Sun, Nov 02, 2003 - Page 18 News List

A national treasure of film

Yang Kuei-mei, who recently won Best Supporting Actress at the 48th Asia Pacific Film Festival, represents everything that is good about Taiwan cinema

By Yu Sen-lun  /  STAFF REPORTER

Fate seems to be playing a trick with Yang Kuei-mei's (楊貴媚) acting career. In the past 10 years she has been the favorite leading actress of many leading Taiwanese directors, such as Tsai Ming-liang (蔡明亮), Ang Lee (李安), Chen Kuo-fu (陳國富) and Lin Cheng-sheng (林正盛). She has been nominated for various film awards, locally and overseas, but has always lucked out.

However, for a small role she acted in the latest Tsai Ming-liang movie, Good-bye Dragon Inn (不散), she won Best Supporting Actress at the 48th Asia Pacific Film Festival, which took place last weekend.

All she did in the less than five minute scene was crack seeds in an empty movie theater, which makes quite a noise, put her high heels into the front row of seats and bent down to pick them up.

"Don't you think cracking seeds is an easy job! To shoot that scene, I broke one piece of my front tooth, right here," Yang said, having just came back from her trip to Shiraz, Iran, the venue for this year's Asia Pacific Film Festival.

For the trip, Yang had her designer make three Muslim-style dresses with long sleeves, headscarf and just a few trimmings. When she went on stage to accept the award, Yang first said thank you in Chinese. The audience was silent. Then, she said, "Salon Behame! [Hello in Iranian], I love Shiraz!"

The two lines immediately won her thunder-like applause and cheers. Yang suddenly became the most popular star at the festival.

"I think all my roles in Taiwanese movies are independent career women with their own emotions and love lives. I did not expect these movies to be shown in Iran or even liked by its audiences," Yang said.

She was wrong.

Many Iranian filmmakers and producers, she said, told her they were big fans of Yang especially in Eat, Drink, Man, Woman (飲食男女), Vive l'Amour (愛情萬歲) and The Hole (洞).

Having spent 20 years in the business, Yang's screen image is usually down-to-earth, practical, independent yet strong in surviving difficulties and has been perfect for Taiwanese film directors who make films in a realistic style, showing what people really look like, instead of an ideal version.

In Eat Drink Man Woman, she was the conservative high school teacher who represses her desires. Even so, she still won the hottest guy in school, a sports teacher, and converted him into a Christian. In Vive l'Amour by Tsai Ming-liang, Yang plays a housing saleswoman who sometimes makes use of the apartments she helps sell, to sleep with men she picks up.

In The Hole, another Tsai film, Yang suffers from an infectious disease. But in an imagined scene in the movie, she dresses up like a peacock, dancing around to old fashioned music. In the movie Double Vision, Yang becomes a forensic doctor, examining a strange, deadly fungus that is related to a serial murder cause.

"Starting with TV dramas, I knew very little about acting and performance. Acting in films is less exaggerated, more controlled and more introverted. I didn't get the knack until I began working with these Taiwanese filmmakers," Yang said.

"I remember when I first worked with Tsai Ming-liang in Vive l'Amour. I didn't know what he wanted. I felt insecure. But when I told him I didn't know what I was doing on the set, he said, `This is it! This is the feeling you should have.'

The last scene in Vive l'Amour, where Yang performed a 10-minute crying scene -- from a sad, devastated look, to sobbing and then to full crying -- made her name.

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