With The Tag-Along 2, pop star Rainie Yang is box office queen of Taiwan’s horror cinema – despite not even liking the genre
Actress who was ‘too afraid’ to watch the original film and can’t bring herself to say ‘I like horror films’ explains how she came to star in Cheng Wei-hao’s hit movie, and why she isn’t sure she’d reprise her role if there’s a The Tag-Along 3
This week, box office takings in Taiwan for The Tag-Along 2 – already the highest-grossing local production of the year there and best-performing Taiwanese horror film in more than a decade – passed NT$100 million (US$3.3 million). For pop star Rainie Yang Cheng-lin, it must have been a little awkward to be both the film’s top-billed actress ... and its least willing audience member.
“Of course I’m afraid of ghosts. Who isn’t? It’s just a matter of whether you encounter them [for real],” Yang, 33, tells the Post in a recent interview. “I don’t have much curiosity about ghosts and other invisible entities. I try to avoid listening to ghost stories, and I would rather not watch any ghost movie if I had a choice.” Laughing, she adds: “The audience shouldn’t follow my lead here.”
She continues: “It’s true that I try [not to think about ghosts] because I’m too timid. Even when I haven’t seen anything, I’d suspect that I had seen something.”
While this makes Yang far from an ideal spokeswoman for The Tag-Along 2, the film’s 33-year-old director, Cheng Wei-hao, felt the actress was a perfect fit for her role after watching Yang play a mother in a recent television series in Taiwan, and the lead role in 3D horror film The Child’s Eye (2010), directed by the Hong Kong-based Pang brothers.
Cheng’s own part in 2015 film The Tag-Along and its sequel was no less of a coincidence than Yang’s in The Tag-Along 2. Despite never having been much of a horror fan himself, Cheng – then without a full-length feature under his belt, and originally appointed just as acting director of the first film, tasked with honing its screenplay – was installed late on as its director. The film went on to become the top-grossing Taiwanese horror movie of the past decade, a mantle it has now ceded to the sequel.
“It’s not my intention to make horror films,” says Cheng. “[The irony is that] my first short was a horror parody, in which a young screenwriter is persuaded by his producer to make horror films ... To make The Tag-Along, I ended up studying a lot of horror classics from Japan, [South] Korea, Thailand, Europe and the US. In particular I like The Eye series from Hong Kong, the Thai film Shutter and The Conjuring films.”
Coming in the wake of The Tag-Along’s unexpected success, the sequel follows Yang’s single-mother character as she ventures deep into an alternate dimension – and the mythologies introduced in the first film, themselves based on an urban legend from 1998 – to rescue her pregnant 15-year-old daughter (Ruby Zhan Wan-ru) from the grasp of vengeful forces in the mountains.
Perhaps to no one’s surprise, Yang confesses that she “hadn’t managed to find time to watch” The Tag-Along until the day before the second film wrapped shooting. “And I watched it extremely quickly,” she says. “I skipped any scene that got too frightening. I basically skipped all the scary scenes. It was mostly the atmosphere and feeling that I was trying to get. I really was too afraid to watch the film.”
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Asked why, given her feelings, she ever got involved in such a project to begin with, Yang explains her thinking. “When you’re acting, you’ve already known the plot and so you have plenty of time to digest [the scares]. But when you’re watching a horror film, you don’t know [when the shocks will come].
“As an actress, I’m leading the viewers into a different world, so in a way I feel safer when I’m acting. My character has a lot of positive traits: she is sensible and always stays calm. Of course, it’s a big challenge for me to take up this part but, once I’ve accepted it, I’m not one to [shy away from the commitment].”
In hindsight, Yang says, she had a more enjoyable time making The Child’s Eye than The Tag-Along 2, and really misses the shoot in Thailand for that earlier film. “I wasn’t in much fear at that time because the story was [entirely] fictional,” she says of the Pang Brothers film. “It was also only my first horror film, so I was more focused on being a better actress.”
Yang points out the “utterly different modes of expression in the two films”, something she found strange.
Whereas she was instructed to use exaggerated body language in The Child’s Eye, the more nuanced and complicated story in The Tag-Along 2 meant she had to express “genuine emotions” in her role. “When this character confronts her fear, the emotion was more inside her than on her face,” she says.
For Cheng, the popularity of Yang, Hsu Wei-ning – who appeared in the first film – and another new cast member, Francesca Kao Hui-chun, holds the key to this horror series. Like an aspiring entrepreneur who analyses a market in its finest detail to find the formula for success, the director says there was a “strategic decision” to feature a trio of mother characters in The Tag-Along 2.
“Even the Alien films were dominated by female heroes,” he says. “Why do so many horror films feature female protagonists? If you look at the market studies, you’d find a female-to-male ratio of 6:4 in any territory in terms of horror movie audiences. Horror is a genre that’s more attractive to women than men – and that explains the prevalence of female leads in these films.”
Yang isn’t sure she will reprise her role if there is a third The Tag-Along film, saying that “it was tense every day” on set and that she couldn’t sleep well for three months after the shoot for The Tag-Along 2 finished. (Cheng confirms that investors in the first two films intend this to become a long-running series, “like Final Destination 1 to 8.)
While the singer-actress is looking to make more films, having appeared in just five features since her career as a pop idol began in 2000 – something that’s down to her management company, she explains – it is hard to picture Yang relishing her stature as the box office queen of Taiwanese horror cinema. Asked if she has any favourite horror film, she seems almost aghast at the question.
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Clearly not having read that memo from her director, she says with a giggle: “It would be against my heart to even say the phrase ‘I like horror films’.”
The Tag-Along 2 opens on September 21
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