Also showing: Daichi Harashima

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 May, 2009, 12:00am

He might look like an average 11-year-old boy, but Daichi Harashima is a seasoned veteran of six films who has performed alongside some highly accomplished actors. And in his latest role, he's pulled off the nearly impossible task of working with pandas.

In Trail of the Panda, Daichi (right) plays an orphan who rescues a panda cub and helps find its mother.

It wasn't an easy shoot: Daichi spent nearly three months in the Wolong Nature Reserve in Sichuan province for his role.

'It was so exciting working with the pandas,' he says. 'They were only six months old and were very active and naughty, unlike the older ones I have seen in the zoo who are always sleeping.'

Daichi reveals the pandas weren't as easy to work with as the film might suggest.

'Pandas don't speak and I don't think they knew exactly what the director wanted,' he says.

'You couldn't even bribe them with bamboo because they were too young - they only drink milk. You have to be very patient [with them].'

Daichi recalls having to endure a 10-day wait with the crew just to film the pandas sleeping.

'When the sun rose, the pandas woke up. When they finally fell asleep at night, it was too dark and we could not shoot the scenes.'

There was an upside to this predicament, however: he was free to roam around the wilderness as much as he wanted.

'It was different from all the other films I've made before because I ended up exploring the forest and the mountains,' he says.

But it wasn't all fun and games for the young actor.

Daichi recalls how he was toppled by a strong current when he was standing in the middle of a river, filming the scene in which his character tries to help the small panda to reunite with his mother on the other bank.

'I just remember the water was so cold,' he says. 'The coat I wore was all wet and became so heavy that I slipped. It was very scary, but I knew I had to get the baby panda across the river.'

Publicists have played up the fact that Daichi is the first child actor ever to be kissed by a panda, but the boy remembers his moments of intimacy with the pandas quite differently.

'The truth is that I had to apply honey on my cheeks - or else the pandas just focused on my body,' he says. 'And I was a bit afraid that it was going to bite or scratch me.'

Born to a Japanese father and a Chinese mother, Daichi was discovered through a talent competition in Japan. After starring in a series of television commercials and making appearances on television variety shows, he came to the attention of mainland director-producer Deng Jianguo and in 2002 was cast as an impoverished single mother's only son in Happy Mother.

His part in Derek Yee Tung-shing's Lost in Time the following year gained him widespread recognition; he played a child who loses his minibus driver father (played by Louis Koo Tin-lok) in a traffic accident and is later placed in the care of the his dad's young fianc?e (Cecilia Cheung Pak-chi).

Daichi's turn nearly earned him a best new performer award nomination at the Hong Kong Film Awards - his name was eventually struck off the shortlist when organisers deemed him ineligible for having already starred in a film.

'I didn't feel nervous at all the first time I was in front of the camera. Instead, I was curious about what was going on behind the scenes,' Daichi says.

Daichi's career bloomed after Lost in Time. In Crazy N' the City (2005), a cop soap opera produced by Derek Yee, he played a street urchin.

Then came his lead role in 2006's Superkid, in which he played a child who becomes a genius after eating tainted baby food.

His last screen appearance was in An Empress and the Warriors as Muyong Xuehu, an orphan who later becomes a fearless warrior.

With his mother as his manager, Daichi seems pretty easy-going about his future projects, saying he 'doesn't know' what he wants to be when he grows up.

Several film companies have approached him, but Daichi says none has offered any future projects. The immediate future, he says, lies in school and play.

He lives in Guangzhou with his mother and plans to spend his summer holidays in Japan.

Trail of the Panda opens today