Here's another great interview from Mingpao! It's actually "hot off the press", as it was published in the latest issue of their magazine that just came out this past weekend.
Eddie Cheung is another one of my favorite actors from the 80s and prior to this year when he returned to TVB, it had been awhile since I heard much about him. Even though I follow Eddie's weibo and from there, I can tell that he is a great father, I didn't realize just how great until I read this interview (you'll know what I mean once you read the interview). His wife and kids are definitely blessed to have such a great husband and father as him!
Anyway, hope you enjoy the article. :-)
Mingpao Interview: Eddie Cheung – The Golden Decade
Source: Mingpao Weekly, Issue 2249
Back when he was 20 years old, actor Eddie Cheung was one of TVB’s popular ‘siu sangs’ – unfortunately, even though he had fame, he didn’t get any ‘profit’. Eddie describes his situation back then in this way: “Worked like a dog, but barely had a penny to my name.”
When Eddie finally endured to the point where his salary was in-line with his workload, he was already heading into middle age and the new, younger generation ‘siu sangs’ had already overtaken him. In the series “Lofy Waters Verdant Bow” (2002), Eddie’s role was akin to a ‘prop’ in the background whose purpose was to enhance main lead Raymond Lam’s role – disappointed, Eddie left the company that he had served loyally for 19 years.
It turns out that when a man is in his forties, that’s truly his ‘golden’ period. For Eddie, middle age was definitely his ‘golden’ period: he became a doting father to 2 lovely children (a son and daughter); he participated in a movie directed by Johnnie To and not only had the opportunity to walk the red carpet at a film festival, he also took home a Best Supporting Actor award; together with his wife, he started a business, bought a house, made some smart investments, and eventually accumulated assets of close to 50 million dollars.
This year, he returned to his ‘maternal home’ (TVB) to participate in the sitcom “Til Love Do Us Lie”, but he agreed to do so not because of fame nor profit. “It was primarily because of the stable schedule – start at 9am and end at 7pm. I’m able to go home and hang out with my 2 ‘bosses’ [his 2 children],” the 48 year old ‘Family Man Eddie’ replied with a laugh.
Returned to TVB because of his daughter
Eddie Cheung refers to his two ‘treasures’ – his son and daughter – as his ‘bosses’. Indeed, his children ‘call all the shots’ in his household because from Eddie’s point of view, everything revolves around them: working, earning money, and even the decision to film series again.
Pointing to the television set, Eddie’s 7 year old daughter would constantly ask him: “Daddy, I wonder how it would be like if you were in there. Can you film one for me to see?” She likes watching her Dad portray an Emperor in the series “Love is Beautiful”, which Eddie filmed prior to leaving TVB, so he asks her: “You can always watch the series when it repeats on TV, right?” to which she answers sweetly: “But that’s an old one!”
Throughout his 10 year absence from TVB, the management invited him back many times, however each time, he always found a reason to decline their offer. This time around, since his beloved daughter was the one who asked, Eddie agreed wholeheartedly: “I’ll just treat it as ‘settling a debt’ for my bosses.” Plus it also helps that in the sitcom “Til Love Do Us Lie”, Eddie portrays a benevolent father who, together with his onscreen wife (played by Kiki Sheung), has a teenage son in high school. In real life, Eddie’s children are not that old – his daughter is 7 and his son is only 11 – and both stick to him a lot: “The most important thing for me is that no matter how late I film, I can return home and sleep in my own bed – it’s better than going to the Mainland to film and having to stay at a hotel.”
Was disappointed in TVB 10 years ago
In 2001, Eddie Cheung decided to terminate his contract with TVB early. At the time, the company was trying to reduce its expenses so instructions were sent down to cut its artists’ shows. Eddie acknowledged that his work opportunities were greatly reduced and was only allowed to film 2 series per year – since he would have much more time on his hands, he decided it would be better to just leave and find better opportunities elsewhere.
