Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Mingpao Interview with veteran TVB actor Wu Fung: ‘After 80’ Abundance

Wu Fung is one of my favorite veteran / senior actors! I grew up watching his series and even though I don't always like the characters he portrays, I almost always enjoy his performances in the series.

One of the many qualities I like about Wu Fung as a person is his optimistic and postive outlook on life as well as his 'genuineness' in treating all people with respect, regardless of how he himself is treated. Based on various interviews, his philosophy is basically 'Don't sweat the small stuff' -- as long as you try your best and enjoy what you do, don't let the trivial matters get you down. Such great advice!!


In addition to having a great attitude, Wu Fung is also a very honest and sincere person, which is definitely rare in the entertainment world. It's no wonder that he is so highly respected and admired in the industry (which was obvious a couple months ago with all the people who showed up at his suprise birthday party).

Anyway, I definitely enjoyed this interview and hope that those who grew up watching Wu Fung perform onscreen will enjoy it as well!

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Mingpao Interview with veteran TVB actor Wu Fung: ‘After 80’ Abundance

Source: Mingpao Weekly, Issue 2264

Translation: llwy12

Article originally published March 31, 2012


The tremendous amount of dedication and respect that Wu Fung (胡楓) [nicknamed ‘Sau Gor’] demonstrates toward his work is something that today’s younger generation may never be able to emulate. He does not have a manager, so he arranges all job opportunities personally himself. Recently, he has been busy filming the TVB sitcom Til Love Do Us Lie 《結‧分@謊情式》 while at the same time preparing for his concert at the HK Coliseum [TN: his concert took place this week], plus aside from that, he also does volunteer work on a consistent basis. In a week, Sau Gor is pretty much busy 7 days straight, so when our [Mingpao] reporter contacted him for an interview, he advised that he would try his best to accommodate.

After trying for more than a month to arrange an interview with him, our reporter finally received a call back from Sau Gor: “Let’s meet at the YWCA café on Waterloo Road – we can talk over lunch.” Since Sau Gor lives in Ho Man Tin, that particular café is indeed the most convenient place to meet.

Having been in the industry for close to 60 years, Sau Gor just finished celebrating a memorable 80th birthday. With his concert next week [TN: actually this week], Sau Gor will once again break the record for the ‘oldest’ [age-wise] artist to hold a concert at the HK Coliseum – truly a plentiful ‘harvest’ for him!


Working gives him energy

A few days prior to this interview, the organization that Sau Gor does volunteer work for held a special birthday celebration for him, with over a thousand people in attendance. Outside of his busy filming schedule at TVB, Sau Gor dedicates much of his free time to doing volunteer work in the local community.

“Most of the work I do services the elderly and senior citizens. Sometimes I would help out the Professional Medical Services Association by traveling with them to visit and sing for the elderly; other times, I would help with the distribution of scarves, food, snacks, etc. at the senior centers.”

In terms of filming Til Love Do Us Lie, the 120 episode sitcom is enough to keep him busy for 6 months straight – even though he works 6 to 7 days a week, Sau Gor expressed that working actually makes him more energetic.

“Working makes me very happy and gives me a lot of strength -- the more I work, the more lively and energetic I become. Acting is something I enjoy a lot – even though sometimes it can be exhausting and I don’t get enough sleep, I don’t feel tired at all because of the joy I experience in the process. Normally, I need to sleep for 9 hours, but nowadays, I only sleep 7 to 8 hours average.”

Even though filming for the sitcom ended in March, Sau Gor has still been quite busy preparing for his concert, which will be taking place on April 3rd at the HK Coliseum.

“Last time [10 years ago], people were asking why I sang so few songs at my concert, so this time around, I hope to sing a lot more songs, hopefully more than 20 or so. I’ve chosen mostly old songs to sing because most of the audience will be older people. This time, I won’t be doing as much dancing because I don’t want to be out of breath when I sing – after all, I’m 80 years old, not 18.”

The last time Sau Gor performed at the HK Coliseum was 10 years ago when he was 70 years old – at that time, he was the oldest person to hold a solo concert and the milestone was recorded in the Guiness Book of World Records. That concert was an unforgettable experience for him: “Andy Hui (許志安), Nicholas Tse (謝霆鋒), Twins, Louis Koo (古天樂), and Gallen Lo (羅嘉良) were all guests at that time. This time, I won’t be asking them again, as they were willing to help out the first time, which to me is enough – I don’t want to bother them. Godchildren are a different story though – I can ask them multiple times, since they’re my godchildren after all!”


