Although Meteor Garden was an instant hit that pushed the genre of idol drama to the center stage of Taiwanese entertainment, I didn’t care for it.
Suffice to say that for an idol drama, a pretty face supersedes the ability to act — with few exceptions. For that reason, Meteor Garden failed to reach me on an emotional level. But since then, the pretty faces who owe their thanks to Meteor Garden have grown and became more than just another pretty face.
In a recent interview on Shen Chun Hua’s Life Show (沈春华Life秀), Vic Zhou — the brooding Hua Ze Lei from eight years ago and the now gallant Chen Zai Tian — unveils stories about his childhood, family, relationship, and how he has changed over the years.
I was impressed with the unassuming way in which he presented himself. He is not a great speaker, but a candid one that demonstrated his family value along with a sense of maturity and a willingness to embrace the past.
Here is the interview:
Entering the Entertainment Circle
Most people already know that Vic being chosen for Meteor Garden is a pure accident. He was accompanying a friend to the audition and his “lonely back” appealed to one of the employees there. He is hence called in for an interview.
“They asked me, ‘Are you interested in being an actor?” And I said, ‘No.’ They were stunned by my response because they were expecting a yes or enthusiasm at the very least. Why would anyone say no to such a wonderful opportunity? They were surprised and I was too. When I went home, I told my mother about it — you gotta know, my mother is one of those people who really wanted to be famous — so she said, ‘You’ve graduated from high school, you’re still trying to get into college. While you have the time, why don’t you see it as a part time job offer and try it?’
“So I thought about it and getting a part time job sounded like a good idea. Somehow, a part time job turned into a full time career.”
His parents divorced while he was in middle school, which contributed to a period of self-imposed isolation.
“This is definitely the biggest turning point in my life that altered my personality. I remember they had their divorced over a long break.
“In the process of the divorced, I was the only one that acted indifferently about it. Because I didn’t understand the situation. I don’t think I was mad at them, I don’t think I thought anything would be different. Mom left, I can still call her, nothing should be different.
“And then school started. On the first day of school, one of my teachers asked me to stay after the flag ceremony. There was only the two of us and the first thing he said to me was, ‘Are you ok?’ I knew what he meant and right there, I let it all out. (He meant crying.) I didn’t know why I would have such a big reaction. Even the teacher was taken aback. He had to console me that things will be okay.
“After that, I realized how much I’ve been suppressing my feelings. I acted like nothing is happening until something or someone touched the soft spot and broke all my defenses.
“Ever since then, I started closing myself off… It’s funny, every year, we would get money for Chinese new year. I would always save it to buy stuff for my room. I was constantly thinking about my room. I wanted to fill it up so that I could just shut the door and shut everything out.
“When I came back from classes and see my dad in the hallway, I would nod and go into my room. If I saw my brother, I’d do the same thing, nod and go into my room. Once I close the door, it’s a whole other world. I can turn on the TV, play video games, listen to the music, and do whatever I want in there and cut off from the rest of the world.
“If I heard noises of my brother coming home with his friends, I’d go and lock my door. I didn’t want to face them, I dislike the idea of communication even more.
“My school was very close to home. They were separated only by a wall. I would jump the wall to get to school, not because I was rebellious or anything. I just didn’t want to be in a place with so many people.
“It’s gotten to the point that once, when I overslept, I decided not to go to school because I didn’t want to be seen. So I pulled up the blankets and listened as the bell rang for the first class. And then my house phone rang. It’s the same teacher who consoled me on the playground. I didn’t pick it up at first, but when the teacher called persistently, I finally picked up and pretended I was sick.”
When asked if his parents’ divorce affects him still, Zai Zai reflects back on his extreme escapism and says,
“I can only tell myself that there are many things I simply couldn’t participate in. They are outside the realm of my control. If they did happen, then I will find a way to make fun of it and laugh it off. As for the causal effects, I don’t want to think too deeply about them.”
“My most basic understand of my father is that he is stern, quiet, and intimidating. But did you know, it’s always my mother who beats me. Because my father plays the strict fatherly figure, I always felt that he’s hard to approach.
“After my parents’ divorce, I started living with my father. I refused to communicate with him because I didn’t know how. But his gestures of love were not missed.
“Say today, he works the night shift and gets off after midnight. He has to go back to work again at eight. Theoretically, during this time, he would be resting at home. But that’s not what he would do. When I came back from school, he’s still out doing grocery shopping. Without saying anything, he would cook my favorite dish. Without saying anything in return, I would take half of the dish and mix it in with my bowl of rice while my father was away in the kitchen — no matter how full I was from school. Sometimes I was already full. I would eat without fail and go throw up in the bathroom later because I didn’t want him to feel that his efforts aren’t appreciated. But I admit, we lacked open communication.
“Before I had a TV in my room, there was one day when I was watching TV in my dad’s room. He came back after a little drink. I didn’t say anything and continued to watch TV like he wasn’t even there. Later, I heard a loud bang in the living room — that’s my dad hitting a drawer in frustration. Not long after, my dad walked back in and asked me, ‘Do you think I’m happy right now?’
“I had no idea how to respond. So he continued, ‘Do you think divorce is what I wanted? Do you think I’m happy that you’re not even talking to me? No matter how tired I am, I’d cook for you. When I come back home and say hi to you, I don’t want you to avoid me either.’ He started to choke up. Although my back was turned to him, I was already crying.
“So eventually, I turned to him and said I understood what he meant. He smiled at me and said, ‘You are not mad at dad anymore?’ I said no. So he said, ‘Then give me a kiss.’ I looked at him like he was crazy — you have to know, I grew up in a traditional Chinese family where kiss goodnight or any kind of external display of affection are out of the norm. I did peck him on the cheek, but after the kiss, both of us drew back and shuddered.”
