Q&A: Mark Chao Yu-ting
Taiwanese actor Mark Chao Yu-ting's impressive performance in his debut television drama, Black & White, not only made him a household name on the island, but also won him Best Actor title at the Golden Bell Awards last year.
Now the 25-year-old youngest son of veteran entertainer Allen Chao, is enjoying success with his first feature film, Monga.
Directed by Doze Niu Cheng-tse, the gangster movie set in 1980s Taipei has already grossed more than NT$250 million (HK$61 million) in Taiwan, making it one of the most successful domestic productions.
Chao plays Mosquito, a quiet and introverted young man who joins the mob after hooking up with a gangster called Monk (Ethan Ruan).
Monga is your first film. What was the experience like?
It was quite a challenge because the cultural background is completely different from where I grew up. Mosquito is also different; I'm more self-assured and don't think I have to prove the value of my existence.
I had to throw away that part of me to express a sense of insecurity, self-abasement and distrust.
What do you think about the background of Monga [which portrays a place and time synonymous with conflicts between rival gangs]?
Although I was born in Taiwan, I went to Canada when I was in primary school. I didn't know what Monga was about and had to read up about its history. I researched the fashion and slang of the 1980s and watched movies such as A Brighter Summer Day and A City of Sadness.
I didn't want to go too deep into the background so that my character would seem more real - what Mosquito sees and experiences for the first time is also what I see and experience for the first time.
Now I know it was when Taiwan took off and the society started to open up. It was like an explosion. Different cultures mingled together, especially in the Monga area.
Were you influenced by your father to go into show business?
Not really. Although my father is liberal about what we want to do, my mother was very against us entering the industry because she has seen how hard my father had to work all these years. She thinks being an entertainer is too tough and exhausting, with no time to spend with family. But I fought for her support to let me give it a try.
My parents are my backup. I ask their advice, and get my mother to go through my contracts since she studied law. My father is my role model because he held on to his beliefs throughout his career. He is a righteous man, you never see bad or inappropriate news about him.
When did you get the idea to become an actor?
I had never thought about it until I returned to Taiwan after graduating and went for an audition. They didn't offer me the role so, I thought, 'Okay, maybe acting isn't for me', and I should just go back to Canada. But before I left, I met Tsai Yueh-hsun (the director of Black & White) and he offered me a part.
Do you feel any pressure after winning a Golden Bell award?
I don't feel any change but I know people see me differently now, which I don't like. I want people to see me as an ordinary person.
Did you have any acting experience or training before the television series?
I've only acted in school dramas and made some student movies for fun.
I think acting isn't something you can teach; it's from your heart. What actors learn is not how to act but to open up. I don't think I'm a genius but some people are more sensitive and better at expressing emotion. I'm just one of them.
So what kind of person are you?
There are two voices arguing in my head and I try to strike a balance between them. For instance, I like to follow others but I have my own rules; I love to hang out and have fun with friends, but at the same time I enjoy being alone, thinking and reading. Even my closest friends think I'm distant sometimes.
What type of actor do you want to be? There're still a lot of things for me to learn. I don't like people viewing me as an idol. I hope they see me as an actor. I want to be a capable actor like Tony Leung Chiu-wai. You can't sustain a career with good looks or gimmicks. You have to have a passion to keep going. I hope people are moved by my acting.
You sing on the soundtracks of both Black & White and Monga. Are you planning to release your own CD?
I like music and learned piano and drums when I was a child, but realised I didn't have much musical talent. I enjoy singing very much, but I don't think I'm a great singer. Maybe one day, when I'm better trained. But I won't do music just to make money.
Monga opens on April 15