Eddie remembers that on his very last day, when he went to his locker to gather his personal belongings, he bumped into fellow actor Felix Wong; true to his ‘flame-shooting’ nickname, Felix also had much to complain about regarding TVB – turns out that it was also Felix’s last day at TVB as well.
“A lot of things caused me to become indifferent toward the company. For one, they started to lack the ‘human touch’. Before it became a publicly traded company, TVB used to be all about teamwork – everyone working together towards a common goal; later on, everything started to regress – a lot of the talent left and they started to focus on quantity over quality.”
Eddie’s last series with TVB was “Lofty Waters Verdant Bow” – the purpose of the series was primarily to promote Raymond Lam, so Eddie’s role was reduced to that of primarily that of a ‘vase’ -- a ‘glorified extra’ in a sense: “After having been with the company 19 years, I felt it was time for me to change my working environment; if I continued to stay, there would not be much more opportunity for development anyway and sooner or later, I would just become a ‘gam cho’ actor [elder veteran supporting artist]. At the time, I was only in my thirties – still at a prime age and nowhere near ‘gam cho’ status yet. Thirty to fifty years of age is the best time for a male, as that’s when we truly start to mature in thinking and have enough experiences – both good and bad – to help guide us, plus on a physical level, we no longer look like young boys. Unfortunately though, many audiences at that time preferred to see new, younger-looking faces – they preferred what was on the ‘outside’ rather than the ‘meat’ on the inside.”
After leaving TVB, Eddie focused his efforts on starting a beauty product business with his wife, who was an esthetician. In 2004, his wife gave birth to their second child, a daughter [their son was born in 2000] and Eddie decided he would take on the role of caretaker for the children. “When a child enters kindergarten, you need to really watch them. As parents, if we don’t take good care of our children and something happens to them, it could affect them for life. Sometimes, when I would visit children’s hospitals and see small children who lost all their hair or were disfigured or severely injured in accidents, it saddened me. At that time, a lot of people invited me to film in the Mainland, but I refused to go because I couldn’t bear to be away from my children – I didn’t want to be filming in a far away place and have to worry about them all the time. Of course, if it was absolutely necessary to go in order to put food on the table, then that’s a different story – ‘luckily’ though, we didn’t have to worry about that.”
50 million in assets
Eddie’s ‘luckily’ is a humble way of putting things in perspective. It’s well known that Eddie and his wife’s beauty product business has been quite successful – currently, they live in a luxury home in Residence Bel Air (on Hong Kong Island), plus they own various properties in HK which, all combined, are said to be worth close to 50 million HKD.
“So embarrassing….not worth mentioning! Many people say that I have a lot of ‘bricks’ [property], but it’s really nothing – there are so many people who have 90 times more than me…rich people are everywhere!”
Eddie has always been the type of person who speaks humbly and carries himself in a very simple, unadorned manner – therefore, people often say that he is actually a ‘pearl in the straw’. In reality, he belongs to the generation of artists who slowly climbed to the top after enduring years of hard work and toil. TVB produced a lot of ‘big stars’ back in the day, but Eddie was not necessarily one of the stars that shined the brightest. He graduated from TVB’s Acting Class in 1982 and some of his ‘famous’ classmates include Tony Leung, Stephen Chow, Francis Ng, etc. – all became huge stars one after the other. When Eddie first started in the industry (after graduating), he took on the role of ‘Mr. Vitality’ for 3 years straight – his responsibility was to help the company promote a healthy and energetic image to audiences: “I was never envious of others – my philosophy has always been that if the company assigns a particular task to you, it’s your obligation to put 100% effort into doing it well. My personality has always been the passive type – very disciplined and obedient. The young people nowadays always seem to be concerned with ‘rapid advancement’ and become worried when they don’t get the same opportunities as others. When I found out that the actor who plays my son in “Til Love Do Us Lie” (Dickson Wong) signed a 7 year contract with TVB, the first thing I told him was: ‘Work hard and put your heart into it. If you decided to give TVB 7 years of your youth, then you need to work hard and consider this as a way for you to gain valuable experience – don’t be envious that others might be making more money elsewhere.’”
