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Hong Kong's Baffling Boy

Actor Stephen Chow is now in Shanghai filming "Kung Fu." Reporter Gao Yiyang looks at the star's career and why audiences just can't get enough Chow.


"A sincere love used to be in front of me, but I didn't treasure. When I lost it, I realized it's too late to repent. If God could give me a chance to redo from start, I would say three words to the girl 'I love you.' If the love should have a time limit, I wish it could be 10,000 years." -- From movie "A Chinese Odyssey"


For nearly a decade, the classic lines by the Monkey King have reverberated in the hearts and minds of thousands of people.


But if Hong Kong star Stephen Chow Sing-Chi repeats the identical words, can they have a bigger impact?




Since the premiere of the film "A Chinese Odyssey" ("Dahua Xiyou") in 1995, Chow's delivery of those lines have become "immortal" among his fans.


Basing his career on black humor, the renowned comedian is currently busy making "Gong Fu" ("Kung Fu") -- his latest movie that is being filmed in Shanghai. As the leading man in the story set in the 1940s, Chow plays a little hooligan with a glib mouth and a feeble mind longing to join the "axe gang" and become a notorious gangster.


It's a production that is completely Chow's. He is the scriptwriter, director, producer and lead actor. Yet he still squeezed in time to act as the image ambassador for the online computer game "Dahua Xiyou II" -- an adaptation from the hit movie -- which has more than 10 million registered players in the country.


Different from Hollywood blockbusters based on popular PC games such as "Tomb Raider," the movie "Odyssey" is a derivative of the classic Chinese novel "A Journey to the West."


But how does the 41-year-old actor stay popular?


Surely it's all attributed to his unique "wulitou" (baffling) style.


In most of his works, Chow's characters are average guys spewing vulgar but ironic lines that are frequently rude to women. The pattern is his signature style and enjoys great notoriety in China. It makes the star more like a Chinese Jim Carrey.


Though it may not appear good, "wulitou" is surprisingly popular with many moviegoers, particularly youngsters.


"I like Chow and his films," says Zhu Hui, 23, a movie buff who has watched about 20 Chow's films. "His films are quite relaxing and make people laugh all along. But you can also feel something deeper behind the fun."


In life, however, Chow is far from amusing. Most of the time he is quiet, some would say even a tad serious -- a sharp contrast from his characters. Although regarded as a master of comedy, the man is calm and indifferent to the recognition.


"I am just a film worker," says Chow, wearing a white old-style T-shirt and a big dark-grey hat at the promotion for the online game at Plaza 66 last Saturday. "My work is only to write and shoot films. I hope to make nice films every time and the world can see my works ... If audiences are happy, I will feel happy too."


These normal words sound unusual from the mouth of a big celebrity. Fang Hong, professor at the Film, TV Art and Technology College of Shanghai University, points out that Chow's success contributes greatly to his "post-modern style."


"Chow's films are typically post-modern," says Fang. "His films have no real hero or authority figure like many Chinese films do. The characters completely subvert the traditional stereotype, since all his characters are small potatoes instead of flawless heroes."


"Just like us, they have some weaknesses like being timid or selfish, but are also very kind and sincere. But in the end they can still achieve something great. Such a mix of opposite elements meets people's requirements very well."


He also says Chow's exaggerated performances keep audiences aware that it's "just a movie." There's little chance people will mistake the fictitious events as real. Viewers can watch his films with their own judgments and thoughts. The superficial "wulitou" content adds a deeper perspective afterwards.


"Very few movies can do this as smoothly as Chow's films," Fang says.


Indeed Chow is already a screen tycoon for his coveted achievements. His "Shaolin Soccer," which will be screened in the United States soon, broke Hong Kong's box office record in 2001 with more than HK$60 million (US$7.7 million); Chow has won many awards including the best actor of the 1st Golden Bauhinia Awards in 1996. Many of his works like "Royal Tramper," "Flirting Scholar," "A Chinese Odyssey" and "King of Comedy" are still hot among fans who treat classic lines with Bible-like significance.


Chow's come along way from his 1983 screen debut in a bit part as a soldier for the TV action serial "The Legend of Condor Heroes." In 1988, he graduated to the big screen with "He Who Chases After the Wind," "Final Justice" and "Faithful Yours."


Though Chow and his films are highly acknowledged, some think differently.


Zhang Wenjin, an office lady, claims she doesn't regard herself as Chow's fan.


"I can't say if I like his films or not," says the 23-year-old. "What I can say is that his movies are absolutely full of black humor. You will feel sad after laughing. That may be the sadness of all small potatoes."


At the very least, Chow has cemented his name in Chinese film history. "Kung Fu" promises to be another milestone for Chow as his "wulitou" style remains hip.

(eastday.com August 21, 2003)

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