Posts filed under 周潤發

Durango. The Work

Filed in Dragonball (2008), Durango, Mx (2008), Travel, WorkTags:

In January, having just left TVB after 20 years of acting there, I found myself working with Mr Chow Yun Fat 發哥 as his personal dialect coach, flying business class to a small city called Durango located in Mexico where we lived and worked for just over two months working on the Fox production Dragonball. It was quite an experience but not much fun (acceptable, given that this was a working trip rather than a pleasure trip).

Most people, at least here in Hong Kong, have the impression that working for a Hollywood film production company is fun, or at least much more pleasurable than working for a Hong Kong film production company. The perception is that the work is not hectic or rushed, the working hours are shorter (and that hotel standard food will be provided). The perception is wrong.

We worked twelve-hour days, at least four days a week, usually five. If not for the protection provided by Mrs Chow's carefully considered contract, we would have been working fourteen-hour days, six or seven days a week as many of the crew and leading actors were. Twelve hours is tough. You have just enough time to get up in the morning, do a little exercise, have breakfast and rush off to the filming location. At work, only the actors and top crew members had chairs so I spent a lot of the twelve hours standing, or sitting on the floor when I needed to rest. Studio smoke relentlessly filled the studio. When you return exhausted to the hotel, you have just enough time to have dinner, check your email and go to bed. Continue this for several days, and then several weeks and the work becomes barely tolerable. During the last few weeks of filming, most of the crew were desperate to return to their homes.

My work involved working with 發哥 to help him get his pronunciation as clear and intelligible as possible. We did most of the ground work in Hong Kong and in Durango before filming began which was fortunate, because during filming, there was little time or energy left to do any extra revision work. During filming, my work required me to listen very carefully with my headphones to everything he said, making sure he didn't drop any words and helping him to improve his pronunciation when necessary.

I am intimately aware of the challenges that 發哥 faces. For twenty years, I have acted in Cantonese at TVB and in local Hong Kong movies. When the dialog is a learned language, especially one learned as an adult, it requires much more effort and concentration to memorise and speak when acting, so much so that the acting usually suffers. It took five to eight years for me to become familiar and comfortable enough with the language to be able to allocate less of my attention to the dialog and more to the acting. It's not an easy task.

發哥 is no slacker. By the time we began filming, his dialog pronunciation was excellent; not perfect but excellent none-the-less. Even so, my work on location was not easy. It required intense concentration to listen to every syllable of his dialog, note the areas that needed improvement, analyse which areas were within his immediate grasp or absolutely needed improvement and use the most efficient method possible to communicate the needed changes to him, all within seconds of completion of each shot. It was challenging and tiring but we did a pretty good job.

發哥's work ethics are admirable. His dedication to his work is truly remarkable.

Within hours of confirmation of his role in the movie, he began examining and developing his character, and he spent considerable time working on his dialog. From confirmation of his role until weeks into filming, he barely slept as he considered all of the options for his character, an experience I shared last year when preparing for "They’re Playing Our Song (2007)". He worked so hard and slept so little that he became ill just a couple of weeks into filming. But even sickness barely slowed him down. He rested for two days and went straight back to work, getting daily antibiotic injections until he was fully recovered, and regular vitamin supplement injections until filming was complete.

發哥 greets and respects everyone on set. He talks about the days he began acting at TVB, how the crew in those early days were few in number, and how as a result he helped out with every aspect of filming from carrying props to setting up lights to cooking supper 宵夜 in the studios late at night. He constantly reminds us that movies would not be possible without the crew, and that it is those people who make the stars look great on screen.

發哥's other great love is photography. He had his camera with him in Mexico but his dedication to the movie precluded him from using the camera for most of our time there. While I came back with almost 3000 photographs, he came back with less than fifty. (Note. Very few of my photographs are related to the movie or its locations and they will not see the light of day until after the release of the movie; wouldn't want to spoil the movie for you ;-)

Equally impressive and important as 發哥 is Mrs Chow, commonly referred to as 發嫂. Mrs Chow works incessantly to make sure that 發哥 gets the best work available, and is protected physically, commercially and legally before, during and after filming. She's a virtual diesel train, working in the office and on set, working the same hours as we do and often more. It is said that in the management offices of Hollywood, Mrs Chow is more famous (perhaps infamous) than 發哥 because she's the one they deal with, and she's fearless and tireless.

