Sun, Dec 26, 2004 - Page 18 News List

Brewing the bitter life

Award-winning actress Lu Yi-ching can take credit for some of Taiwan's most stirring cinematic scenes, as well as some of its most flavorful coffee

By Yu Sen-lun  /  STAFF REPORTER

I'm caught by the rich fragrance of coffee while walking in the small Jingzhong Street of Taipei's Jingmei district, near the night market. The fragrance leads to a row of low houses, and then to one building whose windows display various coffee makers: Moka pots, Turkish coffee pots, and a giant antique espresso maker.

Yin Lu Shop (吟陸商號) is a well-known coffeeshop in Taipei and sells home-roasted coffee beans and rich, fragrant Moka pot coffee. Actress Lu Yi-ching (陸亦靜) opened the shop 21 years ago, but though Taipei's coffee gourmands may visit the shop frequently, it was not until Lu gained fame as an award-winning actress in the past five years that people began to realize who the person behind the fragrance of the famous coffeeshop was.

When I visited the coffeeshop one afternoon, Lu had just finished her daily routine of roasting beans. That day, she had been roasting Golden Mandheling beans from Sumatra. She was on a two-month break between finishing Tsai Ming-liang's (蔡明亮) Wayward Wind (天邊一朵雲) and before starting filming next week on Yao Hong-yi's (姚宏易) Alice's Mirror (愛麗絲的鏡子).

"After an acting scene, I always feel I'm lucky that I can come back to coffee roasting. It gives me a chance to settle my emotions," Lu said.

Lu explained that after roasting the beans comes the long and tedious process of picking which beans to use. Raw beans may look flawless on the surface, but after roasting, the colors may look too light or too dark. "Then it's time to decide which stay and which are left out," she said.

In Tsai's films, Lu Yi-ching is often the loud, neurotic and superstitious housewife. But when she picks beans after they're roasted, she is, in her words, like a cat, quiet and aloof and fully concentrated on picking only the best beans.

"People use (Buddhist) prayer beads to chant sutras. For me, picking beans is like chanting Buddhist scriptures or meditating. It gives me a sense of tranquility and I feel blessed," she said.

On screen, Lu's characters are mostly people suffering from pain and misfortune. In Wang Tung's (王童) Hills of No Return (無言的山丘), she plays a prostitute who commits suicide by hanging herself. And in the TV drama Breathing Hard (用力呼吸), which won her a Best Actress Golden Bell Award, she is a mother suffering from cancer.

In most of the films made with Tsai, Lu plays a mother who struggles with and represses her desires. In The Missing (不散), she cries in a close-up shot for five minutes, desperately looking for a lost grandson. In What Time Is It There (你那邊幾點) an eye-catching scene also occurs when Lu's character cries, this time while longing for her dead husband. In The River (河流) she is married to a closeted gay man and has to watch porn films secretly to deal with her desires. And, in another memorable scene in What Time Is It There, she misses her husband so much that she masturbates with a bamboo pillow.

All those characters are experiencing the bitter part of life, and in a way, it's similar to the first taste of black coffee. "I am good at producing the bitterness in life, and I sell bitter water too," Lu said with a laugh.

While preparing a pot of Golden Mandheling for me, she reminded me to have it black at least for the first sip. "Taste the bitter part and then the sweetness naturally comes out," she said.

After graduating from high school, Lu had wanted to study drama, but when her stepfather opposed the idea, she decided to move from Chiayi to Taipei and work at a coffeeshop.

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