As hard as it might be to believe, Jay Chou Jie-lun is proving to be quite a decent film director. The 34-year-old did well with 2007’s hit romance Secret, and he’s doing it again with the upcoming The Rooftop, the second film he both directs and stars in.
It is a surprising development, especially when you take into account the decidedly mixed reception the Taiwanese singersongwriter has met with since his acting debut in Initial D in 2005.
While his music releases have firmly established him as a giant in Chinese music – his 2006 album sold an impressive 3.6 million copies across Asia – Chou’s critics are ruthless about his acting skills or, as some put it, the complete lack of them.
Whether he’s taking part in high-profile projects like Zhang Yimou’s Curse of the Golden Flower (2006) and Michel Gondry’s The Green Hornet (2011), or embarrassing turkeys like Taiwanese director Chu Yenping’s Kung Fu Dunk (2008) and The Treasure Hunter (2009), Chou’s inexpressive demeanour has attracted scorn, and accusations he is playing versions of himself.
Chou doesn’t seem to be remotely bothered by the accusation.
“We’re about 90 per cent alike,” he acknowledges, when I ask him to compare his own personality with his character in The Rooftop. “Just as you can find the ‘Chou style’ in my music, I hope you can see it in my films too,” he says.
In his new film, Chou plays a small-time hooligan who’s smitten with the young actress (Li Xin’ai) on the shampoo advertisement billboard overlooking his rooftop community. A brief romance ensues when the two cross paths in real life, yet their blissful affair is soon confronted by the class divide separating them and the brutal gangsters of the district.
The Rooftop offers a lively blend of every genre from cheesy romance to slapstick comedy, gangster drama, action thriller and song-and-dance musical. The tone swings from a cute romance to violent thriller, and ends with a pulse-raising car chase. Chou admits that this passion to merge a diversity of styles and elements has informed his creative works in both music and film.
“It’s probably because I like to mix and match,” says Chou, who started the trend of mixing rhythm and blues with Mando-pop when he began his music career in 2000.
“I think a combination of things can create sparks and surprises. This has been recognised in my music, and I hope the variety of elements in my films will be accepted by the audience, too,” he says.
As with his directorial debut, Secret, music plays a central role in The Rooftop, which features brightly coloured, amusingly choreographed musical numbers that would not be out of place in a Hollywood production. Still, insists Chou, “For the musical sequences I was not influenced by other movies. I didn’t watch any [to prepare for the shoot]. Many of my music videos from the past few years were directed by me. So there’s no need for me to reference others,” many music videos I’ve directed, because music videos are musicals.”
“There haven’t been many [Chinese] movies with musical elements in the past,” says Chou, and it is this lack that prompted Chou to make his own mark in the field. “When it comes to Chinese musical films, the only memorable one is Peter Chan Ho-san’s Perhaps Love (2005), and that is it! If I don’t do this, who else could? I want to make a classic. I want to be the first to succeed.”
After the commercial success of Secret, Chou’s intention was to turn it into a series.
“I’ve come up with quite a few screenplays, and the Secret series includes topics such as aliens and magic. The Rooftop is a script that was born in that period, though it doesn’t belong to the series.”
Somewhere along the line, that project jumped the queue. “I’d like to give the audience something different with my second film,” he explains.
Plans for any future instalments of Chou’s Secret series have been put on hold, with the actor-writerdirector saying, “I won’t be directing my next film for at least two years. To me, music is the tree trunk, it’s the basis of everything I do.
But having said that, film is a territory that I’m interested in exploring.”
For the time being, Hong Kong admirers of the Taiwanese pop icon have a nineconcert run at the Hong Kong Coliseum to look forward to. It takes place in September as part of Chou’s ongoing world tour, which is estimated to attract more than a million viewers in total.
“Every moment on the stage is an opportunity to share my ideas with my fans,” says Chou. “I just want to tell them one thing: you haven’t followed the wrong person!”
The Rooftop opens on August 1