Joan Chen, not just a spice in the Hollywood dish
Text & Photos: Dang Hui Ling
Drama Stills: HBO Asia
Video: Teng Siew Eng
In town for the press conference of Serangoon Road, HBO Asia's first original co-production with Australia's ABC TV, international film star Joan Chen talked about her collaboration with local and regional actors, and revealed how she broke away from the Hollywood shackles and ventured into scriptwriting and directing.
Joan plays the owner of a detective agency in the upcoming series and as a self-proclaimed fan of old-fashioned detective stories, the script and the post-colonial setting appealed to her strongly. The Chinese actress enjoyed the unique combination of having an international cast on set and heaped praises on local co-actors Pamelyn Chee, Melody Chen, Xiang Yun and Tan Kheng Hua.
"I love the fact that there are so many Singaporean actors in the show," she quipped, during the interview with xinmsn.
Sharing that she feels "like an expat both in China and in America", Joan agreed that she possesses the East-meets-West personality which is "like the Singapore culture". While her traditional values mirror that of the 'Eastern' culture, her time in the United States influenced her to be outspoken and "open-minded".
While speaking to the media, Joan opened up on the Asian stereotype in Tinseltown and described how most Asians in Hollywood are purely seen as a mysterious element and "a spice needed in certain dishes".
"They do not seek a thorough understanding of the Asian culture and only magnify a tiny aspect of you," she commented. "I didn't want to be the 'exotic flavour' in the Hollywood films anymore."
Jaded about the repetitive and uninspiring parts that she was getting as the years went by, she began seeking other roles in the creative business. After joining the judging panel at the Berlin International Film Festival, Joan decided that she "had a story to tell" and completed a script on the plane ride home.
Her first self-written directorial debut Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl in 1998 was extremely well received and bagged several trophies at major film festivals. Fourteen years after her maiden venture, she released her third production Shanghai Strangers last year. The short film won an award in China's Golden Rooster and Hundred Flowers Film Festival and its success was reason enough for her to sit in the director's chair again.
During the interview, Joan let on that her inspirations come from her own life experiences and revealed she is currently working on a script. However, she maintained that she "would never do an autobiography" because she would rather express herself in a fictional story.
Adding a word of advice for aspiring film makers, the celebrated star emphasised that the most important thing for a screenwriter is "to send a message to the world through his work" and not simply emulate the "successful movie formula".
Although the actress declined to define the roles that attract her, she admitted that emotionally complex characters and "characters with certain obsessions" appeal to her most as she is particularly drawn to the "dark side of human nature".
Nevertheless, she is now thinking of taking up 'appropriate roles', as most of the characters that she has played are "not suitable" for her two young daughters to watch. So will she allow her kids to join showbiz in future? She replied, "[I will let them] develop their own passions."
When Joan is not filming, she resumes her role as a full-time wife and mum, who now sees work as "something she does during her spare time".
"I lead a very boring life. Work is really an extension [of life] and an excitement," she beamed.
Serangoon Road is slated to premiere in the third quarter 2013, on HBO.