Chapman To: Acting harder than directing

Hong Kong actor Chapman To, by now a veteran comedy star, admitted that directing Let’s Eat! was easier than acting

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Chapman To (right) released his directorial debut, Let’s Eat!, on Feb 9, starring himself and fellow Hong Kong actor Aimee Chan as the leading lady. (Photo: Pamela Chow)

 

Sauntering into our interview room, Hong Kong comedy actor Chapman To wasted no time in cracking jokes. “Welcome to Singapore,” he greeted us with a cheeky grin.

The baby-faced 43-year-old is known for his comical roles in blockbusters such as King of Mahjong and From Vegas to Macau, as well as in cop thrillers such as Infernal Affairs. Over the Lunar New Year, Chapman released his directorial debut, Let’s Eat!, about the tussle between tradition and innovation at a popular Hainanese chicken rice restaurant.

Chapman is director, scriptwriter and leading male actor in Let’s Eat!, and is accompanied by fellow Hong Kong actors Aimee Chan and Lo Hoi Pang, as well as popular Singaporean comedians Patricia Mok and Mark Lee.

Before the premiere in Singapore, I sat with Chapman to find out about his first time directing, his skills in the kitchen and more.

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WHY DID YOU CHOOSE HAINANESE CHICKEN RICE AS THE SUBJECT?

This dish is very significant and symbolic for Singaporeans and Malaysians and sometimes, in Hong Kong’s hotels, you can even see Hainanese Chicken Rice on menus.

In the ending of Let’s Eat!, the appearance of the rice reflected the harmony of old and new very well. As a middle-aged person, I like the balance between these two. In progress, there is still tradition.

 

YOU POKED FUN AT KOREAN FRIED CHICKEN IN THE MOVIE. WHY DON’T YOU LIKE IT?

I’m resistant to the Korean wave. I grew up watching Japanese serials, so Korean [culture] is too different for me. I still appreciate Japanese language and culture.

 

IS THAT WHY YOU TRANSFORMED CHICKEN RICE INTO SUSHI IN THE FILM’S ENDING?

I didn’t actually think of it that way. Thank you for bringing it up!

 

WERE YOU NERVOUS IN YOUR FIRST TIME DIRECTING?

I should have been, but I wasn’t. I didn’t seek inspiration from other directors.

On the other hand, in all my years of acting, I have referred to other actors’ works.

 

HOW DO YOU FIND DIRECTING COMPARED TO ACTING?

Directing is easier. If you take on a role, you may wonder how Tony Leung Chiu Wai or Sean Lau Ching Wan would portray it. But when you direct a movie, especially with your own script, you already have the story and imagery in mind, and you can just shoot it.

 

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The cast of Let’s Eat! did a lo hei (the toss of yusheng) together before the movie’s premiere in Singapore over the Lunar New Year.

 

WHAT DO YOU FIND DIFFICULT ABOUT ACTING?

With my appearance, I can only act in certain roles. Actually, it’s impossible for an actor to be able to act in every single type of role, and there’s something wrong with the actor who thinks he or she can do it.

But, as a director, I think you can direct any type of film. It’s what I most enjoy about becoming a director.

 

THAT’S SURPRISING, SINCE YOU’RE CONSIDERED A VETERAN.

In this directorial debut, I felt a fiery passion. But I’ve been an actor since 1993 and, even though I’ve added a lot of experience and care to my work, I no longer have that enjoyment in acting.

 

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO ALSO CAST SINGAPOREANS IN YOUR FILM?

We were hunting from Hong Kong to Malaysia to Singapore for the prettiest actress we could get, and we found Patricia Mok!

 

THE OUTTAKES AT THE END OF THE MOVIE WERE FUNNY. HOW WERE THOSE DONE?

This was a high-budget movie, and half of the budget actually went into those NG (No Good) shots. It’s thanks to advanced technology that we could do that. [Laughs]

DO YOU COOK, OR DOES YOUR WIFE COOK?

I can cook almost anything but my speciality would have to be 24-hour slow-cooked short ribs.

My wife doesn’t have a chance to go into the kitchen at home. She only goes to the bedroom. [Laughs]

 

WHAT KIND OF MOVIE WOULD YOU LIKE TO MAKE NEXT?

I’d like to film a kungfu movie, because it’d be funny to watch me get beaten up!

 
By Pamela Chow

 
Let’s Eat! was released in theatres on Feb 9.

 

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