Boys will be boys

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 March, 2008, 12:00am

Taiwanese actor Joseph Chang Hsiao-chuan was put to the test when he was asked to do a dance routine in Edward Lam Yik-wah's latest drama What is Man?

'It's something I didn't believe I could accomplish. It was extremely difficult for me because I don't know how to dance at all,' says the 24-year-old who describes the experience as 'special, thrilling and fun, but terrifying'.

However, after hours of rehearsal and with constant encouragement from director Lam, he grew more confident and the Hong Kong audience will be able to check out his effort in the sell-out show, which opens at the Kwai Tsing Theatre later this week.

Chang is among nine male Taiwanese actors touring with the production that has just had its second run in Taipei. The piece, inspired by the Chinese literary classic Water Margin, was first staged in 2006.

Instead of retelling the folk tale of 108 outlaws during the mid Song dynasty - the most famous being Wu Song slaying a tiger with his bare hands - Lam is more interested in exploring the concepts of desires, weaknesses and constraints of men in modern Chinese society.

The production is part of his 'great Chinese classics series' which also includes reinterpreting Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Journey to the West and Dream of the Red Chamber.

The cast represents nine different characters in Water Margin, each having to deliver a monologue that is interwoven into various role-playing game scenarios to manifest their thoughts and feelings of being a man.

In his role as the Wanderer, Chang plays an enthusiastic surfer who vents his views on relationships and women in a rambling monologue after arguing with his ex-girlfriend. The actor says he has given the monologue a fresh interpretation since the play's first run.

'This monologue gives me different feelings at different times,' he says.

'In 2006, the character I interpreted was a boy throwing a tantrum after being p***ed off by his girlfriend. This time, he is not a little boy any more. He is more intimidating and really believes in what he says.'

Chang thinks this mature interpretation of his character is more convincing.

The actor started out as a model at the age of 16, then began making TV drama series and movies a year later. He had his debut theatre performance in award-winning Taiwanese author John Kuo Chiang-sheng's The Desired in 2003, playing a bright and ambitious university student who has an exploitative relationship with a male and a female professor.

He put his career on hold for nearly two years while he did his military service, then landed a role in Leste Chen's Eternal Summer, for which he was nominated for best supporting actor and newcomer at the Golden Horse Awards 2006. What is Man? marks his second outing in theatre.

'Edward's directing is very experimental. He spent loads of time getting to know us, finding out our personalities and individual characters. He then developed the roles, storyline and script based on what he found out about us,' says Chang, who appeared in Lam's What is Fantasy?, an adaptation of Journey to the West, last year.

He says the director has a knack in presenting profound ideas in an accessible way. 'There are ups and downs [in his work]. His plays are very entertaining, but there is something meaningful and thought-provoking underneath.

'For the audience, it's a comfortable experience to watch his plays because he won't force you to take his point of view, but inspire you to think.'

Chang says Lam, as both the playwright and director of What is Man?, has made no attempt to answer his own questions.

'Audiences can see different facets of man in the play. Some are good, some are bad. Every person can have his/her own definition of what man is after watching the play,' he says. Chang says the production helps him understand himself more.

'The personality of a person is formed with all these different components and the portion of these components will alter under different circumstances,' says Chang.

What is Man? Kwai Tsing Theatre, 7.30pm, Mar 21-23, and 2.30pm, Mar 24. In Putonghua with Chinese surtitles. Tickets HK$100 to HK$320 available at Urbtix outlets. Inquiries: 2268 7323