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OCTOBER 18, 1999 VOL. 154 NO. 15

Q&A: Sylvia Chang
Sylvia Chang's latest and best film, "Tempting Heart", has been drawing crowds in Hong Kong and Taiwan. TIME reporter Stephen Short recently caught up with the actress-writer-director-producer in Hong Kong. She discussed the making of "Tempting Heart," her formative days and other tempting topics. Here are the exclusive, online-only excerpts of the interview:


Media Asia
Sylvia Chang on the set of 'Tempting Heart' in Hong Kong

Q: How comfortable are you with "Tempting Heart"?
A: Its funny. People come up to me and tell me they like it, but then take three days to say why. It's not a film that people react to immediately.

Q: There's a lesbian sub-plot. Are attitudes more accepting in Hong Kong now than they were?
A: I am very, very disappointed about this. For one trailer of "Tempting Heart" we originally featured elements of one of the lesbian scenes in the film, but then the marketing department told us to take it out. I thought to myself, "Come on, for God's sake, were nearly at year 2000. What's the big problem here?" But the department's reaction was typical. It's easier just to ignore the subject and hope it will go away. I had many lesbian friends when I was growing up, but we didn't talk about it that much because we were all a bit confused by it.

Q: How long was "Tempting" knocking around in your head?
A: Five years. I originally wanted to make a very simple love story, but I managed to make it very complicated. I took me a year to complete the first script. Then I wrote the second draft and still thought it needed more questioning. So one day I decided to drop the original. I went to Los Angeles to write it from scratch at UCLA. The thing that taught me was that Hollywood is so formulaic. It's exact, like a science. I didn't like it. I feel sorry for some of the new Hollywood directors, such limited freedom they have.

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Windows Media 28K 80K
Q: How do like watching your older films?
A: Oh God, I don't watch my old films intentionally, especially those ones I've acted in. There are too many of them, and none is all that good.

Q: Were they mistakes you should have avoided?
A: I was doing radio programs at 16, television at 17 and some singing. At 18 I made my first film. I made some terrible teenage films. It made me think about what I wanted.

Q: What was life at Golden Harvest like?
A: I lived in the same room Bruce Lee had lived in, but we were never introduced. I broke up with Golden Harvest because I was not the traditional type they wanted, that is, well-behaved and deferential.

Q: What was so radical about you?
A: They didn't want me to have a boyfriend or a love affair.

Q: And you had lots?
A: Well, there was one, about a year after I joined.

Q: And what happened to you?
A: They could freeze you. They had the power to freeze me for as long as they wanted.

Q: And they did that to you?
A: No, I was naughty but they didn't freeze me. I think because my grandfather knew [Golden Harvest boss] Raymond Chow very well, they were a little more lenient. Raymond set me free.

Q: In an industry that kisses young actresses and spits them out, how come you've endured?
A: Well, we know that all over the world, even Hollywood, a good role for a female actress over 40 is very hard to come by. So I went the more aggressive route by becoming a director. It helped me stay in the business longer.

Q: How big a challenge was your first directing effort, "Once Upon a Time"?
A: That was a disaster. The director who had been making the film died in a car crash. It was very sad, but Raymond Chow knew I wanted to direct and offered me the job. The film had a script which I rewrote. The cast had already been decided. I was so nervous that to shoot the first day, I had bought lots of little clay models and set them up in different ways, thinking where my camera could go. I was completely lost. We shot the film in about 30 days, and then at the press conference I cried. I told them it was an awful film. I'd got totally drunk, so I was very emotional and said lots of things that were too honest, most of them very bad things.

Q: Do you still get plastered when you're worried?
A: No. I bang my head against lots of walls, but I don't get drunk. I do have loads of self-doubt. For me the process of making, cutting and releasing a film is like being in an out of control helicopter.

Q: What's your biggest weakness, other than self-doubt?
A: I can't say no to anything. I was asked to do all my stunts in "Aces Go Places." I said I'd try some and then ended up doing nearly all of them. So guys were fighting me thinking I was the stuntwoman, and I got covered in bruises. By the end of that film, I thought, that's it, I'll never do an "Aces Go Places" again. But I can't say no. I went back for three more.

Q: So what's next for you?
A: I'm concentrating on one film--a young people's film, involving their fantasy computer world, the mix of fantasy and the real. Young people in Hong Kong are privileged, but they're lonely as a result. They don't know what it is to live without a cellular phone. They don't know how to deal with themselves. It's really dangerous. You see all these suicides. Kids come to a problem, and the only response they have is to kill themselves. It's becoming contagious, very scary.

Q: Do you think the Internet is a good thing?
A: I always get this scary picture of everybody hiding in the dark, telling each other some very exotic and honest things. How does it affect people using it all day, where does that lead? It does make you realize how lonely people can be, too scared to come out in person. I just have this mental picture of people lit by a green glow from the screen writing out their hearts, and wonder where it will all stop. My sons do this. They come home and spend their whole day on the Net. My second son is 16, my eldest, 19. One sometimes comes home, goes into my husband's office and starts writing e-mail. I ask him what he's doing and he says, "I'm e-mailing my brother." I ask him why he doesn't just talk to him, or phone him up if he wants to talk when he's not here, and he says, "but it's not as much fun."

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