When we caught up with Chen Hanwei at the imaging session for upcoming Mediacorp drama Super Dad last Thursday (Jan 9), the 50-year-old had just landed in Singapore from China at around midnight that day and was running on a mere three hours of sleep.
We definitely couldn’t tell. The actor was his usual chatty and spirited self as he regaled us with tales from his three-week getaway in Beijing and Shanghai.
“If I had to describe my trip in one word, it would be ‘cold’,” he said, wincing at the mere recollection of the cities’ icy temperatures, particularly in Beijing, where the mercury could drop to as low as minus nine degrees Celsius.
We personally think a more suitable adjective would be “painful” - thanks to the frigid conditions, Hanwei suffered from nosebleeds, rashes, cracked skin, and ulcers (ouch). Still, those didn’t stop him from describing his holiday as “a very good experience” - subzero-induced physical ailments be darned!
Fortunately, what he didn’t endure were sprains or broken bones, a very real possibility had he fallen down during his trek on the Great Wall of China. “A lot of people kept slipping because of the snow - I nearly fell down myself!” he recalled. We’re glad he emerged unscathed.
Something Hanwei did not expect while on holiday, he told us, was to be recognised on the streets, but lo and behold, five or six people (from twenty-somethings to older folks) came up to him for photos.
“At first I thought they were from Singapore or Malaysia, but no leh. Then I thought they may have mistaken me for someone else, but no leh,” he said.
The surprises didn’t end there. “When I spoke to one of the girls who approached me, I found out that not only did she know my name, she knew I won an award last year and could name several other Singaporean artistes too! She said she keeps up online.”
What’s more, the fan could name some of Hanwei’s more recent shows - such as 118 and A Million Dollar Dream - instead of older classics that Chinese audiences tend to be more familiar with. She also clarified that she watched them in China and not during a visit to Singapore.
Even one of the salesgirls in a high-end fashion boutique knew who he was. “I was amazed,” he said. “This experience made me think that if our company were to promote our programmes more actively in China, they could have the potential to become very big.”
Of course, Hanwei certainly isn’t going to let a few flattering encounters like that get to his head. Right now, he’s focused on preparing for his role as a reformed ex-convict in Super Dad, which also stars Thomas Ong, Jeremy Chan, Paige Chua, Lina Ng, Shane Pow, and more.
Oh, and there are also magical chocolates that bestow superpowers upon anyone who eats them, but according to Hanwei, they will try and incorporate this fantasy element as naturally as possible.
That won’t be Hanwei’s biggest challenge, though. Instead, he is more concerned about accurately portraying the genuine confusion of a 20-year jailbird who did not get to see all the changes Singapore went through in the past two decades. In other words, he has to be a convincing suaku (mountain tortoise).
“It sounds simple, but it’s actually very easy to get it wrong,” he explained, using taking the bus as an example. “Back in 2000, we still paid for rides with coins, so if I see someone tapping their card instead and don’t react in a puzzled manner, it would be out of character. There are a lot of small details like these that I need to be careful about and can’t take for granted.”
Spoken like a true professional.
In addition to the list of familiar faces, Super Dad will also feature several Star Search 2019 finalists, with Gini Chang (also known as Chang Hio Cheng) landing the meatiest role as Hanwei’s onscreen daughter.
As it turns out, it was the Star Search mentor who submitted her name for consideration when the producer asked if he had anyone in mind for the part. “I nominated Gini because I’ve seen what she is capable of and I believe she has what it takes to pull off the role,” he said.
His validation came during a meeting when the young up-and-comer was asked to describe what she understands about the character. “The producer was very satisfied with what she said, so I believe I’ve introduced the right person for the job.”
However, he quickly clarified that he didn’t select the Macau native - and supposed Cecilia Cheung-lookalike - as a show of favouritism or to specially elevate her in any way. “A lot of the other Star Search finalists, such as Juin [Teh] and Kiki [Ting], are good actors as well, but I had to consider who would be the most suitable to play my daughter.”
Super Dad premieres on June 29 and airs weeknights at 9pm on Channel 8. It will be available on demand for free on meWATCH on the same day.