Shu Qi has been hogging the headlines of late, plagued by rumours of divorce from her actor-director husband Stephen Fung. And the 41-year-old actress is not one to take these so-called rumours lying down. She has hit back with snide, pointed barbs at the Hongkong tabloid who first published the news. We look back at a cover story where we got up-close-and-personal with the actress (and her trademark snarkiness) a decade ago.
The star of My Wife is a Gangster 3: The Lady Boss is Back (2007) looks us in the eye and tells us she hates interviews. We count the number of times Shu Qi rolls her eyes in a brief encounter.
If Shu Qi gave a damn what I thought of her, she would star in a movie called My Wife is an Asian Superstar Who At Least Pretends to be Nice to Reporters. Instead, the movie billboard reads: My Wife is a Gangster 3. Sitting in front of the billboard at the press conference held at The Fullerton Hotel is the uninterested-looking 31-year-old Taiwanese actress.
Warning bells are going off in my head. Would I survive my half-hour one-on-one interview with Shu Qi later? I begin to rethink my list of questions. Maybe I should reconsider mentioning her ‘rivalry’ with that other Chinese diva, Zhang Ziyi, who had shot to international stardom in Lee Ang’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon after Shu Qi turned down the role to shoot a soft drink commercial in Japan. I should definitely scratch out the one about her ignominious beginnings as a soft porn star — it might not be wise to ask that of someone who on a movie poster is glowering aggressively over her shoulder, with a large, don’t-mess-with-me phoenix tattoo threatening you from her back. She also happens to be holding two sharp knives.
Yes, I know she’s not actually a gangster. She won’t have those knives with her. And she won’t take out a contract on me. She is an actress. But she’s also an actress with a reputation for being contemptuous of reporters, and she’s not afraid to show it. Colleagues who interviewed her for The Transporter and So Close have felt the brunt of her scornful reticence and razor-sharp tongue. She’s survived the triad-run porn industry with her dignity (if not quite her threads) intact — what’s a mere reporter to her? Not only has Shu Qi danced with the devil in the pale moonlight, she’s danced naked with the devil, so to speak.
Back to the press conference: She’s all long legs and kittenish smile, wearing a backless halterneck dress in a sweet lilac colour, between whose soft folds I catch a glimpse of those celebrated (and much ogled and Googled) C-cups. She seems harmless enough. I relax a little. Maybe her meow’s worse than her scratch.
Then I see it — Shu Qi rolls her eyes at a photographer. It is almost imperceptible — a tiny flick of those almond-shaped bedroom peepers, cast toward heaven, praying for deliverance from this painful song-and-dance known as movie publicity. It is a withering visual putdown as subtle as it is deadly. The star born Lin Li Hui, who upgraded to the sexier moniker Shu Qi when she broke into showbiz, is in one of her famously disdainful moods today.
The difficult questions are rapidly disappearing from my list. Soon, I’ll be left with “How many of your own stunts did you do for My Wife is a Gangster 3?”, “What’s your favourite colour?” and “Do you like Hello Kitty?”
The third instalment of the hit Korean action-comedy franchise is unconnected plot-wise to the previous two (Zhang Ziyi made a villainous cameo in the second movie), although director Cho Jin-gyu, who helmed the first one, is back behind the camera. In Gangster 3, Shu Qi plays the offspring of a Hongkong mob boss who escapes to Korea when an attempt is made on her life. It also sees her breaking the necks of baddies without breaking a sweat.
I’m eventually ushered into the interview room and I see Shu Qi just inches before me, the Sex Goddess With Bee-stung Lips That Hypnotise. I shake her impassive, limp hand and absorb her pleasant but wearily wary smile. I tell her in scrappy Mandarin to please forgive my scrappy Mandarin. And just like that, I earn my first eye-roll.
Obviously, unlike many other stars who at least feign civility at interviews, the stunner who went from Category III to Cannes isn’t interested in impressing anyone. And strangely, I think the better of her for it. Why pretend to be effusive when you’re sick to death of the same old questions? Why bother trying to find joy in things that you have to do over and over again? Why be nice to media when they’ll write whatever they want anyway? It will only lead to disappointment and heartbreak.
Throughout the interview, I can almost hear all these thoughts running through her pretty, curly head as she speaks, in a gentle, melodic Taiwanese twang that belies the sarcasm, impatience, and attitude simmering beneath. And since you, dear reader, can’t see or hear these thoughts, I will elucidate them for you. But mind you, it’s only what I think. Not that she cares anyway.
8 DAYS: How many of your own stunts did you do for My Wife Is A Gangster 3?
SHU QI: Of course the tumbles, somersaults, and more advanced stunts were not done by me.
WHAT WE THINK SHE’S SAYING: “How come you don’t know this? Tsk.”
Q: Right. But the rest were you?
S: If you see my face, it means it’s me.
**EYE ROLL ALERT!
Q: How was the shoot?
S: For an action movie, it was quite relaxed. Because I got injured, I couldn’t do any of the difficult fight sequences. So the director designed it such that I’m so powerful that I don’t have to do much to defeat my enemies. I just have to throw my knives and the baddies will die. (Laughs) Then I just retrieve my knives and walk away coolly.
