Without a double
Veteran actor chen Kuan tai, a bona fide martial arts champion, fought his own battles on screen.
VETERAN Hong Kong martial arts actor Chen Kuan Tai comes across as one of those guys who likes to reminisce about the good old days.
During his 20-minute interview, the 66-year-old rehashes the point that young actors these days just do not cut it, compared to his generation.
Over the telephone from Beijing where he is now based, he says in Cantonese, in a straightforward manner: “Young people are very pampered these days, so they are not as tough as we used to be.
“As for today’s so-called kung fu actors, they are, often times, not even trained in martial arts. These guys come onto the set, flail their arms a little, and then let either a stunt double or some special effects do the rest of the work.
“But no amount of computer-generated imagery can give you the same sense of realism that you would get if the guy actually had a genuine martial arts background,” says Chen who played the character Water Moon Monk in 14 Blades last year.
To be fair, it is only natural Chen would have such a tough attitude. He is, after all, considered one of the most solidly trained martial arts stars of his time, and has won several kung fu championship titles. This is on top of racking up a bevy of action film credits in the 1970s.
Over a career span of more than 40 years, he has more than 100 movies under his (presumably black) belt.
Though he is not an A-list actor anymore, Chen did make a big comeback of sorts with last year’s hit film Gallants, in which he plays one of the leading men.
The kung fu comedy, directed by Clement Cheng and Derek Kwok, has Chen playing an old martial artist who is being bullied by village gangsters.
All the buzz generated by Gallants, which won Best Film at the 2010 Hong Kong Film Awards, essentially helped to put Chen back on the map.
“Those people who have never seen any of my old movies before suddenly recognise me on the streets now,” he says with a chuckle.
Not that that matters very much to Chen; the humble performer is not one to covet fame or stardom.
“Actors are no different from any other person, except for the nature of their work,” he says. “I don’t believe that there are such things as movie stars.”
And as much as he grumbles about the younger generation not being hardy enough, he says he would not want to compete with them, anyway.
He is well aware that, physically, he has his limits now.
“I still do low-impact exercises every day, like swimming, but I know my body is not the same as before.
“Last time I could jump from a three-storey building with no issue. That kind of thing was quite basic during our time. But now if you want me to jump down from a few feet, I probably would not be able to do it. You cannot force these things.”
Instead, the twice-divorced man is more interested in passing on his knowledge verbally.
He explains: “I try to tell the younger actors all sorts of stories that my old mentors used to tell me. In the end, the stories are all saying the same thing, though; essentially, you just have to give your best in everything that you do – whether it is acting or otherwise.
“If you do things only half-heartedly, you will never feel the sense of joy that comes with hard-earned accomplishment.”
He stresses that he will never think of leaving the film industry.
Chen, who does some occasional work behind the camera as well, such as producing and overseeing action choreography, says: “Films are a huge part of my life. I don’t think there is anything else that I know or understand better than this. So how can I ever let it go?” – The Straits Times, Singapore/Asia News Network