Looking back now, Eddie admits that back during his time, he took the ‘steady’ path and as a result, missed out on many opportunities to make a lot of money. The HK movie industry was flourishing at that time and in any given month, there could be several dozen movies being filmed – many of his classmates would go out and earn some ‘fast money’ on the side, but he stayed behind, relying solely on his TVB salary of 2000 HKD a month: “Actually, I was able to save up money at that time. I would give my family 400 HKD every month, my expenses would be about 1000 HKD, and I would still have 600 HKD to put away in savings.”
In 1986, 4 years after graduating from acting class, Eddie got his first lead role in the series “Siblings of Vice and Virtue”. After that, he continued to film one series after another, but never really became tremendously popular. It wasn’t until he renewed his contract during his 8th year with the company that his salary increased to 9000 HKD.
Start up business with his wife
With Eddie’s diligence in saving money, he was able to save up enough to buy his first house in 1991, when he was 28 years old.
“I made little money, but was able to save up a lot. Back then, the price of real estate was not extremely high and I occasionally got the chance to go do live performances – didn’t have to spend much money at all and whenever I was paid, I would put the money directly into the bank, so eventually, I was able to save up a lot.”
At one point, Eddie had also partnered up with a friend to open a restaurant and since it was profitable, he was able to make some money there as well. This occurred when he was in his thirties: “I only had a few shares in the restaurant, but received profit every month – we decided to close up shop when the landlord started increasing the rent. It took awhile, but step by step, I was able to get there. Nowadays, I tell the younger generation all the time, don’t expect to take one giant leap to the top.”
After that, he met his wife and even though they were not married at that time, they decided to start a beauty product business together: “Relying solely on my acting career is too short-sighted, as there are no guarantees that I would be able to act forever. Since she [his wife] had good business sense, we felt that it would be a good idea to start a business together. At that time, we were already in a steady relationship and were close to getting married, so I didn’t mind investing the money. The location of our first beauty salon was not big at all, just a few hundred square feet – we set up shop in the To Kwa Wan region, since that’s where my wife lived at the time and she was familiar with that area. Once we were able to turn a profit there, step by step we expanded the business into other areas.”
Eddie and his wife Gigi dated for 3 years – they went from being boyfriend / girlfriend to business partners, and finally, to husband and wife when they married in 1997. Together, the couple gained much success in the business sector, venturing out from the world of beauty products to fashion to real estate distribution. “Too exhausting! When you start a business, it’s necessary to be involved personally, otherwise you won’t be successful. We didn’t want to open too many shops, since it would take too much effort to manage, so we only had 5 beauty salons – also, we were only in the fashion industry for 1-2 years, plus the real estate business as well…all of them were joint partnerships with others.”
Received threats at one point
At the time that Eddie left TVB, he and his wife decided that they would concentrate their efforts only on the beauty salon business: “My wife’s dream is to one day have her own beauty product line and finally, she was able to accomplish this.”
During those 3 years, Eddie went from being an actor to full-time businessman: “I was in charge of overseeing the staff, basic operations, and finances while my wife was responsible for marketing and coming up with ideas for various products. I’m not the creative type, but my wife has a very creative mind and can come up with good ideas in a short amount of time. In fact, I spend a lot of time learning from her in this area. My wife and I actually spend a lot of time together due to the businesses we manage – true, some might feel that spending so much time together could cause a couple to get bored with each other, but when we’re apart too long, we miss each other a lot. One time when I had to be away for a few months filming in Hengdian, we would keep in touch via WhatsApp every day and I even asked her to send over some pictures of herself so I could see her face.”
