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Publication Date : 14-11-2012
When Taiwanese-Canadian actor Eddie Peng filmed his first movie Exit No. 6 (2006), he was proud, almost childishly cocky about it. It hardly mattered that it flopped at the box office in Taiwan.
"No one watched the movie at all but I didn't care about any of that," he tells Life! in Mandarin with a chuckle over the telephone from Hong Kong where he was filming a new project. "I filmed the movie with actor Ethan Juan and both of us were just very pleased with ourselves that we were filming a movie. We kept saying that we were movie stars from then on."
Six years on, Peng can legitimately call himself a movie star, especially now that he is fast becoming one of the most sought-after actors of his generation in the Chinese-speaking world.
Yet he has lost the swagger in favour of a dedication to his craft. Now 30, he has greatly matured not just in his performance but also in his attitude.
Despite fronting some of the biggest films of the year including Taichi 0, Taichi Hero and now Cold War, he finds himself humbled by everyone around him. Throughout the 20-minute interview, he gushes easily about his older co-stars, and repeatedly says that he still has "much to learn" from them.
He also sounds surprised when told that the press have labelled him as a "workaholic" for his famously diligent manner when prepping for his roles.
The hunk says with a laugh: "Me, a workaholic? How can people say that when there are these amazing veterans around me whom I can barely measure up to? Those guys are the true workaholics, working so hard even though they are already so acclaimed in their careers. I can really learn a lot from them."
He is referring to the pros he worked with in Cold War, a Hong Kong thriller that opens in Singapore cinemas tomorrow. The film, about the power struggle between two top cops in Hong Kong, stars veterans Tony Leung Ka Fai, 54, and Aaron Kwok, 47, plus a cameo by Andy Lau, 51.
Peng says: "I've always been a big fan of Hong Kong movies - I grew up watching their shows. So I always went up to them after filming to ask for tips on how to manage time or better acting skills.
"Just to be able to work with them is a huge enough honour for me, but the fact that all of them were also willing to chat with me off-screen, made me so happy that I felt like tearing," he says.
It is Leung in particular for whom Peng reserves the biggest compliments. The two had also collaborated in the Taichi movies and so had spent the better part of last year working together.
Directed by Stephen Fung, Taichi 0 and Taichi Hero followed a young man's journey to learn the martial art of taiji. The steampunk gongfu flicks were the first two films of a planned trilogy.
Peng says: "Tony is the ultimate role model. He is like a textbook on how to live your life. He would tell me stories of how he used to film 13 movies in a year, so for me to be filming only a few in one year is nothing at all.
"And even though he is such a big star, he is the nicest, most down-to-earth guy on the set. He will help the crew carry props and will go into detail about every scene with the actors and directors. It is amazing to see someone who has been in the industry for so long and is still so passionate about his job."
He bursts out laughing when Life! tells him that the admiration is two-way, with Leung even telling the media that he would be the ideal son-in-law.
Peng says: "That is way too much pressure on me - I don't think I can live up to that. But you know, I also jokingly call him 'daddy' because I got used to it after playing his son in Cold War.
"Tony is known as a good father and a good husband. I hope to be like him one day - someone who is both so committed about acting but also about his family."
Whether he would make a good husband and father will not be known for a while. Peng, a bachelor, says he has "no time" for a girlfriend at the moment.
His mother is "a little" worried that he shows no signs of settling down and asks him if he is seeing anyone. "But I really don't have time. I cannot just date a person for the sake of it, right? Relationships need commitment and if I'm going to get into one, I want to be fully dedicated.
"For now, work is my top priority. I have to focus on it, especially since I am getting great role offers now. Next time, when no one gives me any roles anymore, I'll have time for other things," he says with a laugh.
Nonetheless, he takes "20 days off in a year" to spend time with his family. He maintains close ties with his mother and two older sisters, all of whom were "there for me" whenever he needed support. According to reports, his parents divorced when he was seven and he has seen his father only a few times since.
Peng and his family immigrated to Canada when he was 13 years old. They returned to Taiwan 10 years later, where they have been living since.
He says: "I will take my mother and sisters on a vacation every year. It's important that I do this holiday every year with them. They took good care of me while growing up, so now that I have the means, I must repay them."
He started out as a TV actor in the idol drama Love Book (2002), which he soon followed up with several more idol dramas, including Only You (2005) and When Dolphin Met Cat (2005).
His cheery roles earned him the nickname of "ultimate sunshine boy", a label that has stuck throughout his television career. He has also put out a five-song EP in 2010 titled "Can't Not Love".
Though Exit No. 6 was a box-office flop, he went on to star in other films such as romantic dramas Hear Me (2009), where he communicates with his crush via sign language, and Close To You (2009) as a boxing champ.
Last year, he shot to the A-list with the movie Jump Ashin!, which earned him rave notices for his moving portrayal of a gymnast and his dedicated preparations for the role, which included more than 12 hours of gym training daily.
The role earned him a nomination for Best Actor at the Golden Horse Awards last year but he lost to Lau, who won for his portrayal of a filial son figure in A Simple Life (2011).
Following Jump Ashin!, Peng says he is finally being taken more seriously as an actor and given more varying roles. In the two Taichi films, he plays the villain, while in Cold War, his young police officer character is an arrogant upstart.
"I'm really glad that these days, people are starting to see me in a different light, and able to cast me in roles other than sunshine boys. There are a lot of actors who are opposed to playing villain roles because those will ruin their image.
"To me, it's like, why not give it a shot? What's the worst that could happen? The worst-case scenario is that the movie won't sell, which means I'll have to go back to playing sunshine boys.
"You need to work at something to feel the satisfaction from the results. Of course, it's even better if you could get good results without working hard. But that hasn't been an option for me, so I'm going to enjoy every aspect of the learning process now.
"The more I act, the more I love it."