Man at His Best

In Conversation With Eddie Peng

Into the off-script world with one of Asia's most recognised leading men.

BY Nicholas Ng | Jan 24, 2017 | Film & TV

Translation by Charles Wong. Edited by Wayne Cheong. Photographs by Xing Chao (SUPER STUDIO). Styling by Melina Chen. Outfit by COACH.

 

FADE IN
Int. Studio room—DAY

After the photography session, a fresh-faced EDDIE PENG, 34, enters. He’s in a blue t-shirt and sport shorts. He surveys the room and sees NICHOLAS NG, 32. Ng’s expression is of calm waters, but beneath that is a roiling undercurrent. For the briefest moment, he mentally compares himself with the Chinese actor, singer and model, and feels the plummet of his self-esteem.

Nervously, Ng stands with his right hand extended. Peng returns with a hearty handshake.

 

EDDIE PENG
Sorry to keep you waiting.

NICHOLAS NG
I hardly even noticed the time.

 

Ng says that a little too loudly, a little too forcedly. He giggles at his quip. It goes on for a little too long, and later, when Ng looks back on the incident, it’s not even a joke to begin with. To his credit, Peng did not display any reaction to that. The two men take their seats and Ng, reading from his notes, fires off his first salvo.

 

NICHOLAS NG (CONT’D)
You were in Singapore to promote your latest film --

 

(Note: The film in question is Cold War 2 (2016), starring Aaron Kwok, Chow Yun-fat and Peng, himself, as the antagonist from the last instalment. In this latest outing, Kwok’s character is blackmailed into letting Peng’s character go in exchange for the freedom of his wife.)

 

NICHOLAS NG (CONT’D)
-- How do you feel about the country?

EDDIE PENG
It’s been a while. It was my second trip; my first time was a couple of years ago when I was promoting Hear Me.

 

(Note: In Hear Me (2009), Peng’s character falls in love with a hearing-impaired woman, played by Ivy Chen but— surprise surprise—the woman wasn’t deaf to begin with.)

 

EDDIE PENG (CONT’D)
Singapore’s urban planning is so brilliant. If I could spare the time, I’d love to check out its architectural designs --

 

Ng makes a sound, almost inaudible to Peng’s ears. It’s a noise that’s something akin to hope; hope that the next sentence will be Peng casually asking if Ng will take him sightseeing.

 

EDDIE PENG (CONT’D)
-- And Singapore is such a multi-ethnic place --

 

Ng deflates. We have a brief animation of nails being hammered into a heart.

 

Wool coat by COACH; cotton shirt by Dolce and Gabbana; trousers by Prada; leather oxfords with paint detailing by Salvatore Ferragamo.

 

EDDIE PENG (CONT’D)
(excitedly)
-- truly a multicultural city like New York. And your films have started to do really well at international film festivals.

 

(Note: Notable and recent films that Peng refers to are Ilo Ilo, A Yellow Bird and Apprentice. #gottawatchthemall)

 

NICHOLAS NG
You’ve also been to Cameron Highlands as well?

EDDIE PENG (nodding)
It was for Operation Mekong --

 

(Note: Based on the Mekong River massacre, Peng plays a Chinese immigrant who is embroiled in the attack. Peng is currently in Beijing, where they are now, promoting the film.)

 

EDDIE PENG
-- Filming was mainly done in Malaysia; Ipoh, Penang and, yes, Cameron Highlands.

NICHOLAS NG
Your role in the film… has that affected your thoughts about the travel experience?

EDDIE PENG
I’ve been to Thailand many times for work and leisure. Malaysia, too.I always sense an aura of mystery about the region, something I find hard to explain.

NICHOLAS NG
Did you do any research for your role?

EDDIE PENG
I read up on the region. During shooting, I engaged a local tutor to teach me the local languages: Malay, Thai, and even Burmese.

 

Ng gasps in surprise, but sounds like a wounded animal. Fortunately, for Ng, Peng misses it and continues.

 

EDDIE PENG (CONT’D)
They are really fascinating, but difficult to pick up.
(beat)
I even watched some of their local blockbuster TV dramas to familiarise myself with their film culture. Here’s the thing: after spending some time learning and understanding, I realised it’s the media that creates the mystique associated with the region. I don’t think we are that different even though the environment is.
(beat)
Take music, for instance.

 

The soft, steady tunes of Pong Lang Sa On play in the background.

 

EDDIE PENG (CONT’D)
I might not understand the lyrics of Thai pop music, but the melodies and the rhythms are the same ones that appeal to everyone.

 

The music stops.

 

NICHOLAS NG
Tell us about working with Zhang Hanyu for Operation Mekong.

EDDIE PENG
I was really lucky. [Zhang] was one of the first Mainland Chinese veteran actors that I worked with. I learned so much from the man. We come from vastly different backgrounds, but share a common interest in films. I’ve watched many of the same films that he has, so there was no lack of conversational topics. You know what this reminds me of? This makes me think of our independent “self” and how we will never be able to copy someone else completely.
(leans back in the chair)
We might emulate it to a certain degree, but our unique experiences and the wisdom that we have acquired shape each one of us differently.

