Q&A: Julian Cheung
Julian Cheung Chi-lam's boyish good looks made it easy for him to venture into film and television following a successful debut as a singer in 1991. That stood him in good stead a decade later as Canto-pop went into a decline, with Cheung shifting his focus to acting in mainland productions. And after becoming a father - his wife, actress Anita Yuen Wing-yi, gave birth to their son, Morton, about five years ago - he also enjoyed more quality time with his family.
In 2009, Cheung returned to music and released I Am Chilam, his first album in six years. The 39-year-old is now filming The Grandmasters, a new Wong Kar-wai movie also starring Tony Leung Chiu-wai. To mark his 20th anniversary as a singer, Cheung will stage his first solo concerts at the Coliseum this month.
How have you been preparing for the concerts? I started to do a lot of exercise while filming in Hengdian [in Zhejiang province] late last year. I was quite fit for a while but the weather there was very cold; I ate a lot and regained some weight. So after returning to Hong Kong in January, I hired a physical trainer to set up a fitness programme for me. Now, I spend three hours in the gym every day. The training is very tough, but I can see myself improving bit by bit.
The upcoming shows are your first solo concerts. How do you feel? When I signed to Neway Star in 2009, the concerts were among the projects in our collaboration. It's my 20th year in the industry and there are many songs that I want to sing for the audience. My record company is helping me realise this dream. I hope I can enjoy the experience and interact with the audience as if we're at a party. Some of my best friends such as the Grasshoppers and Aaron Kwok Fu-shing will be guest performers.
The Chinese title of the concerts is 'I'm an Alien' and you also sport an alien ear in the poster. Are you a UFO buff? Yes. I'm very interested in mysterious phenomena such as the pyramids, UFOs and aliens. They stir my imagination. While brainstorming for the concerts, we thought it would be quite interesting to introduce this element. I always look out for information about mysterious events on the internet and was really excited when I saw the news about a UFO sighting in Jerusalem. It was so cool!
I really want to see one myself. Chapman To [Man-cheuk] and I once filmed a scene on the mainland showing us wishing upon the stars. Suddenly, a glowing object shot across the dark sky. We were stunned. That was probably not a UFO but a meteor, but we were very excited.
Before joining your new record company, you didn't sing at all for a long time. What led you to return to music?
During those years, I spent a lot of time developing my acting career on the mainland as the Hong Kong music industry was shrinking drastically. And my son had just been born, so I wanted to spend more time with him.
But in 2009, I performed two songs at a Leslie Cheung tribute concert. The response from the audience was very good, and several record companies and concert organisers approached me after that. That was how I restarted as a singer.
When did you realise your interest lay in acting and singing?
I was a naughty child and loved to impersonate singers and actors such as Chow Yun-fat and Robert De Niro. There wasn't much entertainment at the time and we could watch the same movie or television series the entire month. That was how my interest in acting came about.
When I was studying high school in Australia, life was quite boring and there was not much to do. Since my home was just a five-minute walk from school, I would go home to sing karaoke during lunch and after school every day. That was good training, although I wasn't thinking about being a singer then.
What do you think of your career so far?
It has been great fun. There've been ups and downs, but I've enjoyed every moment. I'm lucky that everyone I've met in the industry has been an interesting and good person. I'm satisfied with my achievements. When times are bad, I take it as a chance to review what I've done and think seriously about what I should do next.
What do you do when you don't have many projects in hand?
I learn new things, read more books and play sports. For instance, I learned kung fu, and took up the guitar and piano. It's not easy for an adult to learn new techniques, but I want to know more.
How's the progress on your new album?
It's almost done. The first single is my first collaboration with [producer] Mark Lui Chung-tak. I told him I wanted to make a party song for my concerts. I also did a song by Danny Chan Pak-keung that is produced by Hanjin Tan, and wrote a song for my son. I want to talk about different kinds of love on the album.
What kind of a father are you?
I can make my child happy. However, that may not make me a very good father as I spoil him sometimes. My wife is the one who disciplines him. When he was born, I decided to spend more time with him in his first couple of years. That's a very important period in a child's growth.
How do you keep a balance between work and family?
Thanks to technology, we can see one another online when I'm away for work. When I'm home, I tend to give up my periods of rest and hanging out with friends to be with my family more. When you are single, you spend more time hanging out with friends. But as a married man with a child, family is the priority.
How's the filming on Wong Kar-wai's The Grandmasters?
I'm honoured to be part of the movie. A great movie is timeless - people are still talking about his Days of Being Wild. I want to learn something from Wong and I really enjoy working with a master like him. He sees a movie as an artwork. Sometimes on the set, he would ask you to feel the setting and the character first instead of getting dressed up and ready for the filming. It's very romantic. I've never had such a filming experience before.
Neway ChiLam in Concert 2011, March 26 and 27, 8.15pm, Coliseum; HK$480, HK$300 and HK$180, Urbtix. Reservations: 2734 9009