Fala Chen Feels Connected To Maggie Cheung After Making HBO Series Based On Her 1996 Film Irma Vep - 8days Skip to main content



Fala Chen Feels Connected To Maggie Cheung After Making HBO Series Based On Her 1996 Film Irma Vep

The HBO mini-series, Irma Vep, is a showbiz satire inspired by the 1996 film of the same name starring Maggie Cheung. 
Fala Chen Feels Connected To Maggie Cheung After Making HBO Series Based On Her 1996 Film Irma Vep

Fala Chen has never met Maggie Cheung but feels connected to her thanks to the new HBO limited series, Irma Vep.

Irma Vep, now streaming on HBO Go, stars Alicia Vikander as Mira, a jaded Hollywood A-lister who relocates to Paris to play the titular character in a TV series remake of the 1915 French silent movie serial The Vampires. The former TVB idol, 40, portrays Cynthia Keng, a rising Hongkong star hired to make the show — whatchamacallit — more appealing to Chinese audiences.

The eight-part series is loosely based on the 1996 film, a movie-within-a-movie that starred Maggie Cheung as herself, coming to Paris to star as Irma Vep. Both the series and film, helmed by Olivier Assayas, a showbiz satire layered with inside jokes and meta-mischief, and sly commentary on how content is produced, distributed, and consumed in the last two decades.

“I’m sure I had watched it when it came out in 1996,” the Sichuan-born actress — who was 14 when she and her family moved to Atlanta, Georgia — tells 8days.sg and other journos. “But I don’t have a clear collection of the original Irma Vep.”

But the second Assayas offered Chen the part, she went knee-deep in research by rewatching Irma Vep 1.0 as well as studying The VampiresDid Chen consider reaching out to Cheung to pick her brains?

“Based on my conversations with Olivier, Maggie is already kinda retired from acting and doesn’t want to have anything to do with it,” says Chen. Plus Keng is a brand-new creation, “[so] I never had the urge to contact her." 

Assayas and Cheung were married from 1998 to 2001; after Irma Vep, the couple teamed up for the Cannes-feted 2004 rehab drama Clean, which also happens to be her last starring role.

While Vikander is essentially playing Cheung’s character in the series, the 57-year-old actress’ presence is strongly felt throughout the show via flashbacks to Cheung from the 1996 film. In one fantasy sequence, though, Cheung is reimagined as Jade, played by Vivian Wu (The Last Emperor, The Joy Luck Club). And guess what? Cheung’s full name is Cheung Man-Yuk and Yuk is Jade in Cantonese — now, how’s that for an Easter egg?

The meta-madness gets even crazier considering how much Chen and Cheung have in common: they were raised outside Hongkong, competed in beauty pageants, and cut their professional teeth at Hongkong broadcaster TVB.

“Yeah, I would love to meet her one day and just get to know her,” says Chen. “Because of Irma Vep, I have ties to her now.”

Elsewhere, Chen — who shares 18-month-old daughter Minnie with her French entrepreneur husband Emmanuel Straschnov — was also thrilled to don Irma Vep’s “luxurious” velvet catsuit “Louis Vuitton made it for me and Alicia,” she says. “It was a sacred moment because the catsuit is such an iconic image for Irma Vep and the Vampires film and has inspired a generation of filmmakers.”

Irma Vep is Chen’s third Hollywood project after graduation from New York’s Juilliard School in 2018. She also appeared in Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, where she played the wife of Tony Leung’s character and the mother of the title character, and HBO’s Emmy-nominated Nicole Kidman-Hugh Grant-led whodunit The Undoing.

Chen said those gigs wouldn’t have happened had she not returned to the US to do a four-year Master of Fine Arts in Drama Program at Juilliard. She prefers to call this phase of her career “a continuation” of what she’d done in Hongkong rather than a restart. “I see every project has a brand-new start, a brand-new challenge,” she says. “I look at myself as a brand-new actor but with some experience, with certain tools I can rely on.”

And one of those tools is Shakespeare.

Before starting on Irma Vep, Chen revisited the Bard’s works — “good-old classic text where you can’t change a single word” — with her theatre friends. “It made me feel confident about my work. [In Irma Vep’s case], Olivier was very precise about the choice of words, the timing. So when I was looking at his script, I felt obligated to follow the text religiously.”

While Chen is tight-lipped about her upcoming gigs, she says, “I’m ambitious — I'm always looking for the next big project that interests me. Every time I get on a new set, I develop new relationships and learn something entirely new.”

Irma Vep is now streaming on HBO Go; the final episode drops on July 26.

Photos: HBO, TPG News/Click Photos



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