Star shines as Sun

Updated: 2011-10-08 11:03

By Liu Wei (China Daily)

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Star shines as Sun

Winston Chao stars as Sun Yat-sen in his latest role in China 1911. Photos provided to China Daily

Taiwan actor Winston Chao says his understanding of the 1911 Revolution's leader is deeper than his physical resemblance to the Republic of China's founder. Liu Wei reports.

Taiwan actor Winston Chao turned to cats for inspiration for his fifth role portraying Republic of China founder Dr Sun Yat-sen. "Fraternity is a key word of Sun's legacy," Chao says. "He loves people, and that drives him to fight to better their lives." But Chao says he can't love the whole of the human race in the same way as the revolutionary leader. However, he can conjure affinity for all members of the feline species.

"I find it easier to get people when I talk to them as if they're cats," he says, jokingly.

But Chao insists he's serious about understanding his latest role as the firebrand who smashed his homeland's feudal order in China 1911, which hit mainland screens on Sept 23.

Chao's father was a teacher and an expert on Sun. He graduated from Huangpu Military Academy, which Sun founded in 1924. Chao grew up in a home filled with books about Sun, some of which his father had written.

The actor says he was surprised when Hong Kong director Mabel Cheung invited him to play Sun in her film The Soong Sisters in 1995.

Chao had just risen to stardom by playing the lead role in Ang Lee's second feature film, The Wedding Banquet. Although the movie won a Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival in 1993, the former flight attendant was new to showbiz.

The pressure of playing a hero of the Chinese people was overwhelming, he says.

But Cheung insisted Chao looks like Sun and voiced confidence in his acting abilities.

Maggie Cheung plays Sun's wife Soong Ching Ling, and Michelle Yeoh and Vivian Wu appear as Soong's sisters.

The flick grabbed seven honors at the 1998 Hong Kong Film Awards and set the cast for Chao to appear as Sun in subsequent films.

Chao portrayed Sun in a 20-episode TV drama in 2000 and did so again in another series in 2010.

He also played the doctor in the 2009 film Road to Dawn, which revolves around the seldom-discussed story of Sun raising funds for the Chinese revolution in Malaysia in 1910.

Chao was criticized for "lacking the temperament of a great man", during his early performances.

The actor understands the career dangers of repeatedly appearing as the same character and says he has considered refusing to play Sun again.

But he couldn't resist returning to the role in China 1911.

"The film's production quality is excellent, and director Zhang Li is known for a knack at portraying grand historic subjects," he explains.

The film follows the 1911 Revolution and the collaboration between Sun and commander Huang Xing, played by Jackie Chan.

Chao says he is confident in his ability to play Sun after spending so much time "being" him.

"He was a romantic, who didn't compromise," Chao said in an earlier speech at Shanghai's Fudan University.

"He refuses to say this world is hopeless and fights to build the world he believes should exist."

He says he might play Sun again, especially if in a biopic that looks at the hero from psychological and philosophical perspectives.

"To show him as a person, rather than solely as a great politician, would be original," he says.

Chao has cooperated with the China Soong Ching Ling Foundation for 10 years and donates to the organization every time he plays Sun. His donation after China 1911 will go to a program that supports women teachers in western China.