Eddie Peng Yu-yan doesn’t believe in obstacles. During our interview in August – Peng was in town to promote his latest fantasy drama, Wu Kong, in Hong Kong – whenever the Taiwanese actor was asked about his motivation to take on new characters and challenges, he would often respond with “why not”.
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The media-savvy actor’s unmistakable perseverance, curiosity and can-do spirit have elevated him from a teen idol to the much-respected professional he is today. “I appreciate every opportunity that comes my way,” Peng says. “I hate to fail the director, people who I work with and, of course, my audience.”
With some 27 million Weibo fans and another 3.3 million followers on Instagram, the 35-year-old singer-turned-actor is one of Asia’s most loved and prolific performers of his generation.
Peng has starred in a series of high-budget and high-profile blockbusters over the past years. His latest film, Wu Kong , grossed almost 700 million yuan (HK$834 million) at the box office in mainland China. Take a look at his recent portfolio – it’s as if he has been intentionally expanding his genres and the filmmakers he works with.
Last year, he appeared with Hollywood heavyweight Matt Damon in Zhang Yimou’s fantasy drama, The Great Wall . He has also starred in veteran director Dante Lam’s action-packed thriller, Operation Mekong. More recently, he played a complicated anti-hero in auteur Ann Hui’s melodrama, Our Time Will Come. “It has been a great learning curve working with the director [Hui],” Peng says. “The character fights violence with more violence, but there’s more to this character than the superficial.”
His earlier TV projects were predominately youthful romantic dramas, but he built his name with action films in recent years. These include Rise of the Legend (2014), in which he portrayed kung fu legend Wong Fei-hung, and Unbeatable (2013), in which he played a young mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter. Peng, however, does not want to be pigeonholed.
He says the action parts in his films contribute to the development of the characters and the plots. “I won’t be interested in a film that only focuses on action.”
Success didn’t come easy for Peng. He stumbled upon showbiz some 15 years ago. He was living in Canada at that time, and he spent a summer in Taipei. Director Yang Da-qing discovered him and offered him a supporting role in the TV series titled Tomorrow. The actor built a teenage fan following after the romantic comedy gained popularity.
After a string of TV projects, Peng made his silver screen debut with Lin Yu-hsien’sExit No. 6 (2006).The film put him on the radar of many film directors, including veteran Tsui Hark who cast him in his 2008 romantic comedy, All About Women.
But in 2009, Peng got involved in a series of legal disputes when he ended his management contract. It wasn’t until two years later that Peng made a comeback with the film Jump Ashin! , which won him praise and recognition.
The film, also directed by Lin Yu-hsien, follows gymnast Ashinon on a journey of loss and redemption. To get in shape for the role, Peng had to train for 12 hours a day. He was nominated for Best Leading Actor at the 2011 Golden Horse Awards.
He says he is grateful to his family, who are always there to support him. “As long as you work hard and give everything you have, people will notice you and appreciate your hard work,” he adds.
And Peng is known in the industry for his hard work. It takes him months to prepare for a role. Apart from the training for Jump Ashin! , he practised boxing for four hours a day to play the MMA character in Unbeatable For his 2015 drama To The Fore – in which he played a professional cyclist – he trained so hard that he earned qualifications for competitive racing.
“All the preparation for my films is worth it because I feel responsible for the character I’m playing,” he says. “I always do my best.”
Today, Peng is probably on the wish list of many filmmakers, not only for his good looks and versatility, but, more importantly, for his passion for acting. Meanwhile, he’s on the lookout for characters he hasn’t tried before. “I have to be really moved to commit to a project, and my philosophy is to do my character justice. Other things are beyond my control,” he says.
Sci-fi is a genre that appeals to him, Peng adds. “There aren’t many sci-fi films made in China or even Asia. It’s something that I’d love to challenge myself with.”