Together, Mr and Mrs Chow form a truly formidable duo.

Life: Stage 2 Begins

Filed in Dragonball (2008), Durango, Mx (2008), Life, Travel, TVB (H.K.) 香港無線電視, WorkTags:

Twenty years ago, I was working as an English tutor in the 育成 tutorial centre in Causeway Bay when one day, one of the teachers working with me told me of a poster at her school searching for a Cantonese-speaking Caucasian to act for a TVB series. I called the number she gave me and a Pakistani agent answered the phone. I was very unsure of my chances because at the time, I had absolutely no acting training or experience of any kind save for a few extra roles in high school plays. The agent however was reassuring, and encouraged me to go to the interview. He was reassuring because he could find no one else. I was his only chance.

At the interview with Miss 曾勵珍, I sat frozen in my seat looking at the few lines of English dialog in the script she had handed me. As the minutes of tense silence passed, I told myself that if I didn't take the chance and speak the lines no matter how badly I might say them, I would regret it for the rest of my life. When I finally spoke the lines with a loud reprimanding voice as apparently required by the scene in question, Miss 曾勵珍 who had turned her back to me, jumped in her seat, startled by my sudden outburst. I wasn't good, but again, TVB could find no one else and I was hired to play my first TVB role, a police officer in the series 「大茶園」. That was January 1988, a very long time ago, and a very special moment in my life.

Two years ago, as I had frequently done before, I once again seriously considered my future. Even with eighteen years of loyal service to TVB, I was still seemingly insignificant in their eyes, or at least not significant enough to be given heavier roles. I do not grudge TVB for this because Hong Kong is after all a Chinese region and as such, major Caucasian roles are almost always unnecessary. Regardless, I could not see a happy ending for myself if I walked the safe path and stayed at TVB. I decided to leave. When I informed TVB of my decision, they implored me to stay on, signing a freer one-show no-salary contract instead of the regular monthly-salary contract. I agreed and stayed on, but as time passed, I was time and time again reminded that my value at TVB would always be less than ideal.

The last few years have seen many important events in my life. My wife lost her parents who I was close to. I starred for the first time in a musical stage production "They’re Playing Our Song (2007)" and enjoyed a creative development process which was not possible in all my years at TVB, while at the same time missing out on the long-running Caucasian role in TVB's 「同事三分親」. And I encountered the one and only 周潤發.

In November of 2007, I informed TVB in writing that I would not be renewing my contract. On the 27th of December 2007, I performed for the last time at TVB. The 6th of January 2008 was officially my last day at TVB, almost exactly twenty years after my first day at TVB. On the 8th of January 2008, I was on a Cathay Pacific flight, taking the first steps of the next stage of my life.

As one magazine recently put it, the (TVB) 河國榮 era has come to an end.

At this very moment as I sit typing this in a hotel restaurant in Mexico's Durango, I am no longer a TVB artist. I have begun the next stage in my life and I'm excited at what might ensue.

Coming soon… The Untold Story

Thank you 周潤發先生

Filed in Entertainment Ind., General, MiscellaneousTags: , ,

In January of this year, I was incredibly fortunate to encounter 周潤發先生 Mr Chow Yun Fat near our home. I wrote about it in my "A surprise encounter" article.

發哥 called me twice after that encounter to arrange delivery of the photograph he had taken while with me at the time. The first time he called, I was watching a movie at APM and my phone was turned off. I was very disappointed. The second time he called, I was in rehearsals for "They’re Playing Our Song (2007)" and again, my phone was turned off. I was irritated and frustrated that I had once again missed his call. This time, 發哥 left a message to say that he had dropped the photograph off at a store in our village. I picked the photograph up the next day.

