From the belittling occupation of a porn star to super-stardom, Shu Qi proved herself both capable and talented. Yet the Golden Horse Best Actress award and the honor to be the first Asian actress to model for GUESS don’t mask the fact that she was once the sex goddess of many men’s wet dreams — still is, but in a less exposed and more sophisticated way (read: covered up and naked no longer).
But what of this inglorious past that she seldom mentioned in her 13 years of acting career? And of her childhood? In a Shen Chun Hua’s Life Show interview, she openly discussed her side of the story. Though not entirely enthusiastic in her account — understandable –, she exhibited a charm derived from candor and a rare quality of fearlessness.
Of Her Latest Project: If You Are the One
(An 2008 romantic comedy about a nouveau riche looking for love. After a few ludicrous encounters, he meets a stewardess played by Shu Qi and eventually falls in love.)
Q: What’s the most rewarding part of participating in this film? Is it the box office? (It earned approximately 49 million USD in box office.)
A: Absolutely, I’m honored to partake in a box office success such as this. But I think it’s more of a recognition for the director (Feng Xiaogang) and co-star Ge You.
Q: What’s your impression of working with Ge You?
A: Comfortable. He leads you to whatever mood a scene requires with such ease that all you have to do is let him take you to that place. He’s a professional actor, accurate, charismatic, and devoted.
Q: In the film, you met Ge You’s character through a news ad for marriage. In real life, you’ve been through similar experiences at the tender age of 18?
A: That’s true. I wasn’t the most agreeable kid when I was 18 and my mother wanted to marry me off. She gave me a photo of a pilot, told me to meet him and consider marriage.
I’m not sure if it’s something I did that triggered it. Maybe she thought a pilot is a secure occupation and since he’s a friend’s friend, she thought it might turn out to be a good match.
Q: 18 is an age where most people are still exploring and getting to know themselves. But I hear that you were quite rebellious already.
A: At that time, I don’t think I’m rebellious. In retrospect… I don’t think I’m rebellious either. I didn’t rebel against anything, it’s just a way of looking for my place in the world. I’ve done nothing bad. On the contrary, I’d like to think that me at 18 is full of dreams of grandeur, opinions, and a restlessness to do something with my life.
Q: Then were you good at your studies? — side comment: I love how in the Asian culture, any aspiration is taken to mean an intellectual pursuit.
A: *makes a face* Nope.
I think it has to do with the environment at large.
Q: I see. So at 13, you skipped class to work on your first part-time job?
A: Actually, I was 12. But it was an accident; I didn’t know I was skipping class. I was on the dance team and it was after an away performance. Everybody on the team went out to an after party and I followed them, not knowing I was supposed to return to school. So the teacher called my mother and said I skipped class. My mother got so mad, when I came back home, she chased me down the alley with a belt. I got a bad beat that day.
Q: Back to the question of part-time job, you held your first part-time job at 13? That’s a surprisingly early age to start working. Did your mother know?
A: Yes she knew, it’s just outside our apartment. When I was little I’ve been helping out with the handiwork that my mother sold. Consequently in our home, it’s thought that if you have the time, you should help out with the finances by going out to work.
Like in most traditional homes, Shu Qi did not get along with her parents very well; it all came down to a lack of communication:
I’m a typical Taiwanese girl. My parents weren’t very well educated and they often resorted to beating their children to convey messages. Slowly, I’ve developed a habit of non-communication. I was in fact, too scared to say anything. For example, if my brother broke a cup, the blame would be on me. My mother won’t listen to any excuses and let the stick do the talking. To her, even if it wasn’t me who had broken the cup, it was certainly my fault for not preventing it.
My relationship with my family was strained when I left home at 16. But it wasn’t entirely cut off. Sometimes when I have no means to feed myself, I would be forced to ask for money. I wouldn’t come home but I’d call and say, *mimics* “I’m out of money, can I borrow 3,000 TWD? I will return you the money when I can.”
Q: What did your mother do?
A: She’d give me the money.
Q: Did she ever attempt to make you stay?
A: No. My family relationship, whether it’s mother to daughter or father to daughter, was very stiff. No one would ever say things like “I love you” or “stay”. My family is very traditional; emotions are felt, not expressed.
They show their care by asking *mimics, in a cold, succinct tone* “You full?” “Eaten?” Of course by now, our mode of interaction has changed. My mother knows that I love her but when I was growing up, this kind of open affection wasn’t commonplace.
The first time I felt sorry for my various acts of impulsivity was when I was 16. I came home one day after being away for half a year and discovered that my mother’s hair had turned white. She was only in her early 30’s when it happened. (She gave birth to Shu Qi when she was 18.)
At around the same time, I had a car accident. I was out racing with a bunch of friends, got into an accident, and was sent to the hospital. When my mother came, she pointed at my nose and started yelling at me. I didn’t appreciate her reaction, rolled my eyes, and grew impatient. After she left, my friends who came to visit me told me they saw her crying nonstop outside the hospital room.
Shu Qi starts to choke at this point. While the host completes the story of Shu Qi’s sudden maturity, Shu Qi is spotted wiping tears surreptitiously.
Q: I know you were discovered by an agent and entered the entertainment circle around 18 or 19 of age. How were you discovered?
A: It’s funny, ever since I was little, I liked to pretend that I was older. I started wearing heels, mini skirts, and tight shirts, put on heavy makeup and walk around like that. Then one day an agent saw me.
