Chen Shyiang-Chyi is a Golden Horse award-winning, Taiwanese actress who rose to fame by appearing in Cannes award-winning director Edward Yang's movies and is a frequent collaborator of director Tsai Ming-Liang. Now she appears in Jenny Lu's directorial debut The Receptionist – released this Friday July 20 in the UK – as Sasa, an illegal massage parlour worker. Here Chen Shyiang-Chyi tells Mandy News about her career and how she prepared for the role, as well as offering some advice to actors starting out.
Please introduce yourself and tell us how you got into the film industry?
My name is Chen Shiang-Chyi. I attained my BFA from the Department of Theatre Arts at Taipei National University of the Arts, and MA from the Educational Theatre program at New York University. I am now teaching at the Department of Filmmaking and Department of Theatrical Design and Technology at TNUA. During summer and winter breaks, I shoot films and perform in theatre.
When I was a college student, I played the leading role in Edward Yang’s A Confucian Confusion. That was the first time I got into the film industry. Later, I became one of director TSAI Ming-liang’s actors (The River, What Time is it There?, The Skywalk is Gone, Good-bye, Dragon Inn, The Wayward Cloud, I Don’t Want to Sleep Along, Face, Stray Dogs, The Deserted.)
In 2014, I got the Best Actress award at both the Golden Horse and Taipei Film Festival for my performance in Exit by Hsiang Chienn.
You star in the forthcoming cinema release The Receptionist. How did you get involved with the production?
Director Jenny Lu invited me to act in the film a year before shooting The Receptionist. After several discussions and meetings via Skype, I was moved by the story, and also Jenny’s sincereness and the amount of effort she put in, so I decided to take the role.
Can you tell us about your character in the film, Sasa, for which you were nominated for a Golden Horse?
Sasa is from Taiwan. She has a son of eight who lives outside London with an au pair. Sasa stays at Lily’s massage parlour on weekdays and goes home over the weekend. She was well educated but now believes being a masseur in London could make her life easier. She has worked with Lily for more than three years and always wants to please he but they often clash. She doesn’t particularly like her job but finds it very hard to leave. She worries new masseurs’ arrival will put her job in danger and therefore puts a lot of attention on her appearance and often picks on new arrivals.
Sasa appears to be cold to Tina (the receptionist) at first, but later starts to reveal her true self.
You won a Golden Horse for your performance in Exit by Hsiang Chienn. Can you tell us a little bit about your role in the film and the differences between shooting in Taiwan and the UK?
In Exit, my role Ling is a middle-aged woman who just lost her job. Her kid is away from home, her husband is working overseas most of the time and now her menopause has just come by quietly. She spends most of her time taking care of her mother-in-law in the hospital. A man who lies in bed across the room keeps moaning in pain. Ling is kind enough to give him some water and the encounter between the two opens a door from the banality of Ling’s middle-age life.
There weren’t many differences between shooting in TWN and the UK, except the diversity of the crew members. There are more rules and restrictions on the amount of time you are allowed to shoot in UK. It is more flexible in Taiwan.
What is your process of becoming this character, from when you first received the script to shooting the film?
I did some research about the parlour business in London, and watched some documentary films about the life of massage girls from different countries. When I arrived in London for shooting, director Jenny Lu also introduced me to some masseurs who worked in parlours before. I talked to them and asked them questions. I got to know about their lives in parlours and they also taught me how to do massage in different ways.
Through my interaction with them, I realised how realistic the story is. I also once tried to apply for a masseur job in a regular massage store (just like a field investigation ),which gave me a great opportunity to observe people and the environment in that business .
What plans do you have for the rest of 2018? What are you working on at the moment?
2018 is a year for me to rest. I do not have plans to act in either theatre or film.
You mentioned that you also teach at Taipei National U. of the Arts. What do you teach there and what advice do you have for people wanting to get into acting?
I teach theatre and film acting classes at TNUA and my advice to my students is to “pursue what interests you” and “go for it”!
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The Receptionist will screen in select cinemas in London, Bristol, Glasgow, Manchester, Sheffield, Lewes and Chichester this Friday July 20.
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