As Vic matures, his family relationship also improves. It’s really quite cute:
“After I entered this circle I took full responsibility to support my family. I don’t want my family to work too hard. I’d tell my dad that if he felt pressured at work, just resign. I will take care of him. Similarly, I’ve told my brother that if he needs money to start a business, no problem, I will invest. Because if I’m successful, I can provide my family with opportunities to try out different things — things they might want to do but never got the chance. If they fail, it’s fine too; because I’m here.
“Now, I would spend more time with my family, even though with my dad, words are still stuck in the throat. Sometimes I have to work for a year without seeing my family. When the interval gets long, my brother would remind me to go home and visit dad — he’s complaining again. (In a good way.)
“My dad has a lot of friends who will say things like ‘Oh so now your son’s famous, is he forgetting about his old man?’ He hears it once or twice, my dad would speak up on my behalf. Three or four times, he would start to wonder if it’s true. But beyond that point, he would start to get mad and drink by himself. This is the time I hurry back home to see him. Once he sees me, he’s happy. So we sit and drink a little.
“My dad would start to tell me about things that had happened. Now, listening to him complain about life is a way of life I enjoy immensely. It’s a new approach to family relationship that I’m happy about.”
He has lost contact with his mother and wants to find her.
“My mother is a rebellious person. After my parents divorced, my mom came to work in Taipei. When I graduated from high school and started working, I moved up to Taipei to live with her. When I have earned enough money, I started thinking that I should buy a big house and have everyone live together again. But my mom doesn’t want that. Her reason is that when my older brother got married and had a kid, she realized that she still enjoyed the kind of carefree life that lets her go out and have fun. She still didn’t like to take care of people.
“Because she’s afraid that getting a house and living together means she’ll be forced to take on the responsibility of looking after her grandchildren, so she chose to disappear.”
Perspectives on Relationship
“People often think a relationship only involves two people. I think that’s only part of it. If you have plans for the future, then you must accept your loved one’s life style as well. Of course there must be conflicts, either with the way you were raised or with regards to adapting or reaching a compromise. But over coming these conflicts is the key to maintaining a relationship.
“Sometimes, it’s hard to adapt. But others, I can learn from my counterpart’s family background. They let me know that there is nothing wrong with any specific way of living, but there are also other ways of living worth observing.”
Regarding the Breakup
When asked if he still keeps in touch with Barbie Xu, Zai Zai says they occasionally text each other. He adds that despite their breakup, to him, she remains a special friend. He concurs that Barbie Xu has raised the bar, if he were to enter into another relationship, the girl most probably will be a even better person.
“I’m not concerned with looks. The girl must be kind. I hope she is true to herself because that kind person seem most real. I’d rather her be clumsy and uncalculating; that makes it easier for me to get to know her and understand her. I think my standards are pretty easy to meet.
Zai Zai confesses that the biggest change occurred to him, as a result of many year’s accumulation of experiences, is an added smoothness in dealing with others.
“Let’s say today we are famous, we’ll have the chance to meet executives normal actors won’t get to meet. I didn’t like that kind of social situation. For one, I’m not very good at making small talks. Besides, I think a lot of is fake. But now, because I was forced to acquaint myself with that kind of environment, I’ve learned to deal with it better. Although once you’ve seen enough, cynicism inevitably develops and I was quite disappointed with what I thought to be a straight forward industry.
“But all in all, I think my biggest change is that I learned to protect myself. I don’t need to be part of that phoniness, I can be focused and do my job, which is what I enjoy.”
When asked about frequently wanting to quit his acting career, Zai Zai confirms that he has often thought about it but recently, the expectations his fans, his agency, and his fellow actors placed on him helped to reaffirm his career objective. In other words, yes he thinks about quiting when things get too exhausting. But at the end of the day, he recognizes that the pressure and the occasional resentment is part of the job.
Director Tsai was invited in for this portion of the interview.
Zai Zai describes Director Tsai as a perfectionist. Although the director has to assume many responsibilities at the shooting site, if the set isn’t exactly how he had envisioned it, he would not shoot until everything felt right.
On Creating the Character
Zai Zai recounts that he would imagine the setting of a given scene before coming onto set. When he’s on set, the first thing he does is look around and see what props are there. He wants to utilize the props and integrate the character with the environment.
“I want my character to move back and forth in front of the camera. He must look natural, he must look real.”
- Because Director Tsai is a perfectionist, there are delays in the production process. To minimize the delay (which isn’t very effective), Zai Zai and the director signed a contract to assigned monetary value to the time delayed due to perfectionism. Now, the director owes Zai Zai five million TWD (approx 149 thousand USD). More debt? Balck & White the movie BETTER sell!
- At the end of the interview, Zai Zai was “given a chance” to promote Black & White. He was given a slip of paper in which he must read off in front of the camera — anchor style. The content of the slip goes as the following:
- In Black & White, Vic Zhou has a bed scene with Patina Lin. He says, ‘I only care about the way I look in bed, whether my fat looks flabby’.
- The drama broadcasts on April 11. He says that this drama makes him wish he was dead. On top of the production delay, he has spent a lot of time thinking about how to portray the character Chen Zai Tian. He admits to being somewhat of a punk, but nothing like the womanizer in the drama.
- Because [he doesn’t] like to talk. He says he loves life, loves Taiwan, and he loves Taiwanese drama. <– This last portion is Zai Zai’s own impromptu.