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Chapman To now aims low
Publication Date : 13-09-2012
Hong Kong comedian Chapman To jokes that he does not want to produce any more of film-maker Pang Ho Cheung's movies as the director is such a "big liar".
To, who has produced Pang's Isabella (2006), Por See Yee (2007) and most recently Vulgaria - the raunchy comedy about Hong Kong's film industry, now showing in cinemas - tells Life! in a deadpan manner: "Pang is the type of director who pushes all the tough stuff on to me to handle and then he even lies some more to get his way."
For Vulgaria, To, 40, says that Pang had wanted to film a scene with an actress wearing only a top but no bra, so that her nipples can be visible.
He recalls: "Director Pang said it would be more natural for her to go bra-less because she is just sitting around at home, so he told me to pass that information to the actress for him."
While he does not name her, viewers of the film will remember his busty co-star Dada Chen going bra-less under a sports tank top in one scene.
She was slightly reluctant at first, but as To had promised on behalf of Pang, 38, that it would be for a single scene only, she agreed to the request.
On the day of filming, however, Pang ended up shooting many more scenes than planned.
To says: "That one scene was already over, but then Pang started filming the next scene and then another scene and another one, all with her not wearing a bra. Of course the actress came storming up to me asking why there were so many extra scenes of her in that state and I had to go and ask Pang for an explanation. But he pretended not to know anything and said, 'I never said that I'm shooting only one scene. I meant I'm shooting her like that in all but one scene'.
"So you see, when you have such a liar like Pang, how can I possibly be a producer for him anymore? He totally crossed the line. I wanted to hit him."
In the 15-minute telephone interview from his base in Hong Kong, To was playful, sunny and always armed with a joke or two.
His excellent spirits could have to do with the fact that, despite having to make what he calls "sacrifices" for Pang, Vulgaria has enjoyed box-office success, earning close to HK$28 million since its release in Hong Kong early last month. Filled with potty-mouthed language and vulgar antics, it has since become the No. 1 local movie of the year in Hong Kong so far.
Starring To in the lead role as a movie producer, Vulgaria is about the difficulties he faces when making an erotic film. Making such a blatantly lowbrow film is "normal", says To, as he and Pang are now "more mature".
"Last time, when we made Isabella, we were so arthouse because when we were young, we liked to pretend we were highbrow so that we could walk red carpets and have our movie appreciated by Western audiences as well. All of that made us feel very vain," he says.
"Now that we're older and we pull a 180-degree change to make such a terribly vulgar movie, I feel rather frightened by the way our minds 'mature'. In any case, we just want to keep on trying new things, so why not try to go as vulgar as you can?"
One of the funniest parts of Vulgaria is the seemingly preposterous scene where To's character is forced at gunpoint by a shady mainland Chinese businessman to have sex with a mule - except that the actor insists it was inspired by a real-life experience of his own.
It happened long before he became an actor, when he was a debt collector and was in the Southern Chinese province of Guangxi for a job.
He was having a meal with a dodgy local boss, except that there was nothing on the table that he could swallow. "You know, in some of these Chinese cities, they eat a lot of weird things and strange animal parts. I couldn't eat any of those so I asked for something more 'normal'. He said, 'Okay, I will order a dish of Cow's Bliss.'
"I thought anything to do with a cow should be safe enough to eat, but later on, I found out that it was the private parts of a cow, so of course I was vomiting all over the place.
"The boss and his people said I was not respecting him, so he started threatening me and saying I should go and f*** a mule. Since the private-part dish was nicknamed Cow's Bliss, I assumed that when he said mule, it was a nickname for women or something. But I soon realised he was not joking about it being an actual mule."
Though no mules were physically brought to the scene, unlike in the movie, the actor jokes that he suffered some amnesia about that night, much like his character did. He says with a chuckle: "We ended up having a big argument about it, but after that I don't remember anything else."
The actor, who is best known for playing henchman Crazy Keung in the Infernal Affairs trilogy spanning 2002 and 2003, remembers clearly, however, the dynamics of working alongside his actress wife Kristal Tin, 34, who plays his cold ex-wife in Vulgaria. The couple, who married in 2005, have no children.
He says: "I had gone out one night for someone's birthday party and drank a bit too much, so when I came home, she was furious. It just so happened that the next day, the scene we had to do was one where she is scolding me. Since she was still fuming from the night before, she really enjoyed yelling at me. Director Pang remarked to me later that my wife's acting skills seemed to have improved a lot."
To was earlier this year diagnosed with Miller Fisher Syndrome, a rare nerve disease that can lead to paralysis or death. He has reportedly recovered and says he will "now pay closer attention to my health".
Despite becoming a lovable and familiar face in Hong Kong cinema, he says he would not do as well if he were to act in the mainland.
"When I see my peers going to mainland China and making so much money, I also feel tempted because I really love money. But I won't go over there to pursue my movie career because we are on different wavelengths. People in the north, especially, will not understand my brand of humour, so I can't force it.
"It is like how the Northern Chinese like their dumplings, and in the South, we like our wontons. It's just not the same and I wouldn't know how to change myself to suit their tastes."