh!”. At first, I thought two hours should be enough to get that scene shot. I therefore arranged for Gorgor to come by later so that he could have some more rest. Luckily, Gorgor arrived early that day to teach the kid and to lead him along. What method did we use to make a four-year old kid understand and achieve the effect that we required? When Gorgor rehearsed the lines with the kid, he wanted the kid to imprint them on his brain. According to our experience at film academy, even adults found it hard to memorize long dialogues, let alone a little kid. Another method was shooting the scene section by section, however, requiring a little kid to link up with the previous scene would be even harder. For example, this time the hand should be put in the front, while the next time it should be put at the back. If we cut the scene up and then shot them separately, it would be more troublesome. Gorgor would make the whole thing happen as a matter-of-factly and necessarily. He would very attentively let the kid know about the whole thing and use the dialogue to build up a kind of relationship with the kid.
When I appreciate an actor, I do not care about how good or formidable his performing skill is. The actor whom I appreciate and admire most is his attitude towards life and towards his opponents, and that he completely cares about them and not just selfishly considering his own performance. Gorgor really was very good.
“We know who is our most beloved in our hearts”
Looking back at the history of the Hong Kong Film Awards, several times Gorgor was defeated by Tony Leung Chiu Wai in the Best Actor category. Director Cheung, in your view, what were the main elements that affected the results of the awards and did the winner really deserved those awards? Also those results were often very much different from the results of the awards of other organizations, such as the Golden Bauhinia Awards, Hong Kong Film Critics Association, Golden Horse Awards, etc., I am interested to know a bit more about it.
Let me answer it in an official way (laugh). My view towards the awards is that we do not make movies for the awards. The evaluation judges and the evaluation committee all have their own liking, perhaps it will be fairer if there are more evaluation judges and evaluation committees on the panel, however, whether that will work or not, I cannot say. If Gorgor knew that we were discussing about this, he would also concur and say, “Different people will have different viewpoints! People may like one person but at the same he may like some others as well.” In the film awards, there are different people and different commentaries, besides, the game has its own rules. Say, for example, if the movies that an actress took part in all got nominated, it would be difficult for her to win because the votes that she got would be split up. Therefore, it is really hard to say whether it is fair or not. In the election game, whether the result is fair or not is not an important issue because, in our hearts, we know who is our most beloved!
Jason Lam Kee To:
Once, in a film awards ceremony, Gorgor was invited to present the awards. At the back stage, he met Tony Leung Chiu Wai. He said jokingly, “You would probably take away the best actor award again this time!” He even said that he had to personally present the award to Tony Leung Chiu Wai. Although they had been competing for the same award so very often, however, in real life, they were good friends. This is something which is hard to come by. This also shows Gorgor’s capacity for magnanimity.
“Ming Jai was happy when Gorgor was around”
In an interview, Gorgor mentioned that there was a scene which did not require him to be present, as it was a scene about Ming Jai only. However, Ming Jai got moody, even Director Cheung failed to cheer him up. I want to know about Gorgor’s participation in this respect. How did he manage to cheer up Ming Jai in such a short period of time?
Basically, they were together most of the time. I wasn’t too sure which scene Gorgor was referring to. The only time that Ming Jai was not with Gorgor was when he was acting against Qiqi. In the movie, Gorgor let Qiqi look after Ming Jai. As to how Gorgor cheered up Ming Jai, well, whenever Gorgor was around, Ming Jai would be very happy and there was no need to use any special method to cheer him up. The scene of Ming Jai getting moody was according to the requirement of the script, so even if Gorgor was present, we would still have to ask him leave the set.
“The way that Gorgor played the role of father is just right”
After the movie came out, I read some movie reviews commenting that Gorgor did not play the role of a low social stratum father well; unlike other actors, such as Lau Ching Wan, who had that feel. The poor reaction towards the movie was due to the fact that Hong Kong people could not accept Leslie Cheung playing that kind of role. I want to ask Director what are your views towards that reaction? Of course, we now all recognize Gorgor’s acting skill, but how come there were such comments in the magazine at that time?
I have not read those comments. When an upper-middle class fellow fell to the lowest point of his life, he should still possess some essence. He should not have changed to someone like Lau Ching Wan. (Jason Lam: That comment is kind of weird, very one-sided.) The nature of the character had not changed. What would have been changed was his way of living only. He had to compromise at the critical moments. Compromise did not mean that he had to speak foul language; compromise did not mean that he had to be rude; because the character itself received education to a certain degree, and that’s something that would never change. In everyone’s mind, no two fathers are alike. However, if looking at their love for their children, I am sure there must be some common ground on that. I felt that Gorgor did fully grasp the character of the movie and had played it perfectly well. I do not concur with the view of the commentary.
Jason Lam Kee To:
In the movie, Gorgor played the role of a foster father. The identity of the role was fully revealed at the very beginning of the movie. Later, the layers showing how that character was transformed became very clear and detailed. If the commentary said that Lau Ching Wan could play the role better, then that commentary was very strange. Perhaps it could find a specific point to comment on, yet basically that could not be established.
“Any work he participated in was executed by him seriously and conscientiously”
Director Cheung, you said a moment ago that this movie was made when the Hong Kong movie industry was at its lowest point. If we compare “The Kid” with the movie “Farewell to My Concubine” in which Mr. Leslie Cheung had made his highest artistic achievement, “The Kid” became a relatively small production. However, “The Kid” could possibly have become a very special movie in his artistic life because his role in it was different from any other roles he had ever played. I want to ask why the investors and Director Cheung chose this type of plot. Probably, movies of this type of plot could easily be found in Mainland China and Taiwan; for example, those country-style movies about human nature being directed by Hsiao-hsien Hou. However, this kind of production that talks about the will of people is not very common in Hong Kong.
