Q&A: Amber Kuo
Taiwanese singer-actress Amber Kuo Tsai-chieh started her musical career after winning a university singing contest, and released her debut album Invisible Superman in 2007. The 24-year-old has also found success in movies, winning the best new talent accolade at the Taipei International Film Awards earlier this year. She played a bookstore clerk in Au Revoir Taipei, Taiwanese new-wave director Arvin Chen Chun-lin's debut feature. Produced by German filmmaker Wim Wenders, the romantic comedy was named best Asian film at the Berlin International Film Festival.
Kuo was recently in Hong Kong to promote the movie and her third album, Sparklers.
Au Revoir Taipei had an international crew, including cinematographer Michael Fimognari. What was it like to work with filmmakers from different corners of the world?
It was fun and rewarding. It made me realise that there is no language barrier in the world of movies. On the set, there were people speaking French, English, Taiwanese and Mandarin, but we worked together well and respected each other's cultures. The director has a multicultural background, too. He is Chinese and was raised in the US, and he brought a different perspective to a Taiwanese film. People in Taiwan used to feel distanced from local films [which were often art-house productions]. But now, there are more young directors with fresh ideas to attract local audiences, which is a good thing. This could also help Taiwanese movies connect to the international arena.
The movie has been shown at a number of international film festivals. Have you been going to the screenings?
I only went to the Berlin International Film Festival and Singapore when the film was released there. It was amazing. I'm not too keen on travelling. One of the reasons is that I like everything to be well-planned. I can't go to other countries without a perfect plan. My work has helped with this. It became the motivation for me to leave home. Now, whenever I go abroad for work, I'll use the chance to visit different places and experience other cultures.
Au Revoir Taipei was mostly shot at night; and filming often went on until dawn. Was that a problem?
It was a great challenge. At the time, I was recording my second album and would be taken to the studio right after filming. It was really exhausting, but I expected that when I asked my company to let me take part in the movie.
Was it your childhood dream to be a singer?
No. When I was kid, I liked singing because it made me happy. I studied social work at university, though I didn't know what I would do after graduation. Then I competed in a singing contest and got the chance to be a singer. In fact, making movies is more of a dream come true for me. People in the industry don't think of movie making as just a job. They either have a passion or some ideas about a film. It makes me very happy to work with these people.
You play a bookstore worker in the movie. Do you enjoy going to bookshops?
Yes. I like a small bookstore in Shida Night Market and the popular Eslite Bookstore. Some of the places featured in the movie are where I often hang out. There's a scene where we dance in a park and the song that we danced to has stuck in my mind. Sometimes, when I'm wandering around in the night market, my mind conjures up that melody again. It's kind of romantic.
Many people say you are like singer Mavis Fan. What do you think about such comments?
When I was a newcomer, I wasn't comfortable when people said that I looked like so and so. But then I thought at least they noticed me. Now, I don't worry anymore as I think I've established myself. Anyway, you can't control how people think about you.
What does winning Best New Talent at the Taipei International Film Festival mean to you?
I used to be afraid that I couldn't do my job well. So, the award is a great encouragement for me.
I didn't attend the award ceremony since I had an album signing session that day. I thought Au Revoir Taipei would at least win a prize as it did so well at som many different film festivals. But I didn't think that I would win because the other nominees also performed very well. It was almost 11pm when the signing session finished, and we kept calling for the latest update on the way back to Taipei and were told that we didn't win anything. I was about to head home, when we got a call to say that I won the Best New Talent award. I just looked at my manager and cried.
How would you like to develop your career as an actress?
At the moment, I don't have the time to learn acting. So I take every offer as on-the-job training. Most of the characters I have played have been pretty close to myself. I would like to play characters which are totally different.
Over the last three years, I've done a lot of things from singing to TV drama series and movies. I felt that I couldn't stop for a moment. I was insecure and thought that my career hadn't been established yet, so I just kept going. But after this year, I hope to slow down a bit.