Q: In The Transporter, you had to learn a basic English script. Here, you didn’t have to learn lines in Korean. So was this easier for you to film?
S: No. I think it’s more difficult. With Westerners, their actions are bigger, and you can at least guess what the director wants from his facial expressions and gestures. But with Asians, it’s different. We’re more reserved. Moreover, the director is a very soft-spoken person. So I had no idea what he wanted. We communicated 100 per cent through a translator. It was very hard, as we had no way of understanding each other directly.
WHAT WE THINK SHE’S SAYING: “Why can’t everybody learn how to speak Mandarin?”
Q: Did you pick up any Korean? Care to share what you’ve learned?
S: I've forgotten. Probably only "How are you?" and "Thank you."
WHAT WE THINK SHE’S SAYING: “I am not a performing monkey.”
**EYE ROLL ALERT!
Q: Did you hang out with your co-stars?
S: No, because I’m more serious. I’m not the kind of actress who will go and immerse myself in their environment. When I’m not shooting, I’ll just stay in the hotel or rest in my trailer.
Q: So you don’t like hanging out with your co-stars?
S: No. (Purses lips) Well, not that I don’t like it… it’s just that I don’t love it. Oh, all right, I don’t like such things.
WHAT WE THINK SHE’S SAYING: “I hate it!”
Q: Why film a Korean movie?
S: It looked fun. I watched the first My Wife is a Gangster and it looked fun. So I decided to try.
WHAT WE THINK SHE’S SAYING: “I’m a fun girl, believe it or not.”
Q: You’ve said that the Koreans seem to like you. Why do you think they do?
S: Only the Koreans?
WHAT WE WISH WE COULD SAY TO HER: Oh, a joke! We get it. Ha ha ha!
Q: No, the Koreans really lurve you. But Singaporeans love you, too.
S: I think the Koreans recognise your work a little more, and as an artiste, you always want to do better and get more people to like you.
WHAT WE THINK SHE’S SAYING: “I just wanna be loved, okay?”
Q: (In English) Can I ask you a question in English?
Q: (In English) How’s your English coming along?
Q: (In Mandarin) How’s your English coming along?
S: (Dismissively) I’m not learning English.
Q: You’re not learning English at all?
S: No. I’m not taking lessons or anything. When I go for international events, I’ll listen to other people speaking and try to remember. But I’m too lazy to go and study it.
**EYE ROLL ALERT!
Q: Isn’t it hard to break into international films if you don’t learn English?
S: I didn’t learn English and I could still film The Transporter. So it’s not a big problem.
WHAT WE THINK SHE’S SAYING: “Take that, Zhang Ziyi!”
Q: You learned your lines in The Transporter phonetically instead of understanding the language. Why not take the chance to learn English?
S: Why must I learn English? Why don’t they learn Chinese?
Q: Well, you did make an English movie.
S: I don’t think you have to learn English just to film an English movie. If I do learn another language, it will be to converse with others better. But I don’t have the motivation to go and learn another language. If I were 18 or 19, I might. But now, I still have to live my life. I don’t want to give myself too much stress and pressure. (Laughs) To live the life I want to live, I think that’s better.
WHAT WE THINK SHE’S SAYING: “I can’t even be bothered to speak perfect Cantonese. Think I care about English?”
Q: You opened this year’s Cannes film festival in English: “I now declare the 60th Festival of Cannes open.” Did you memorise that, too?
S: (Flippantly) Yep.
Q: But you knew what you were saying.
S: Of course I did.
**EYE ROLL ALERT!
Q: I hear that you and Sharon Stone are good friends.
S: I am not good friends with her. I don’t know her.
**EYE ROLL ALERT!
Q: You don’t know her?
S: Of course I know who she is, but we’re not acquainted.
Q: But you’ve chatted at events? I hear she invited you to a Dior event in Shanghai.
S: Yes, we’ve met. But we didn’t chat. (A resigned sigh) What you read on the Internet is untrue.
Q: I didn’t read it on the Internet, but heard it from someone who was in Shanghai.
S: Well, we were together, but we didn’t talk.
Q: You said in a magazine interview that the reason you get pissed off at reporters is because they insist on asking about your Category III past. Is that true?
S: Did I get pissed off at reporters?
WHAT WE THINK SHE’S SAYING: “Pursue this line of questioning and I’ll show you what ‘pissed off’ is.”
Q: Well, they say you’re too aloof.
S: Are you still talking about those things I did when I first entered the industry? (Frustrated laugh) That was very, very long ago.
Q: Are you still sensitive about it?
S: No, but I’ve been around for 10 years. To keep asking about this, it’s just rather exasperating.
WHAT WE THINK SHE’S SAYING: “I want to throw up every time someone mentions Category III.”
**EYE ROLL ALERT!
Q: Zhang Ziyi was in My Wife is a Gangster 2, and she was supposed to be in this third instalment. And we all know you were supposed to play the role she eventually took in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Is it ironic?
S: What do you mean?
**EYE ROLL ALERT!
Q: Do you feel like maybe you two exchanged places?
