JOBLO.COM/AITH interviews Edison chen
You may know Vancouver-bred Asian actor Edison Chen as Lau Kin Ming from the Infernal Affairs series. You will now see him under a new spotlight as he makes his English language and horror debut as one of the leads in THE GRUDGE 2. Other journalists and I recently had the opportunity to exchange blows with Mr. Chen and here's what he swang back at us.
Is this your first English language movie?
Yes, it is. Iím pretty excited about it, pretty pumped up. My character is Eason. Iím a reporter for a local newspaper, but I am actually from Hong Kong. I left Hong Kong because, I guess, itís too boring. Itís all entertainment. So, I want stranger stories, stuff thatís abnormal. So the closet place I could find work, that would pay me, and for stories like that, it was Japan. I picked up on the grudge story, from Grudge 1 and Iíve been doing an ongoing investigation. Iíve been to the house, Iíve interviewed the detectives, Iíve interviewed everyone but Karen. Karen is Sarah Michelle Gellarís character.
So the story starts off with me trying to find her, then the grudge starts happening to me. I kind of have to help her sister try to find out [what happened]. Iím the information-giver. She comes here, not knowing anything, just kind of thinking itís a tragedy but thereís actually something behind it. In the beginning I really donít care for her much, to be honest, because Iíve got the grudge and Iím trying to save myself. But then after I hear her story and everything, I kind of form a friendly relationship with her. We go and attack this grudge thing together.
How did you find out about this role? Was it written for a Japanese person initially?
Iím not quite sure how they changed the script and the story and all, but they approached me when I was actually on vacation. My phone was off, and I kept getting these emails from my agent saying ďyouíve got to call me!Ē One day I checked my email, thank god, and I called and I got on a conference call with Taka and Shimizu. They said, ďHave you read the script?Ē I said, ďI havenít read anything,Ē They said, ďWe really want you.Ē And I was like, ďWell, sureÖ Have you seen anything Iíve done before?Ē [laughs] And he was like, ďYeah, yeah. I really like your work.Ē Iíd seen all the Ju-ons before, and The Grudge 1 so I was very excited to be a part of this. I came to Japan and started filming Ė thatís basically how it happened.
Whatís the difference shooting here in Japan?
Actually, I filmed a movie in Japan last year. But this movie is different from that. Itís different in the way they delegate work, itís different in the working hours, itís a different level of professionalism. I mean, compared to Hong Kong, itís a vacation for me. In Hong Kong, you work 15 to 18 hours a day and the crew is much smaller than this. Time is so tight. Itís like, move-move-move. The script is written on set and itís basically, ďOK, say this!Ē [laughs]. ďThis is what happens.Ē Youíre like, ďWhat? Why?Ē ďJust do it, please, go!Ē Here, at least, there are enough people to just guide me through the story.
Shimizu has been really helpful with me. Whenever I have any questions, heíll stop everything and give me pointers. Itís a lot different. I mean, I canítÖ the budget is different too, so I canít really compare the two. I mean, I can compare them in the way of everyday work but if that money was brought over to Hong Kong for an Asian film I donít know how they could do it as well, but I can tell you that for the first few days, my assistant was here with me. My American agent had told me no one has assistants on the set. And Iím like, ďWhat? No assistants? Are you sure?Ē And then my assistant came for the first two days and he was like, ďI donít have anything to do.Ē Theyíre doing everything; itís just been an amazing experience.
You grew up in Vancouver, Canada, yet this is your first English-language film; can you talk about that?
Yes I grew up in Vancouver my first language is actually English so I actually got into the entertainment business by chance. This one time I went to Hong Kong for the summer and I got cast in a commercial. They were going to New York, I love New York, and so I said yes Iíll do it. And when I came off the plane, lots of Paparazzi were taking pictures of me, offering me movies and then started to learn my Cantonese. Iíve been working for about 5, 6 years and this is my 23rd movie. Iíve waited for this day and Iím happy itís come so quick for me.
So this is your first Hollywood movie?
Youíve shot films in Japan before, what makes this set different than other Japanese films?