The way I look at painters’ work, sketch is a kind of paintings; one simple strike drew by Picasso could already make that painting very splendid. Another painter such as Edgar Degas, his paintings about ballet dancers were very attractive; with respect to Neil, the paintings that he painted were like the way I looked at things, very misty, unclear. What I am trying to say is that each kind of art and its authors have their own artistic viewpoint, just like each movie has its own artistic viewpoint and photographic point of view. To determine whether something is beautiful or not does not depend on how much you have put into it, the most important thing is the message that the movie is trying to convey, whether there is love in it or not. To assess which piece of Gorgor’s work is most worth-praising, or not being regretted to take part in, in his life time is very much up to Gorgor to say. In my opinion, any work he participated in was executed by him seriously and conscientiously. It is hard to say which piece of his work is better because everyone looks at things differently. However, today in this seminar, all I can say is that “all those works were things that Gorgor wanted to do very much.”
There are already many commercial films in Hong Kong. Perhaps my type of movies is considered as commercial movies in Mainland China; i.e. the type of movies that you said being filmed with sincerity, about the nature of human beings and developments of the society. In each social system, the requirement of human nature in the movies is different. Taiwan has its own requirement, Hong Kong has its own, and so does Mainland China. This very much depends on the orientation and direction that someone takes in creating his work; that is to say, he will do what he believes is worthwhile to do. Since Hong Kong lacks this type of movies and since many movies are one-sided stressing on one specific type of production, as a creator, in addition to my own liking, I want to find and create some movies which are outside the mainstream, yet are touching to both the audience and me, or perhaps something that the audience has long forgotten. That’s my principle. If under the summons of Creation Alliance, Gorgor was asked to make a pure commercial movie, then we needed not have him do it. In his mind, he was hoping to do something worthwhile and of value, just like the theory of “one plus one equals to three”. On the one hand, he would contribute something to the Hong Kong movie world, and on the other hand, he could promote this type of movies. Therefore, Gorgor’s performance was not merely achieving the goal of letting everyone have a job to do. The only thing I could say is that I wanted to choose a plot which was not too heavy but with sincerity. Gorgor also did not want the plot to be too heavy but emphasized more on love and care. That was also the reason why he chose “The Kid”. Perhaps Gorgor might have been invited to play in “Farewell to My Concubine 2” or “Farewell to My Concubine 3” but he probably would have refused to participate because he had already played in “Farewell to My Concubine”. Each decision and choice made is based on many different reasons at that time. I will use an appreciative attitude and manner to study each period and section of his work.
When I watched “He’s a Woman, She’s a Man” in 1995, I was shocked by Gorgor’s performance. The way he acted was like blending himself into the character as one body. At that time, I did not understand how he could perform that way. Today’s seminar has untied the doubt I have had for over ten years. Thanks to the two professional guest speakers today, as well as the organizer of this seminar. I hope that this kind of seminar will continue on in future. Activity of this kind allows us to fondly remember Gorgor, and at the same time, it also allows us to understand Gorgor’s work better and learn how to appreciate his movies more.
“His behaviour and conduct are the things that count and those are the things that worth our appreciation and love”
Actors like Steven Chow and Chow Yun-Fat, they have a relatively mature performing style and their images are deeply rooted. However, there are also some actors, like Lau Ching Wan and Tony Leung Kar Fai, who probably do not have a fixed pattern in their performing skill, yet they may be closer to the plot. Personally, which performing style do you appreciate more? Stanley Kwan has once said that Leslie’s good look perhaps was a kind of obstacle for him. In that case, how did his outward appearance affect his performance?
I just mentioned a moment ago that every performer or every kind of performing art has his or its form. Fortunately, what the movies talk about are characters, thus we need to have different types of performers. Every performer has his form and style of performing. When we talk about Michael Hui, we naturally would think of the way he performs; same for Wu Yaohan and Ge Yu. They all have their way of interpreting the story, and because of that, it has become the actor’s shackles. When I was working at the Cinema City, I was curious why Mak Kar could not play in tragedies. Nowadays, there are actors whose successful images become their shackles, and also because of that, directors, like me, find it very difficult to look for the right actors. Majority of the actors would decline playing in a lot of movies in order to protect their images. They are not afraid of the challenge, however, they fear to face the defeat of the challenge. Facing defeat and failure means that audience cannot accept their performance, as a result, the investors will realistically consider whether such actors should be included in their next project. The actors therefore will be very careful about their images. If he was successful in performing that way, he thought he would forever be successful that way. You may come across some actors who have been around for more than 20 years, but they have never changed a bit and always remain the same.
“As to whether Gorgor’s beauty was an obstacle to him, I do not think so”
Jason Lam Kee To:
Very often we would have some allowance for the actors. The limit you just said actually is what they possess only. The image that they painstakingly built up could be easily destroyed if he took on an adventure. We will not comment on whether an actor has guts or not. Actually this is what they feel embarrassed about. If compared with Gorgor, his biggest merit is that he had guts. Actually it was a very big risk for him, however, he had guts to take it. The few actors that the audience just mentioned do have potential to develop. If actors have the guts to take the risk, the achievement that he may accomplish is a reward and I think that is something not easy to come by.
We should be grateful to God for giving us Leslie with such a face; a person’s beauty is not based on his face, instead it is the life that he lives and his behaviour and conduct that count. Those are the things that worth our appreciation and love.
Jason Lam Kee To:
Director Cheung’s comment will end today’s seminar. It is a beautiful conclusion.