His own man
> Rising TV host Harry Yuan was in Kuala Lumpur to talk about his projects for the National Geographic Channel
IT WAS only as I was about to leave after the interview with Harry Yuan that I was told that his mother is famous actress Cheng Pei-Pei, best known for her portrayal as Jade Fox in Ang Lee’s Academy Award-winning Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
He could have mentioned it during the interview but then again, his mother’s legendary status might divert our attention from American-born Yuan’s own quest to make a name for himself.
A former fitness coach-turnedTV host and producer, Yuan’s career began when he and a friend decided to travel around the world and record their exploits for a video called Organic Hobo in 2011.
“I would call [this trip around the world] my ‘degree’ in film,” said Yuan.
It was while he was shooting Organic Hobo that he was contacted by the National Geographic Channel (NGC), and was asked to produce some content for the channel.
He subsequently set up Double H Production, and along with sister Jennifer, produced the programmes Route Awakening, Taiwan: Tropic of Extreme and Kung Fu Motion.
Route Awakenings saw Yuan travel through the heartlands of China, guided by the country’s two longest rivers – the Yangtze, and the Huang He or Yellow River – exploring the ancient cultures and traditions he encountered on the way.
Taiwan: Tropic of Extreme followed Yuan as he explored everything the country had to offer including food, fun and adventure.
The last programme, Kung Fu Motion, was a five-part documentary series where Yuan trained under masters of movements in various parts of China.
“I don’t think that going back [to China] was to learn about my heritage per se,” he said.
“My main objective was to produce a show. During the [process] that is what you end up doing, which is learning about your heritage.
“I am kind of a foreign person to [the Chinese]. They look at me and ask me where I got my accent from. Most of the time they think I am Korean or Japanese.”
Kung Fu Motion was shot in 2012, but was only aired in February 2014.
According to Yuan, the reason for the delay was due to “NGC’s meticulousness with facts” and research.
However, he said that Kung Fu Motion did not suffer as a result of the delay because the art forms are still here today.
“They are all [ancient] art forms that have been there for a long time.”
Now, viewers who missed Kung Fu Motion the first time can catch its repeat on NGC (Astro channel 553) this Saturday at 7pm. The episodes see Yuan cover various art forms, including lion dancing, and stilt dancing, with a hip-hop twist. He also performs a ‘Sichuan rolling oil lamp’ comedy sketch, displays his skills at the iconic ‘man juggling act’ taught by the Shandong Acrobatic Troupe, and also plays the Monkey King at the Beijing Opera. These days, Yuan is busy working as a presenter for shows produced by his own company. He also recently directed his first feature film, Cooking for Two, which will be screened at the Hawaii Film Festival on Nov 7. “It is a musical comedy about two hosts of a cooking show,” he said. “Jennifer and I got together two years ago and wanted to do a movie for our sister, Marsha, who is a singer and dancer. It was [orginally] meant to be a TV miniseries.” In the film, Marsha stars as a TV chef whose ratings begin to slip. Network execs then pair her with internet cooking sensation Rick (played by Hong Kong-born actor Rick Lau) to help gain new viewers. Aside from continuing to produce his own shows, Yuan said that his dream is to build a fan base big enough that he will be able to produce his choice of programmes in the future.
Yuan ... (clockwise from below) playing the Monkey King; with a mask at the Beijing Opera; and in character during the Sichuan rolling oil lamp sketch in Kung Fu Motion.