S: (In a couldn’t-care-less drawl) I don’t think so. I think they’re completely different. The most important thing is whom the director wants for the role. I think there’s no connection whatsoever.
WHAT WE THINK SHE’S SAYING: “I want to throw up every time someone mentions Zhang Ziyi.”
**EYE ROLL ALERT!
Q: Do you want to be an Asian household name in Hollywood like Zhang Ziyi, Gong Li, Michelle Yeoh, and Maggie Cheung?
S: I think a lot of things depend on fate and luck.
WHAT WE THINK SHE’S SAYING: “Yes, I missed the boat, didn’t I?”
Q: So you don’t want to try to break into Hollywood?
S: Would you want to go and try?
Q: I don’t know. I’m not an actress. Would you?
S: If I wanted, I would have gone 800 years ago. I wouldn’t still be sitting here talking to you.
WHAT WE WISH WE COULD SAY TO HER: Ouch…
Q: It just seems like a pity not to try, since your star is still rising.
S: I think everyone’s life goals are different. Hollywood scripts may not be suitable for you. And they’re not necessarily good. And if it’s good, they won’t come looking for you. They’d rather get one of their own actresses. If they want you, it’s probably for an action movie. Asia as we know it and Asia as Hollywood knows it are completely different. Their vision of us is outdated. I don’t think it’s very good.
WHAT WE THINK SHE’S SAYING: “I won’t be caught dead in a period gongfu movie. And don’t you dare mention Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon again.”
Q: You’ve said that Chow Yun-Fat is your hero. Have you seen him in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End?
S: There you go. You see what I mean? (Gestures knowingly, and leans back into the couch with a smug expression)
Q: You didn’t like it?
S: Not that I don’t.
WHAT WE THINK SHE’S SAYING: “It was terrible.”
S: But they didn’t capture the Asian spirit. Maybe they’re better at filming their own people, but they can’t handle Asians. For example, I think Memoirs of A Geisha is a great book. But I don’t think the director did a good job with the movie. But I think Gong Li was very, very good in it. And I can see that Zhang Ziyi put her heart and soul into it. But it wasn’t a great movie. That’s what happens when a foreigner tries to shoot an Asian movie.
WHAT WE THINK SHE’S SAYING: “I would never have done a movie like Memoirs. And Zhang Ziyi sucked!”
Q: The strange thing is that they spoke English.
S: Exactly. I read a movie script that was about the Chinese, but they wanted me to speak English. No way I could have done that. So I didn’t bother replying. It was really rather strange.
WHAT WE THINK SHE’S SAYING: “Everyone should really learn Mandarin.”
Q So out of all the Hollywood scripts you’ve seen, The Transporter was the only one that caught your eye?
S: The Transporter was a very fun movie. I’ve received many Hollywood scripts. But they are all not fun. I’ve done movies in the past two years that I don’t like. Some of them I did as favours or to maintain relationships. I don’t think I will do such things again — it wouldn’t be fair to me, or to those who like to watch my movies.
Q: You’ve done fashion and beauty shoots and ads. Is it more fun than making movies?
S: (Spitting out her answer) No. It’s just for publicity. I have no choice; I have to do such things. I feel if actors would just simply make movies, it would be ideal. But you have to do shoots and interviews and fly around. I think it’s very tiresome and tedious.
**EYE ROLL ALERT!
Q: So you hate press conferences and interviews?
S: I really hate it. You have to answer the same questions over and over again. Like some of the questions that you’ve asked me today I may have answered tens of thousands of times. But I still have to take each question seriously and answer them.
WHAT WE WISH WE COULD SAY TO HER: Tens of thousands? Come on…
Q: It’s my job to ask, and your job to answer.
S: Yes. I think that in life, you have to do the same things over and over again. No choice. (Almost inaudible sigh)
WHAT WE WISH WE COULD SAY TO HER: Poor baby. At least you’re rich. We do the same things over and over again, too, except we’re not rich.
Q: Okay, since you say we reporters ask the same old questions, what questions do you hope we’ll ask?
S: Maybe like what we can do for society, things like that.
WHAT WE THINK SHE’S SAYING: Now she’s gone all Miss Universe?
Q: Okay. So what can you do for society?
S: Like you see the weather is so bad, with global warming and all. I think we can do more to protect the environment. I think humans should do more charitable acts — help the needy, love the earth, create a better environment for the future.
WHAT WE WISH WE COULD SAY TO HER: Guess who will be glued to her TV set on 7/7/07 when Live Earth airs?
Q: What do you do for the planet?
S: I turn off the lights when I’m not in the room, and try not to use the air-con. I don’t use disposable wooden chopsticks. Sometimes I will bring plastic chopsticks for everyone and make them all use them.
Q: Serious? And after that you bring the chopsticks back to wash them?
Q: You actually wash them?
S: Or my assistant will do it.
Q: (In English) Okay, thank you very much, Shu Qi. It was nice to meet you.
S: (In English) Thank you! (Enthusiastically) Nice to meet you, too! Bye!
WHAT WE THINK SHE’S SAYING: “Yay! It’s over!”
PHOTOS: EALBERT HO