發哥 is obviously very careful with his photographs. The photograph was hand exposed in a dark room, and then framed in Central using high quality materials. The whole package; photo and frame; is very nice.

發哥 has my phone number. I don't have his phone number. I don't feel that I have the qualifications to ask for it. It has as a result been impossible to contact 發哥 and thank him for the photograph. I therefore wish to do so here.


I tried to scan the photograph but the protective plastic disperses the light from the scanner producing a very blurry picture. In the end, I had to photograph the photograph. Here then is the photograph that 發哥 took of me and five of our kids sometime in January.

Gregory and kids by Mr Chow Yun Fat

Photo taken by Mr Chow Yun Fat, January 2007.

The kids seen here in the picture are Charlie (just in front of me), Joey (in front of Charlie), Samson (sitting down) and Rachel (only her tail is visible).

A surprise encounter

Filed in Entertainment Ind., General, MiscellaneousTags: ,

It was just after the new year, early in January.

I was taking five of our kids for a walk up our favourite hill. We turned around the corner at the round-about near our home and began walking toward the bus stop where the trail up the hill begins. Half way to the bus stop, one of the kids needed to relieve himself. I bent down, wrapped his bi-product in newspaper and stood back up ready to continue down the road.

I was suddenly aware of someone standing on the sidewalk just before the bus stop. He stood motionless, dressed in dark sport clothes, both hands in pants pockets, a pastel blue flat soft hat on his head, standing with one leg vertical and the other slightly leaning outward. He was motionless, and he was watching me, intensely.

I sometimes have a vivid imagination and it began to work at this moment. I had no idea who the man was. He was too far away to recognise. He stood directly in the middle of the sidewalk and his demeanour looked menacing. I wondered if perhaps he was displeased that my kids and I were taking up the whole of the sidewalk. I didn't want trouble so I decided that if necessary, I would direct the kids to the road and walk around him when we reached him.

We kept walking. He remained motionless. We kept walking. He remained motionless.

We were almost there. I was getting ready to direct the kids to the road, making sure that there were no cars approaching, when the man suddenly outstretched his hand toward me, offering to take my hand in his, a handshake. I looked closer. He was smiling at me. I looked closer. I wasn't sure. It was near impossible to believe that I was seeing who I thought I was seeing. I looked closer. It was him. It was him!

We shook hands. He wasn't even the slightest bit nervous of the kids. We talked for ten to fifteen minutes. He asked me a few questions and asked for my phone number. Suddenly, he opened the boot of his car and took out a camera. We crossed the road and he very quickly took two photographs of the kids and me (you can view one of them here). We talked a little more. A few people across the road recognised him and called to him. He replied with the politeness and respect that he is famous for. We talked a little more and he left.

The kids and I continued our journey up the hill. I was in a dream state. I felt like I was floating. It was so hard to believe that I had actually met and talked to this man. It was so surreal!

Yesterday morning, the first day of the new Chinese lunar year, my wife and I were at the theatre watching "Night At The Museum". When I watch movies, I always set my phone to Silent. Even if it rings, I will not be aware of it. I'll then check the phone for missed calls and messages after the movie has finished. This time was no different. After the movie, I checked my phone and noted that there was one missed Unknown call and one message. I rang the message centre and listened to the message. It was him!

He had called to wish me a happy Chinese new year, and to arrange a meeting to give me a copy of the photograph he had taken. He'll call again, probably after the Chinese New Year holiday. It's going to be an anxious week for me. I usually turn my phone off during "They’re Playing Our Song (2007)" rehearsals but I'm going to have to leave it on for a few days in case he calls. I don't know nor need to know his number so I'll just have to wait for him to call me.

We all have our idols, people we admire and look up to. Some people admire Stephen Hawking. Some people admire Li Ka Shing. Others admire movie stars and celebrities. I have no idols, but rather a few select people for whom I hold high regard and esteem. I don't respect people without integrity. I don't respect people who don't respect others. I don't respect people simply because they have money. I respect people who have talent. I respect people who worked hard to get to where they are today. I respect people who have earned my respect. He is one of those people.

He is 周潤發 Chow Yun Fat   ;-)