 

At that moment, Peng’s MANAGER and TWO OTHER STUDIO EXECUTIVES enter the room. They display no expression, nothing Ng can divine from.

 

NICHOLAS NG
Uh, your acting career started purely by chance.

EDDIE PENG
(nodding)
The thing is, growing up, I’d always loved watching films. I thought acting would be an interesting career, but didn’t take to it seriously. I acted in a couple of commercials as a part-time gig until I met up with Yang Daqing again after working together on an earlier project.

 

Leather racer jacket by COACH; Heritage Pulsometer (L28014232) watch by Longines.

 

CUT TO: Ext.
Studio lot—DAY

The COMMERCIAL DIRECTOR addresses a younger-looking Eddie Peng.

 

Commercial director
I have a new project coming up. It’s a TV drama called Tomorrow.

 

(Note: Tomorrow is a Taiwanese show based on the manga series, Asunaro Hakusho, about five friends who have to deal with a death and love among themselves.)

 

Commercial director (CONT’D)
You interested?

 

CLOSE IN ON the young Peng.

 

EDDIE PENG (VO)
It was at that point that I seriously considered acting as a career. I didn’t come from money so I wanted to contribute financially to my family. We stay on his determined eyes.

 

CUT TO:
Int. Studio room—DAY

We’re back in the room with Peng, Ng, the Manager and Studio Executives.

 

EDDIE PENG
For the first time in my life, I felt like I could decide something on my own: my first job. At that time, I was enrolled in a good university, but I wasn’t interested in my studies. So, I signed up for Tomorrow. And after the project was over, there was a period of ups and downs, but I told myself not to give up.

NICHOLAS NG
Was that when you thought that this acting thing could be a job that actually pays?

EDDIE PENG
I never really thought that far. At that age, you feel life is pretty much set. (lowers his voice) Do you know about the Asian stereotype? About an Asian studying business in a western college? That was me. I was good at math and I chose Economics, pretty much what my family hoped for. The market for Chinese entertainment wasn’t booming at that time, so it made deciding to take up full-time acting hard.

NICHOLAS NG
That was rather ballsy.

EDDIE PENG
I gave myself three years to pursue this. I guess, I’m still pursuing this years later.

NICHOLAS NG
When did you decide to take acting seriously?

EDDIE PENG
Probably my second television series, Scent of Love --

 

(Note: Scent of Love (2003-2004) propelled Peng into the public consciousness.)

 

EDDIE PENG (CONT’D)
-- at that time, I took acting classes, learned different postures, worked with different emotions. My teachers imparted a lot of useful techniques.

NICHOLAS NG
Who taught you?

EDDIE PENG
I had a veteran actor as my mentor: Damian Lau Chung-yan. I was lucky to work with him at the start of my career, playing his son. He’s a serious professional. When we had meals together, he would talk to me about the script and help me to study it so I could have a solid acting foundation.

NICHOLAS NG
Do you want to step behind the camera?

 

Peng appears to dismiss the question. Maybe not. But there is no denying that he has been asked this over and over again. Ng feels a lump in his throat.

 

EDDIE PENG
Someone’s asked me this before—if I want to be an actor/director—but to be honest with you, I really don’t wanna think that far ahead.

 

Ng fumbles with his notepad, riffling through his notes and scribbles. In the back, the Manager and the Studio Executives fumble with their individual mobile phones.

 

NICHOLAS NG
Uh, any plans for Hollywood?

EDDIE PENG
I suppose every actor would like to go to Hollywood. We practically grew up with films from Hollywood. I have aspirations, yes, but it’s never easy to gain a foothold in Hollywood. And besides, at present, the Asian film market is flourishing so there’s really no urgency.

NICHOLAS NG
What’s your relationship with the media like, especially when it comes to privacy as an artist?

 

Peng smiles. He straightens up.

 

EDDIE PENG
We live in a time when the artists and their audience are intimate with one another. When I first joined the industry, the social media landscape was different. Those who follow me on social media will find that I am quite random.

NICHOLAS NG
“Random”?

EDDIE PENG
I mean… (thinks for a bit) … Even though everyone sets out to be himself or herself within such an environment, many eventually become just like any other person. Everyone on social media is focused on you, but what they really want to see is their expectation of “you”. It’s hard to be real but it isn’t all bad. Sometimes, you have to meet their expectations of you. Other times, an actor will need his or her privacy. However, as we are interacting with our audience, all they need to know is your character, not the “real you”. Everything else is just noise. (beat) Remember the times when there was no social media and people liked you because of your film or the character that you played? Now, people care about what you’re doing or what you’re wearing more than your work as an actor.

NICHOLAS NG
Is there anything else that you’re excited for?

EDDIE PENG
Travelling. Travel makes me feel that I am still myself. I like to travel alone or with my mum, strolling along different streets, be it a narrow alley or a grand boulevard.

NICHOLAS NG
Do you prefer travelling in an urban environment or the country side?

EDDIE PENG
Cities, because I just love exploring streets and alleys. But I also love going to the countryside and places that are less visited. My filming locations frequently include these places rather than urban centres.

