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10 Stupid Questions (1st wise interviewee) theatre director/actor Lee Chun-chow

4. What is the craziest thing you’ve done in the dressing room?

6. When was the last time you cried?

9. Are you willing to perform in the nude?

and... My Ten Impressions of Lee

**for Lee's bio, scroll to the bottom

I figure there are such things as stupid questions.

After asking Lee Chun-chow (CC) the questions, I realised there’s nothing stupider than failing to record his answers (thanks to my dysfunctional voice recorder). I didn’t write a single word down. I usually jot notes to backup the recording, or just to occupy myself so as to avoid awkward eye contacts with the interviewee. But not this time.

Much as I wish to do it verbatim, I could only reconstruct CC’s responses from memory before sending them to him for verification. I don’t know how CC feels about this but it’s quite an irony— both of us believe in the fidelity to the original.

This is the English rendition of the reconstructed interview in Cantonese:

1. What did you enjoy playing as a child?

I’d gather a clutter of toys, actually not really toys— things like plastic bits, tiny figurines and inch-long wooden chess pieces. I put them all over the floor, dividing them into two sides to battle. I’d fantastise some dialogue between them. With your siblings? By myself. Not long after I did that, my younger brother followed suit.

2. If you weren’t a theatre actor or director, what do you think you’d have been?

In fact, there had been a job working as a clerical assistant (clerk’s assistant who delivers letters, etc). It's a governmental post. I was accepted but I didn’t take on the job. When was it? Around 1978. Were you already working as an actor? Not yet.If I weren’t working as an actor, I think I’d be a white-collar worker.

3. What are the three greatest pet peeves in your life?

Attending wedding banquets— I don’t do it anymore.Talking to stern father figures. I don’t think there is anything for us to talk about.Retelling an event or a story. I don’t enjoy doing it. For instance, if you ask me what that great film I’ve seen is about, I’ll… [grimaces and apparently tongue-tied]

4. What is the craziest thing you’ve done in the dressing room?

Making Indian naans. There was an Indian chef making naans in the eatery next to the former Club 64 in Lan Kwai Fong [imitates the chef’s action]. Where did the dough come from? There wasn’t any. You mimed it? Yes [imitates the chef’s action again]. [Actor] Edmond Lo Chi-sun laughed so hard. Was it the time when you’re still with Chung Ying [Theatre Company]? Yes.

5. Has there been a particularly hurtful remark from critics or audience?

A long time ago, a paper said: Do not praise Lee Chun-chow anymore. He is no actor; he is merely Miss Hoi Wai (a killer whale doing tricks) in Ocean Park.

6. When was the last time you cried?

[A pause] Ah, recently I browsed YouTube and came across a sung version of The Heart Sutra. The ending Sanskrit lines were sung by a female vocalist repeatedly. As I listened, I was moved to tears. You understand the meaning? Yes, it’s about going to the opposite shore.

7. What kind of music do you like?

Actually, I don’t really listen to music much. I enjoy listening to a CD called ‘Indian Chants’. They’re prayers.

8. If you were stranded on a deserted island and allowed to bring along just one thing, what would it be?

A very thick and difficult book.

9. Are you willing to perform in the nude?

I’m okay with it. In fact, I suggested, in a past production, sitting naked with my back facing the audience. It’s in collaboration with [choreographer] Mui Cheuk-yin [in Dancing Blue]. I suggested that we sit stark naked in front of a video projection, which shows lots of fish swimming in an aquarium. But we didn’t do it in the end.

10. A question you want to ask yourself — even if you can’t answer it.

Actually, these days I’ve wanted to ask… my father passed away for a long time… I really want to ask what he was thinking when he was my age.

My Ten Impressions of Lee Chun-chow

1. Even if he arrives in haste, the first thing he does after taking his seat is humming to himself at ease.

2. He doesn’t speak much. I usually help preserve his peace by not talking to him. Yet, whenever I can talk to him one-to-one, an avalanche of words escapes me, overwhelming him and myself. Most of the things I said are about the theatre. Perhaps because I know he is listening. Perhaps because I trust him. I’ve asked him more than once if I’m talking too much. He’d then reply, “I prefer listening to talking.” Still, I feel bad. It’s as if I’ve disturbed his inner peace.

3. His visions as a director make me believe he is trust-worthy.

4. As director, he is immensely faithful to the text.

5. He carries a handkerchief that a gentleman would possess.

6. He is able to speak English in Received Pronunciation (Queen’s English), a rare feat among local non-English speaking actors.

7. He wasn’t graduated from the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts.

8. I haven’t seen many of his works. Before I first saw his performance, an actor I trust very much told me Lee Chun-chow is superb.

9. It’s true. He once delivered the first line of Camus’ The Outsider in a neutral tone (in Cantonese): “Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don’t know.” I loved it, for the book is about existentialism.

10. He once said that when he delivers the dialogue as an actor, he says his lines as they appear and not to over-interpret them. The idea impressed me but it’s still a little unbelievable.

about Lee Chun-chow

Lee started his thespian career in the early 80s with Chung Ying Theatre Company. Without professional training in acting, he is a three-time recipient of the Best Actor Award in the Hong Kong Drama Awards, among other actor and director awards. In 2000, he received the Medal of Honour by the Hong Kong government. Lee is currently a freelance theatre practitioner.

first published on muse blog on 31 March 2013

the unspoken

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