Just look at the set, you can tell the difference. Thereís nothing like this set up ever in any movies Iíve shot. The first day I came on the set, I was like wow thereís a road in there, thereís a tree, like real trees, it was unreal to me. Anywhere in the world people are filming movies and I guess the whole feeling I get from every set and every crew is that they want to do a good job, get it done and hopefully everyone is harmonious.
In that essence everything is the same but the little tidbits like what you have for lunch, like this right here is unbelievable to me, this right here (pointing at the craft table) Iíve never seen anything like that on a set before.
In Japan it wasnít like that either.
Thereís usually no catering whatsoever.
No, its lunch, dinner and if we work overtime, midnight snack. And then everything else is like you bring to the set.
Whatís been the most rewarding and challenging aspect for this project for you?
Just to work with everyone has been quite rewarding for me, I can tell that theyíre really into their job and really respect it. The lighting people are very proud of what they do, the camera men, the production managers here are something that I never encountered as well. They take care of you to the full extent. Producers in Hong Kong, Iíd see them on the set once or twice throughout the whole movie, here theyíre detailed via everything. How are you doing, what do you need, you got the script, are you ready, need anybody to help you translate etc? Itís just been unbelievable and a learning process as I want to become a Director one day.
Before I worked with maybe 10 or 15 directors and I saw their directing styles. Now I see the production of it and what it can really mean. And just to be able to break into the American market is unbelievable to me too. I thought maybe like a lot of people like Jet Li, Jackie, Chow Yun Fat, they got their breaks when they were 30 something. And my whole career, I was thinking maybe if I shoot one or tow Hollywood movies before I retire, Iíd be happy. And here I am, already, so quickly and doing this. Iím very happy.
How old are you?
Your character knows a lot about The Grudge before Amber gets here. What kind of stuff doe she learn and audience will learn that we didnít learn in the first one?
Youíll learn the origins of exactly what happened to Kayako. In part 1 you get the sense that they want to undo The Grudge. In this one, its kind of wanting to undo the curse forever, to the root of what happened in the very beginning. Before anyone entered the house or the murder of the whole family. Thatís what I start learning in this movie cause everything that happened before I already knew. So thatís an adventure that me and Amber are taking together.
Are you more comfortable now that youíre able to act without having to worry about the language?
Itís much better for me. I can fully understand the meaning of the whole script, I donít have to worry about my pronunciation being right, I donít have to stress about the script supervisor coming to tell me, okay youíre saying this wrong. And like I said, English is my first language so I kind of get into the mood and my role a lot better. The words flow instead of being forced or premeditated, I go there and I just go!
Do you feel any pressure joining this trilogy?
I donít feel any pressure from the movie itself. I feel the pressure that Iím an Asian actor from Asian cinema and Iím getting a chance in Hollywood and I hope I donít screw up. I know thereís a lot of actors in Asia, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, China that are looking to get the break. Iím not saying that I paved the way at all but I hope that I made a good impression on the people that watch the movie that theyíll further and trust more and more Asian actors into the circle I guess.
Do you find it challenging as an actor to have to deal with the supernatural elements in the film?
Yes definitely. This is my first horror movie. The whole pace, like action movies are like bam bam bam. I didnít know what the pace of a horror movie was. In the beginning Shimizu said well you have to walk faster. And in the beginning I thought it would be easy, Kayako comes and I go AHHHH.
Its get harder when there are 40-50 people looking at you expecting a certain reaction or emotion out of you. Its been a lot more difficult than I thought it would be, more difficult than an action movie for me. I have to catch the exact pace, tone, moves, set, setting, lighting, everything is kind of new to me and was a bit difficult to kind of adjust.
Who are most of your scenes with?
Me and the ghost and me and Amber. Thatís basically the only person I touch base with.
There seems to be a phenomenon recently with Japanese actors turning up in Chinese productions and vice, versa. How do you feel about that?
I think thatís great. I think that Asian cinema itself should unite together and make better movies together. It shouldnít be about ďKorean movies are the best, Ha Ha HaĒ or ďHong Kong movies had its hey dayĒ. If we put all of our insight and talents together we can make something special, itís just that if these people are willing to do that. When I came here to promote my Japanese movies, I was telling them that I hope one day to shoot a Hong Kong, Japan, Korean productionÖtogetherÖthe best of the best. Film has no boundaries, film is film, itís for everyone to enjoy. How come we donít all come together and make moviemaking?