NICHOLAS NG
As an actor, what’s your greatest fear?

EDDIE PENG
Boredom. That’s why I wanna try different things. I don’t want to wake up one morning and realise that I have lost all interest in acting and in life. It’s important to always learn something new so that I will never get bored and can be motivated to become better.

 

Ng almost flinches. He thinks someone, either the Manager or one of the Studio Executive gestures to him. Oh wait, it’s just the Manager addressing an itch.

 

Macro pied de poule jacket with patch details, stonewashed denim cropped trousers and leather loafers with pearls and studs, all by Gucci; felt bucket hat by COACH.

 

NICHOLAS NG
Uh… Best advice you’ve received?

EDDIE PENG
It’s from my mum. I come from a single-parent household. She was the sole breadwinner, working a few jobs just to keep us going. During a low point in my career, she said, “When one has no desire, one has no fear.”
(beat)
I didn’t get it at that point of time. But years later, it became clearer.

 

Ng stares at Peng for a beat.

 

NICHOLAS NG
But what does it mean?

EDDIE PENG
(smiles warmly)
It’s when you have a great desire for something, it also comes with the great fear of losing it.
(beat)
Forget the future. Give your best in accomplishing things in the present, and it will naturally lead you to the places that you want to be.

 

Ng scratches his chin.

 

NICHOLAS NG
But… but if you’re not ambitious for the future, how do you have a goal?

EDDIE PENG
I think what matters is one’s attitude. Don’t be too ambitious. If you can’t even take care of business now, what’s the point of thinking too much about future results? How are you going to climb that far? Foundation is important. It’s good to be pragmatic and have both feet firmly on the ground.

 

The answer doesn’t satisfy Ng. Peng sees that, so he tries a different approach.

 

EDDIE PENG (CONT’D)
But I get where you’re coming from. I ask myself the same question all the time. I guess we are quite similar in our thinking.

NICHOLAS NG
I suppose that’s why acting is good for you.

EDDIE PENG
Oh?

NICHOLAS NG
It allows you to look at things from the perspective of others.

EDDIE PENG
Ah. I meet all sorts of people because of work. They have helped me, and I have helped them.

NICHOLAS NG
For example?

EDDIE PENG
During the filming of To the Fore --

 

(Note: A sports drama about cycling competition. Everything about hard work and determination, nothing about drugs.)

 

EDDIE PENG
-- because my character [was a competitive cyclist], I was acquainted with many international cyclists who inspired me to take up the sport.

 

The Manager giggles at the back. Ng looks up nervously. What does that mean? Is that good? Is it time for me to go? Ng glances at his watch. How long did I take?

 

NICHOLAS NG
You trained a lot for this role, right?

 

Cotton shirt, cashmere pullover and cotton trousers, all by Salvatore Ferragamo; leather boots by Dolce and Gabbana; Master Collection (L26694783) watch by Longines.

 

CUT TO:
Int. Gym—DAY

Peng pedals furiously on a stationary bicycle. His body is drenched in sweat. The muscles in his back are tense.

 

EDDIE PENG (VO)
People ask why I was so tough on myself as I cycled every day.

 

Int. Gym—LATER

Back against the wall, Peng slides down, dog-tired.

 

EDDIE PENG (VO)
I actually enjoyed it, and just went for it because I didn’t want to regret it.

 

CUT TO:
Int. Studio room—DAY

Peng continues talking to Ng.

 

EDDIE PENG
Regret is worse than failure. If you fail, you can always try again, but you can’t do much with regret.

NICHOLAS NG
This year marks your 14th year as an actor. What’s been your most challenging role by far?

 

Peng shifts in his seat. He’s been asked this before and is now formulating a different response than the ones given previously.

 

EDDIE PENG
It’s difficult to say... the next one is always the most challenging yet, I suppose.
(beat)
Look. You want to get inspired by the next script, and the next one after that. That’s me. I expect to do better, every time. I don’t like regrets. I will not hesitate to give my best to accomplish something. I’ve to be truthful and say that, in my line of work, it can, sometimes, become too easy.

NICHOLAS NG
Really?

EDDIE PENG
Temptation abounds. You can become complacent because of easy money.

NICHOLAS NG
So, what do you look for in a role?

EDDIE PENG
Something interesting and fulfilling. We all have the same amount of time; the difference is in how we spend it. It doesn’t matter whether other people think it is interesting or not, what’s important is what I can learn from it. It’s subjective. A painter will always have a hard time explaining why he loves to paint and why he produces what he does.
(beat)
I just want to be honest with myself, and that’s pretty cool.

 

Ng flips through his notes. He’d ask everything on his list. Ng looks up and sees the Manager smiling at him. Should I go on and capitalise on the moment to keep talking or- Why isn’t anyone stopping me?

 

NICHOLAS NG
Uh… (stands to shake Peng’s hand) Think that’s all I have. Thanks for speaking with me.

EDDIE PENG
No problem. I hope you got everything.

 

Ng nods slowly and exits this scene leaving Peng to continue whatever he has left to the end.

 

FADE TO BLACK

 

Production by CHING CREATIVE.


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