Singaporeans best remember Ix Shen as the super cool 1995 Star Search champion whose time in the spotlight here was overshadowed by the more glamorous Christopher Lee, who came in second in the talent search.
In 2009, Ix, who dated former actress Ericia Lee for seven years back in the noughties, left Singapore for China to further his acting career. And eight years on, the actor has finally made some inroads there, albeit not in front of the camera.
The 46-year-old was recently involved with the production of action blockbuster Wolf Warrior 2, taking on the role of executive director for six months. "What an executive director does is to present and put together what you see on screen. Sometimes, I help to make decisions if the director is preoccupied or not around," he says about his job scope. The movie, directed by Chinese actor Wu Jing, who also stars in it, is about a soldier who protects medical aid workers from local rebels in Africa. To date, the film has raked in a whopping $768.5million (S$1.047billion) in China, making it the country's top-grossing film of all time.
Ix lets on that he got the job through a referral and that he didn’t go through any interviews. He says that his ability to communicate in English, Mandarin and Cantonese with the multi-national crew and cast, as well as his decades of experience in showbiz, helped him bag the job.
He tells us over the phone from Phuket, where’s he on vacation for three weeks, that he sees himself doing more behind-the-scenes work in the future, especially after the immense success of Wolf Warrior 2.
“I always joke and tell my friends in China that it’s the era of Xiao Xian Rou ( or fresh meat which in China means young pretty boys) now, so a Hong Gan Rou (Mandarin for "dried out meat") like me should work as a crew member instead (chuckles).”
8 DAYS: You went to Beijing in 2009 to pursue acting. How tough was it to get a job there in the beginning?
IX SHEN: I didn’t go there with a huge amount of savings. I had a flat in Singapore that I rented out and it acted as a safety net. I spent prudently and I told myself that I’d only give up and return to Singapore if I had to beg on the streets for food. I spent a lot of time networking and meeting people. It took me eight months before I got my first acting gig and I remember feeling elated when I scored the role. I believe it was a combination of good timing and luck!
Did you ever feel like giving up?
Nope, I knew exactly what I was getting myself into. If you go to China with the sole purpose of getting an acting job, you won’t get it. The first couple of months there were all about treating people I met with sincerity, and getting them to know me better. I also upgraded myself constantly, taking acting classes and attending workshops whenever I could. Just recently, I came back to Singapore to take a scriptwriting class and a stereographic projection class offered by MDA. If you’re passionate about a craft, you have to keep learning about it to improve yourself.
What kind of roles were you usually offered in China?
They were always roles that required me to be in uniforms (laughs). I’ve acted as a guy from the special forces, a Chinese policeman as well as a general from the Song dynasty. I think it’d be quite cool to play someone in the educational field like a teacher, a professor or a philosopher in the future if the chance arises.
We haven’t seen you in a while. So how's your love life?
I’m currently engaged. My fiancee’s name is Natalia. She’s 33 and is from the Ukraine. She’s studying Traditional Chinese Medicine in China now, and I met her online through an international site for avid travellers. We’ve been dating for six years and are planning to get married next year.
Congrats! It seems like you have good news in both your career and love life. What’s next for you?
Thanks! After the success of Wolf Warrior 2, more opportunities have opened up and negotiations are ongoing for new behind-the-scenes projects. Hollywood producers have gotten in touch with Wu Jing and he has kept me in the loop, but nothing is in the bag yet. I definitely want to stay in China for now. The market here is way bigger, and it’s where my career can progress. In China, investors queue up with millions of dollars in their bank accounts to invest in films. Depending on the project, I get paid a minimum of a six-figure sum [in Singapore dollars] each time. I love working on large sets with thousands of people — it can be very challenging yet very rewarding. As far as filmmaking is concerned, you either work in Hollywood or China. That’s where the industry is booming!