For an accomplished thespian and a leading man of Taiwanese cinema, Leon Dai (戴立忍) comes across as surprisingly sincere and modest. He began our interview in the coffee shop at Spot — Taipei Film House (光點—台北之家) by apologizing for making me wait while he snuck out for a cigarette break between interviews and photo shoots. There is a soothing calmness in the 43-year-old actor and director’s voice, and when responding to questions about his movies he seems to weigh his answers carefully, before delivering well-articulated answers.
Although Dai is known from television soap operas such as The Hospital (白色巨塔) and the more than 30 movies he has starred in since the 1990s, few realize that the versatile actor is also a theater and film director, editor and scriptwriter. He assumed multiple roles for his second feature film, No Puedo Vivir Sin Ti (不能沒有你), which debuted last Friday. He spent a year-and-a-half writing the story, directed and edited the film, and closely followed each step of the postproduction.
Set in Cijin (旗津), Kaohsiung, the black-and-white movie was inspired by a news story in 2003. It details a single father’s struggle to maintain custody of his daughter against an unyielding bureaucracy. The film was the biggest winner at this year’s Taipei Film Festival, with its principal actors Chen Wen-pin (陳文彬) and Lin Chih-ju (林志儒), both experienced filmmakers in their own rights, winning awards for best leading and supporting actor, respectively.
Taipei Times: You’ve said that going to the cinema was how you began to learn about the world. When and how did your love of movies begin?
Leon Dai: My father took me to watch movies starting when I was 3. In our small town in Taitung [County], going to the cinema was the main form of entertainment. We saw films with [martial-arts stars] Bruce Lee (李小龍), Jimmy Wang (王羽) and David Chiang (姜大衛).
When I was in second grade, I snuck into a movie theater by pretending to be someone’s kid. My mom always had to look for me at the movie theater.
I stole money from my brother to see movies in junior high. I would watch each and every film listed on the movie pages, including pornography. The Lunar New Year was my favorite time of the year because there were lots of new films coming out. I would rush from one theater to the next and watch all of them in three days.
In college, I had a collection of more than 1,500 movies, more than the school library. The only person I knew who collected more films than I did was Huang Chien-yeh (黃建業) [a film scholar, critic and Dai’s teacher at the National Institute of the Arts (國立藝術學院, now the Taipei National University of the Arts (國立台北藝術大學)].
Even now, I often watch eight movies a day. I have to stop myself from going to the DVD store all the time.
(Dai studied at the National Institute of the Arts’ theater department. After graduating he started his career in theater as an actor, director and technician, before gradually making a name for himself with roles in films such as A Chance to Die (想死趁現在), which earned him a Golden Horse Award for best supporting actor. Dai made his first foray into film directing in 2001 with the short film Two Summers (兩個夏天), which won a Golden Horse Award and the top prize at Taipei Film Festival.)
TT: Who are your favorite directors?