Q: While other girls might shrink from the bold assignments (referring to the nude photo shoots) requested by your agency at the time, what gave you the courage to accept it?
A: I was naive. My agent told me it’s a form of art, throwing terms like artistic and aesthetics and basically coaxed me into doing it. What I ended up telling myself was: Why not? It’ll be a token of youth to remember by when I grow old.
Q: When you were contemplating whether to accept the job or not, did you confide in your mother?
A: No. During the early periods, I’ve rarely communicated much of what’s happened to me with my parents.
Q: I know your family has been through some emotional turmoil over the development of your early career. There was one New Years eve when you returned home from your first Adult film and overheard a conversation between your grandmother and your mother. Would you like to tell us about that?
A: I just shot my first erotic film over at Hong Kong and came back for New Years. No one knew that I had been a model for a few hardcore adult magazine (Shu Qi isn’t her real name). Then somehow my grandmother found out and that night, she called my mother and my aunt into the room and had a long talk. I arrived late for the family dinner and didn’t really know what went on. After a long time, my mom walked out teary eyed. I had a vague inkling of what’s happening but no one ever asked me why I had chosen to do the things I did or why I moved to Hong Kong.
But that instance made me understand the impact my actions have on my mother. I started to think more from her perspective.
Between the time I started being a model for adult magazines to shooting erotica in Hong Kong, I didn’t stop to think I was doing something wrong or immoral — until seeing my mother teary eyed that evening — because no one ever told me what I was doing is to be frowned upon.
Q: After that dinner, when you returned to Hong Kong for the adult films, did you find yourself face any kind of struggle?
A: Not really, no. Like I said, there wasn’t anyone to guide me, to tell me what’s right, what’s wrong. And when the people around you are all doing the same thing, you don’t stop to evaluate your decisions. I thought it’s no different from any other film: you are interacting with another actor, you are acting out a story.
Though lacking adult guidance, Shu Qi’s resilience opened door for a chance to cross over from Adult film to real cinema. The transition was gradual but steady. Then in 2005, she received the Golden Horse Best Actress award for her participation in the movie Best of Times (also known as Three Times).
Career, After The Cross Over
Q: Receiving the Golden Horse Best Actress Award is an enormous recognition. It must be a big moment for you.
A: It was huge. I was especially touched when Tony Leung handed me the trophy. When I received the honor of Best Supporting Actress, he handed me the trophy as well. Well, okay, the first time I received the Golden Horse award for Best New Performer, I cried so hard I couldn’t talk on stage. The next day, I received the Best Supporting Actress award. And like the previous day, I cried and cried. Tony Leung, who handed out the award that day, gave me his handkerchief to blow my nose with. (Side comment: sweet gesture) It’s a coincidence that he was the guest to hand out the Best Actress award in ’05. He told me beforehand that if I were to win the award, he’ll lend me his handkerchief again.
On the day of the aware ceremony, I was sitting down below, nervously waiting for him to announce the results. Before he read my name, I knew it was me. Because he took out his handkerchief.
After the celebration party and the interviews, I called my mom and said, “Hello mom. Er, that, I got it.” My mom asked, “Got what?” “Golden Horse, Best Actress.” She said “Oh.” there was no sound. I waited and my brother took the phone. He said, “Mom’s crying on the side.”
In truth, the Best Actress award is as much mine as my family’s. Whatever I’ve been through, they’ve felt the same pressure, if not more.
After receiving the award, a great weight was lifted from me. When I saw mother’s teary eyes on New Years Eve, I told myself that I’ll stay in the entertainment circle for five years. In five years, if I don’t end up bringing home some kind of recognition, I will quit and rethink the course of my life. Then the award came and I felt relieved. The efforts paid off.
Family Relation Now
It’s completely different from before. We joke now.
I take on the role of a gentle daughter. I would ask mom, “Mom, do you want anything to eat? How about x, y, z?” “Want to go shopping? I’ll take you.”
Q: What makes you change?
A: My mother is still the “cool” type who doesn’t say more. So I have to take the initiative. Now she doesn’t even admit to beating me when I was growing up. *laughs*
Q: You are of the age to marry, have you seriously thought about your future?
A: *chuckles* I’ve been of the appropriate age to marry for a while now. But, being single is fine. When you’re used to being by yourself, you don’t yarn for romance as much. Only when I’m watching a sappy romance would the thought that “I wish I have someone to grow old with” come across my mind.
Q: Then, do you like children?
A: *pauses* *shakes head slowly*
Q: Is it because what you put your mother through?
A: I think it plays a major role, yes. Also because I have three god-children (two god-sons and one god-daughter). When I have time, I’d go have dinner with my god-children and/or their parents. One time, I went to one of my god-son’s house, who’s only 10 months old. His mother left him alone with me to do grocery shopping for half an hour. By the time she came back, I was exhausted. I just can’t deal with kids.
Q: If you think a full-time house wife requires too much energy, you can always get help. Have you thought about having children of your own?
A: I will freeze one of my eggs before I turn 35, just in case my Mr. Right doesn’t show up before then. Because they say that before the age of 35, your eggs are the most healthy. When I find a man who I want to have a family with, I will unfreeze the egg.
Q: Really? That’s what you want to do?
A: If I can’t find a man I want to marry before 35. I don’t want to have any regrets.
Towards the end of the interview, the host gives Shu Qi a gift: her yearbook photos and a report card from her middle school, as well as a card written by one of her middle school teachers.