Chinese actor Huang Xiaoming transitions from zero to hero of the silver screen
By Boon Chan , The Straits Times/ANNSINGAPORE -- China actor Huang Xiaoming is too good-looking to play a country-bumpkin loser. That was Hong Kong director Peter Chan's initial reaction when casting for the drama “American Dreams In China.”
September 22, 2013, 12:01 am TWN
Speaking over the telephone from Hong Kong, Chan, 50, says: “I did approach him for the film, but the role was not fixed. It was he who insisted on playing the role.”
The director admits that he had his doubts when Huang plumped for the part of loser Cheng Dongqing, one of three friends who meet at university and later run an English-language school together.
He says: “When you are good-looking, you have a different experience in life, so it's very hard for you to understand what life is like for a loser and Cheng Dongqing is a loser who is looked down upon by others.”
He was moved by Huang's persistence though and suggested that he gave it a go. And the actor came through with flying colors.
Chan muses: “He must have had such experiences in life as well, otherwise, it would not have been possible to act that part.”
Indeed, he adds that Huang, 35, had shared his experience of how, since his days as a student at Beijing Film Academy, “there've always been people who look down on him and think of him as unsophisticated even if they think that he is good-looking”.
Chan once called his regular leading man Takeshi Kaneshiro “the most handsome and most non-threatening man” in an interview.
What about his three leads in American Dreams: Huang as straight arrow Cheng, Deng Chao, 34, who plays confident Meng Xiaojun, and Tong Dawei, 34, as ladies' man Wang Yang?
“They are good-looking, but there is still an approachability to them. They are all character actors,” says Chan.
“Perhaps Huang is more of the classic leading man mould, but he is not without substance.”
In the film, Huang's leading man looks are buried under a dorky haircut and a pair of unflattering glasses. It gives him a chance though to prove that he can act.
He was been rewarded with a nomination for Best Actor at the Golden Rooster Awards, China's equivalent of the Oscars. The film notched up five other nominations, for Best Film, Best Director, Best Original Script, Best Supporting Actress for Du Juan and Best Cinematography for Christopher Doyle. The results will be announced on Sept. 28.
The film has clearly struck a chord in mainland audiences. It took in 535 million yuan (US$87 million) at the box office.
It is Chan's highest-grossing film there since he started gunning for the China market beginning with the musical Perhaps Love (2005), and its success is an indication of how moviegoers' tastes have been changing there.
He recalls that the industrialization and commercialization of film in China took off about 10 years ago. He declares: “Beginning with Zhang Yimou's martial arts flick “Hero” (2002) till about 2012, all the films had needed to be big films. If you were not a big film, you wouldn't be able to get audiences into cinemas.”
For a generation used to watching pirated movies at home, nothing less than an event movie would tempt them to leave the comfort of their home and pay the high price of cinema admission. The average price in 2010 was reportedly around 40.40 yuan, according to media research firm EntGroup.
Chan saw the signs. From early character-driven works such as comedy “He's A Woman, She's A Man” (1994) and drama “Comrades, Almost A Love Story” (1996), he hopped onto the bigger-is-better bandwagon.
Perhaps Love reportedly cost US$10 million and starred top names Jacky Cheung, Kaneshiro and Zhou Xun. The Warlords (2007) was an epic period war film that had an even bigger budget of US$40 million and starred Jet Li, Andy Lau and Kaneshiro. In 2011, there was the US$20 million martial arts flick Wu Xia which starred Donnie Yen. It took in 172 million yuan in China.