Enigmatic entertainer

Updated: 2013-01-30 10:20

By Liu Wei (China Daily)

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Enigmatic entertainer

Stephen Chow's appearance at the annual Guangdong political consultative conference captured much media attention. Sun Yi / For China Daily

Enigmatic entertainer

Stephen Chow shares his expertise with actors on the set of his new film Odyssey. Photos provided to China Daily

Will the real Stephen Chow stand up please? Liu Wei tries to suss out the famous director/actor during a recent interview.

Among the most famous Hong Kong directors, Stephen Chow may be the hardest to define. Johnny To is the cool guy, Wong Kar-wai the elegant one, and Tsui Hark the inventive one, but which description best fits Chow?

His films bear distinctive tags, such as underdogs as protagonists, absurd, slapstick, and crazy and exaggerated body language. But, behind his larger-than-life performances is a vague image with mixed reviews.

Chow has recently been appointed a member of the Guangdong political consultative conference because the cultural and artistic cooperation between the special administrative region and the mainland has been greatly boosted in recent years.

The 51-year-old actor/director maintains an impossibly low profile. Even in Hong Kong, where the paparazzi are known for their perseverance, Chow is seldom caught.

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He rarely gives interviews or talks about himself, his family or love life.

Even if one pieces together comments about him, one does not get a full picture of Chow. Fans worship him as a genius and king of comedy, an Asian and an improved version of Jim Carrey. The not-so-flattering labels given to him include mean and harsh, resulting in many of his co-workers leaving him.

He never responds to such comments.

In Hong Kong, he represents the local grassroots culture, while in the mainland he is a cultural hero/icon among the 20- and 30-somethings thanks mainly to his A Chinese Odyssey in 1994. It tells the love story of the Monkey King, which is loosely adapted from the classic novel Journey to the West.

The film was not a commercial success in Hong Kong, but it caught the attention of mainland youngsters who watched it on DVD and the Internet. Some netizens analyzed every detail of the film and thought of it as a masterpiece of post-modernism, which decodes everything but love.

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The comment stunned even Chow. When asked about his opinion of post-modernism, he says: "To be honest, I know nothing about it."

"Is the film that good?" he asks, his confusion seeming genuine.

"I was so flattered. Looking back, I find a lot of flaws, but I will keep that to myself," he adds with a sly smile.

"Post-modernism" is a big word for the man, who grew up with three siblings and his mother in a lower-class Hong Kong community. He remembers how depressed his mother once was at the loss of HK$50 ($6.40). In his middle school days, he worked as a part-time street vendor and waiter. After graduation, he became an extra actor at a local TV station. For about six years he did not get any real movie roles.

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