Sylvia Chang TalkAsia Interview

March 24, 2004
Editor: sarah

Sylvia Chang TalkAsia Interview
Lorraine: This week on TalkAsia, one of Asia's most prolific performers and versatile movie directors. This is TalkAsia.

Sylvia Chang. Welcome to TalkAsia, I'm Lorraine Hahn. Our guest this week is the acclaimed director and award-winning Chinese actress, Sylvia Chang.


Her illustrious movie career spans three decades incorporating over eighty films. Born in 1953 in Taipei, Chang began making radio programs at sixteen. She moved to Hong Kong early in her career, where she took on her own stunts for the 4-part movie-series and action comedy 'Aces Go Places'. Her acting credits also include multiple Best actress awards in both Hong Kong and Taiwan. Sylvia Chang is known to Western audiences for her role in the 1998 film, 'The Red Violin'. Also a singer, writer and producer, this 51 year old isn't showing any signs of slowing down.


Sylvia Chang (SC) is with me now to talk about her staying power in such a fickle industry, her latest projects and much much more.


LH: Welcome to the studio it's a pleasure to meet you, thank you very much (SC: thank you). I just wanted to ask you -- as I mentioned in the introduction -- in this industry that just embraces young actresses and virtually spits them out, I mean, how have you managed to endure, so long?

SC: I never think about age, I just keep on working. Maybe because I always believe, you know -- as an actress -- the more you work the more experience there are with life, the better you become. You know, I find myself reaching the peak of my career nowadays; I've done so many so many different parts, roles which I enjoy very much. And I'd do it again but in a different way of acting it (LH: so a different interpretation, for example?) different interpretation. You know, I find it more interesting so it's sort of starting again.


LH: What about directing, what got you into directing?

SC: I don't know, when I was young I remember there was a period of time when I was out of work, and I went into the dubbing room -- and at that time most Chinese films were dubbed -- So I was there and I was watching a lot of very old Chinese films, which was about three hundred films a year, you know. And I watched them and I find some of them not as good as I thought. So I said "if I do it, how would I do it?" so I began to think, that got me interested in starting to write scripts. And from writing scripts I started to think about the shots, and they became more like pictures, more like visions to me. So from then on, I thought I know that one-day I will go behind the camera, which that kept me really interested in the film industry for that long.


LH: Was it a challenge to move, let's say, from in front of the screen to behind it?

Sylvia Chang TalkAsia Interview

SC: Yes it was a challenge. But I was very young at that time, so I never thought it was a challenge. I just took it as the way it is. My first film actually, it was a flop. (LH: That's a good way to learn though, isn't it? SC: Right, right) I went back to acting, and through acting -- cause I had never went to any school as a director or a filmmaker, so all my film education actually was from the set.


LH: Did you feel as though that was a liability for you, the fact that you didn't have any formal training?

SC: (Laughs) No, no, I just felt I was much luckier than a lot of people


LH: So, let's say that your first film flopped -- as you said -- what made you say "ok, I'm going to hunker down, I'm just going to go for it and try again"?

SC: I knew there was something there, I know one day I can do it, it's all technique that I am lack of. But, I still know how to say a story, I can tell a story, I just need to learn more on the technical side so I just you know...


LH: Right. Singing, acting, directing -- do you have a preference? Is there something you like better than the other?

SC: It's funny, whenever I talk about these three things, I remember how much I love each one of them. But when I look back I know it must be directing now as my favorite. But yet I enjoy three of them very much


LH: What would you say was the best film that you've done?

SC: That is a very difficult question to answer (LH: I know, I know I had to ask!), I would not say the best film that I've done, but I'd say the most challenging film I've done, one that was a long long time ago called 'The Dream of the red chamber'. It's a very classic -- it's based on a classic Chinese novel -- and I have to play this very well known, classic, Chinese character which I was not a bit of that kind of character very different from my own personality and so that was the most challenging character that I've ever done. I really devoted great time and a lot of effort to that character, which afterwards I just felt I just have to get away for a while so I can get out of that (LH: Really? It was that intense? SC: Yes, yes LH: Wow, gosh)


LH: Sylvia we're going to take a short break. Just ahead on TalkASia, climbing the ladder to success and sex and the city Sylvia Chang style. 

Lorraine: Welcome back to TalkAsia, that was a clip from Sylvia Chang's recent film '20:30:40', a poignant and, at times, hilarious reflection of three different stages of women's lives. The movie was one of the only two Asian films selected to compete at this years Berlin Film Festival.


Sylvia Chang TalkAsia Interview
LH: Sylvia, what was it about this film that made you want to direct something like a story like this?

SC: Well, it's actually a story about the best 30 years of women's life and there are not many women's films in Asia - I mean Hong Kong, Taiwan or even China -- so I had this opportunity for making films for women, so I just do it. I wanted to show how pathetic women sometimes are, but yet they come to realization that they can not just hold on to another man, another man, you have to realize, you have to go on with your own life that's it's just a matter of attitude so that's what I was trying to say about, to all women


LH: I think it's a great idea. You were also very well known for playing roles in dramas and comedies, why these two particular genres?

SC: I don't know, because when I started - I started in Taiwan where everybody wanted me to play a drama - a very dramatic role in a very (LH: Crying) crying, sad role. It's funny, whenever a person can cry -- especially a good actress -- so, I keep on doing these kinds of films. But when I came to Hong Kong nobody wanted me to cry anymore, they wanted me to do actions, they want me to do comedy roles, that was a very big switch (LH: I'm sure it is SC: Yes), but that was very -- to me -- it was a lot of fun, so I did it and they found "ooh, she can also play as a comedian". Then, you know, (LH: It just happened) my career just went on and on playing-juggling from some acting, action and also from crying. (LH: Oh, that's pretty severe)


Part B

LH: You mentioned earlier that in your life, both private and career-wise, has had some ups and downs in it. What would you say was the hardest time of your life?