It seems that in Hollywood that Chinese American male actors that arenít Kung Fu or famous in Hong Kong are impossible to get cast in anything at all. Has that been your experience?
I had some offers before, I turned them both down because they wanted me to speak like a Chinaman and that was when William Hong was out and I thought that was enough. And the other one, they wanted me to play a Chinese character and I didnít think I could really do it, understand Yakuza culture, to study it in three weeks and deliver. So this is perfect for me that I can play exactly where Iím from.
Youíre talking about the Kung Fu element, but I think its starting to change with Ang Lee, Andrew Lau who just filmed a movie with Richard Gere, those arenít action movies, theyíre dramas, itís a start. I see TV shows in America having more Asian actors in them and theyíre not doing Kung Fu, and I'm proud of that and wish them the best and hopefully, more and more the acceptance will grow.
How do you feel about Infernal Affairs being Americanized?
Iím excited to see The Departed. I want to see how they translate the story to an American story. Because the story itself, the main element of it is very Asian. Even in Chinese the name, its called "Moganto", it means the 18th level of Hell. Its really about, yourself, the battle within. I really wanna see how Scorsese does it and Iím sure, the actors will do a great job, I just want to see the interpretation of Andrew Lauís Infernal Affairs.
Do you think theyíll be releasing the second and third movies in the states?
I heard that The Departed is actually all three in one; they kind of took the best and put it in there. I donít think they were supposed to do that but I think they did.
Coming back to The GrudgeÖtell me about your relationship with Shimizu, your communication. I know his English isnít so great, what are the challenges?
His interpreter is perfect. Sheís speaks the American English, not localized Japanese English, so sheís precise and clear. I can speak with Shimizu in Japanese but only at lunch. On the set I need the interpreter there. Heís very clear about what he wants, heís not shy to tell you that you did something wrong. Heís very specific down to the motions you use and the feelings youíre supposed to feel.
Like I said before, I was supposed to walk into the Grudge house. He said moved faster, I said but Iím scared, he said; but it doesnít look right on the film and the way Iím gonna edit so I said oh, okay. You say it that way than Iíll move faster, but if you just say move faster, than Iím like why? He gives you a command and the reason and as an actor you feel more comfortable.
How was it doing your first scene opposite the Grudge spirit?
It was just yesterday that I did that. It was pretty intense. During the rehearsal, thereís a TV and I'm supposed to see her reflection, I was just going through the motions but on set, she was there, and I didnít know that she was already standing in position! It was kind of shocking, with the lighting specially, everything kind of meshes and blends, becomes so real to me and is kind of scary.
Of course thereís an extra push I have to give myself, maybe it because I never filmed horror, its different for me. Also, I see her in the dressing room and sheís some cute girl and then sheís standing next to me and its Kayako and Iím like oh my God!
Is your singing career still something youíre pursuing?
I do music for pleasure, I have a bunch of friends who are deep into the music scene, I jam with them in the Studio ÖI havenít done music in a year and a half actually, so, Iím not gonna say I wonít do it ever again but its something that I take less seriously than acting.
Have you been on any other set where you felt something or seen something?
Iíve been on sets where I felt I've seen ghosts but never been on a set that was purposefully made to freak you out. In Hong Kong thereís a lot of supernatural with movies.
What kind of ghost have you seen?
Iíve seen a red girl ghost in Malaysia and its very scary. I feel things, I donít know if they really are. When I was young I saw an old woman in my house, I cant explain it.
So you believe in ghost obviously.
Yes I do, very much so. I think you go anywhere in Asia and theyíll tell you the same things. Because of the spiritualism of Asia, theyíre very deep in that. In Thailand you go to houses and outside you have small version of the house. You ask; what is that? They say; its the ghost houseÖIím, not going in there!
So its part of the culture, people believe that there are spirits specially in Chinese culture, they believe that after a few days, the spirit visits the house and family, youíre supposed to have oranges and chicken out for them. Its just imbedded in the culture that this is real, there are so many folklore.
What does the red ghost mean?
I asked about it, supposedly red ghost are more hateful and powerful.
When did you see that one?
While I was watching the World Cup actually!
Thanks to Edison for the sparring session! Break an arm or two with The Grudge 2 my man!