Of course, being in the business sector, there are bound to be issues that arise. The scariest situation that Eddie encountered was when someone drove a car through the front window of their shop, shattering glass everywhere, and also left a threatening note. The incident was assumed to be the result of a business conflict: “We called the police, but in the end, no one was arrested due to lack of evidence. I’m pretty sure that whoever was behind the incident hired someone else to do the dirty work for them. Don’t think that I’m not familiar with those types of tactics, it’s just that I don’t advocate using them – we’re all just trying to compete fairly in the business. A few elders once told me that it’s not a bad thing to encounter these types of incidents because it helps us to realize that managing a business is not easy.”
In the beauty business, these types of situations actually happen quite often. Eddie explained that he and a business competitor once got into an argument over one of their products and in the end, he and his wife had to issue a joint statement to clarify: “That’s why it’s not always a good thing to be famous. Even now, there are still people out there who try to misuse our names on their products. And when other countries are involved, it makes things even more difficult, since the regulations in each country can be very different.”
Best Supporting Actor
While he was at TVB, Eddie Cheung never had a series that could be considered his ‘representative work’, however during his past 10 years in the film industry, it was as though he had turned over a new leaf – he participated in a slew of Johnnie To’s films, including: “Running on Karma”, “Breaking News”, “Election”, “Exile”, etc. His performance in the film “Throw Down” in 2003 earned him Best Supporting Actor nominations the following year in several of the region’s biggest award ceremonies, leading to an eventual win at the Chinese Film Media Awards in 2005.
“Why is it that when I was at TVB, every series that I filmed seemed to be very similar, yet outside TVB, every role seemed so different? I’m really grateful to Johnnie To, as he was brave enough to give me different types of characters to play – plus whenever we collaborated, he would always tell me exactly what his expectations were…good communication is very important! At TVB, the producers were mainly concerned with Eddie Cheung portraying a ‘good person’, so it was very easy to get typecasted into certain roles. Working with Director To was a completely different experience – there was much more depth to the characters he would have us portray. For example, he would give me the role of a lawyer with a huge character flaw of stuttering; or he would have me portray a triad gang leader with a mental disability; even the role of a cop could have many different variances!”
In the TV industry, Eddie was considered a ‘siu sang’, but when he entered the film industry, he became a ‘major’ supporting actor. How difficult was it to make this adjustment?
Eddie’s response: “It wasn’t too difficult really, since at the time, I considered it a pastime of sorts. I had my own company and the business was stable, so participating in films became something I did to entertain myself – I took it as a chance to see some of my old colleagues again. Besides, the job of ‘supporting actor’ was not easy, especially when it came to working for Johnnie To. Oftentimes, when we arrived on the set, Director To would give us a few sheets of paper with ideas for a particular scene and while we were getting our makeup done, he would explain the scene to us – within those 2 hours, the concept for the entire scene would be completed.”
Aside from Johnnie To, Eddie had also worked with several other big name directors, such as the Pang Brothers (“The Detective 2”) and Ann Hui (“All About Love”), before deciding to return to TVB this year: “In the 10 years that I left TVB, I was able to start a business and launch a movie career; most importantly though, I was able to stay at home and watch my children grow up – for me, this was the most desirable ‘golden decade’.”
Epilogue: The most comfortable actor
A lot of people wish to be their own boss and be successful in business – Eddie Cheung was able to accomplish this and even earned a lot of money along the way. But ultimately, he still has a passion for acting.
“I always tell my wife – taking everything into perspective, what is more comfortable than being an actor? As an actor, we are given a script to memorize and once we’ve done that, we go in and do our jobs…everything else outside of that – such as booking the location for filming, arranging costume fittings, etc. – is none of our business. For instance, if the director was to tell me ‘I couldn’t book the location today, so filming will have to be canceled’, I can just leave without having to worry about anything.”
Overseeing a successful business is a completely different story – for instance, when preparing for a beauty product launch, even small details such as what kind of paper to use for the fliers at the convention is something that Eddie needs to be involved with. After years of being a businessman, Eddie realized that being an actor is one of the most comfortable careers one could have. With his new sitcom “Til Love Do Us Live” estimated to film 120 episodes, he anticipates that he will be filming until March of next year – plenty of time for him to ‘savor’ the experience!