SC: Probably the hardest was when I was working for Cinema City -- New Cinema City -- and I became their head in Taiwan office, I was more like producer, and when I worked for them years, and I found myself not very happy. Because I only wanted to do creative work, I didn't want to do administration work I am very bad with that. I'm not good at handling distribution things like that or politics things like that. So I was not very happy. I knew that if I stopped that job I'd have to go back to where I'd started, so that was a very difficult decision, but I thought I'd rather do something that I know of. So I just quit it and went back to acting.


LH: So obviously a good decision for you. (SC: Yes, I guess so)


LH: What about personally?

SC: Personally, there was always up and downs. There's always some happy moments, but some difficult moments


LH: I mean, I know you've been asked this many times, and that is to do with your son, and that phase of your life. I don't want to talk about the kidnapping or whatever in particular, I wanted to talk about you and how you moved on and you, you know, brought yourself together and moved on with you life. How did you do that?

SC: With your life, you have to move on, there's no other choice, so out of no choice then it's a matter of your attitude. Are you going to take it as very bitter? Or you want to go out more like a normal human being? So, you just have to move on a find a way out. It's not that easy, but I'm a good actress. And so, you know, you have to educate yourself. Whenever there's an event happening, or a difficulty that comes along you just have to learn.


LH: Made you stronger?

SC: No I would say weaker, (LH: That's interesting) weaker in the sense that you don't trust this world as much as you used to trust it before. You start to know that this world is not as beautiful as you thought, so in some ways, you begin to feel that you are weaker, but then you have to behave stronger.


LH: Right, thank you for sharing that with us. (SC: You're welcome). We're going to take another short break, just ahead on TalkAsia, how Sylvia Chang is influencing the future of Asia's film industry.



Lorraine: You're back with Talk Asia and our conversation with Chinese actress and movie director, Sylvia Chang.


LH: Sylvia, I want to ask you about this movie 'Rice Rhapsody' -- why did you do it, and why with Martin Yan? (burst out laughing)

SC: Right. The reason I did it was because of the director, and also it was a good script. The script was presented to me a long long time ago, written by Kenny -- Kenny, actually, I met Kenny when he was in school in Canada, he was still a student and he wanted to be in the film industry, and then of course I said "ok, there's so many young people who want to be in the film industry", "are you sure you're ready?" he said "yes I'm ready" -- and he showed me the script and it was a good idea, but it was not very mature and then he re-write the script and many, many times he finally came to a more mature version and he also find the finance and then we just did it (LH: That's important isn't it -- financing?). Yes, I said he really had the courage, and the patience (LH: that's the two, the three, ingredients) and the passion.


LH: You decided to work along side some unknown actors as well, why's that?

SC: I was once new. I believe that you've got to give opportunities to people. I love to work with young directors and also with young people. You know, even like time with this film, and Kenny asked us to do a lot of reading, and also a lot of you know scene rehearsal -- with the new actors and actress -- and we had to do some exercise, you know, which we do it when you are young, when you're new actor or actress, you do a lot of exercise, you know -- practice. And he asked me he says, "Sylvia do you mind doing it" and I said "I don't' mind". It's such a good idea, because it's such a refreshing thing to do for me.


LH: Would you ever think or putting together or directing, let's say, a movie with political issues? I'm thinking issues mainly regarding mainland China and Taiwan -- would that kind of storyline interest you at all?

SC: Well actually, I just finished a script with another director, he asked me to write a script for him and I wrote it. It was based on the Cultural Revolution, and it's actually a very old political issue but, it's funny, I've never written anything with a political background. But it was good, also quite challenging for me. I found it fun because then you begin to dig out human being's weakness -- and their courage -- you know, it's all about human


LH: There have been different actors and actresses who have been dragged into politics, and you know, been questioned about their patriotism to their country. How do you feel about that -- should actors and actresses have to worry about who they perform for and who they represent, politics-wise?

SC: They shouldn't, but unfortunately this is the fact that it's still there, you know. For example, I still remember, I had a chance of meeting Bertolucci when he was choosing the roles for 'The Last Emperor' (LH: wow), during that time I still consider it to be a Taiwanese actress, and he asked me to go to China to film, and I just couldn't. For if once I go there, and come back 'banned' - Taiwan (LH: yes banned, Taiwan). But of course, that's lifted now, and of course, we're one step ahead - not ahead, one step improved -- but, of course, when you mentioned whether we should be really politically restricted, of course we shouldn't, but I think there is still some restriction there...


LH: Right, and that's very hard to get around, isn't it?

SC: It needs time.


LH: When I ask people about you -- and I had to do my homework before you came -- people always say "Oh my God, she's very busy, she's very busy, she's very busy" you know, being mother, director, you know, juggling all these things. Are you the type of person that really needs to keep busy all the time?

SC: Not necessarily. Not necessarily. Actually, I enjoy to be more relaxed nowadays because it's not because I want to slow down, it's my body tells me I need to slow down (both laugh.


LH: oh dear!) my age tells me to slow down. But I guess that I love to work, I enjoy working, and I enjoy to keep my mind going. So (LH: By keep you young, SC: I hope so, too LH: you know what they say "retirement really kills people" SC: That's right LH: boredom kills people SC: That's right and I don't want to be like that, I really want to keep on working


LH: Well we appreciate you finding time here to speak with us, thank you very much. Good luck. (SC: thank you)


LH: Mother, wife, singer, award winning actress and director -- Sylvia Chang. And that is TalkAsia this week. Be sure to check our website at for upcoming guests and you can let us know who you'd like to see on the show at that address Thank you very much for joining us, I'm Lorraine Hahn, let's talk again next week.




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