Friendship with Cantonese opera singer Bak Suet Seen

Sau Gor has 13 godchildren spanning 3 different generations. In the early 80s when he was at ATV, he collaborated often with actresses Ban Ban (斑斑), Marian Wong (黃造時), Chui Si Fei (徐思斐), Christine Fong (方國珊), etc. and since he had great affinity with them, they became his goddaughters; in 1987, while filming director Jeffrey Lau’s (劉鎮偉) cult classic The Haunted Cop Shop 《猛鬼學堂》, Sau Gor developed a close relationship with the film’s stars – Jacky Cheung (張學友), Prudence Liew (劉美君), Sandy Lam (林憶蓮), Chan Fai Hung (陳輝虹), and Billy Lau (樓南光) – they started calling him ‘godfather’ and next thing he knew, they’ve been calling him that for 25 years; later on, when he started filming television series for TVB, he met Leon Lai (黎明) and Mickey Chu (朱健鈞) and soon, they became his godsons as well. According to Sau Gor, all his godchildren are very good to him and very filial.

“Leon and Sandy already promised to be musical guests at my concert. Nick Cheung (張家輝) will be a guest as well – he’s not one of my godsons, but we are still very compatible and quite close. I met him back when I was filming [TVB sitcom] Mind Our Own Business《開心華之里》with [Nick’s wife] Esther Kwan (關詠荷) – I have a special affinity with Esther because she shares the same Chinese name as my wife.” [TN: Sau Gor’s wife is also named ‘Wing Hor’ (詠荷)].

A few months ago, Sau Gor’s family arranged a surprise birthday party for him. At first, they told him that it would be a regular family dinner, but then when he arrived at the venue, he was surprised to see Nick Cheung walking toward him and wishing him a happy birthday – he was so happy at that time that he didn’t know how to react.

“I got a bit over-excited, as I saw so many good friends there – it definitely moved me to tears. When I think about all the preparation work that my kids did in the few months leading up to the event and the hundreds of phone calls they had to make, I know that they must have put a lot of time and effort into it – I’m moved just thinking about it.”

The biggest surprise for Sau Gor was that legendary Cantonese opera singer Bak Suet Seen (白雪仙) took the time to attend his surprise party. Though Seen Jie [as she is known to her fans] collaborated with Sau Gor more than 50 years ago in the film Nanny’s Tears《媽姐淚》, he admits that he no longer remembers what character he played in the film: “It was probably the ‘pampered young master’ type! I remember that Yam Jie [TN: another legendary Cantonese opera singer, Yam Kim Fai (任劍輝)] was in it as well. At that time, Seen Jie was already a senior level artist – she was quite demanding, but I was never afraid of her. She takes her work very seriously and does not tolerate carelessness.”

Sau Gor’s good friend and long-time ‘partner’ in front of the camera, Josephine Hsaio (蕭芳芳), could not make it to the party due to illness, however she called him later to send her birthday wishes: “She also sent me a card that her daughter helped make – it was a caricature of me on a stage with spotlights and lots of audiences surrounding me; on one side of the card, it said ‘Wu Fung very good’ 『胡楓好掂』and on the other side was written ‘Wu Fung handsome boy’ 『胡楓靚仔』-- she put a lot of thought into the card and it moved me tremendously!”


Keeps in contact with children and grandchildren via Internet

After he finishes his concert, Sau Gor is planning to go on a 3 week vacation with his wife – they will be visiting their children and grandchildren who live in Canada and England: “At this time in my life, my sons, daughters, and grandchildren are the most important.”

Sau Gor has 3 daughters and 2 sons, with a total of 6 grandchildren between them, ‘distributed’ amongst 3 regions: Hong Kong, Canada, and England: “We’re like the United Nations, haha! With the technology nowadays, we can keep in contact with them easily via the computer, so no need to worry anymore!” Sau Gor doesn’t know how to use a computer, but he did learn how to go on the internet and communicate with his children / grandchildren via webcam, so he’s still somewhat in tune with modern technology.

Though most of his children and grandchildren live overseas, Sau Gar has no intentions of immigrating – even when he goes to visit them, he always makes sure he is not away for more than 3 weeks. The reason? Because of his work at TVB: “Whatever TVB asks me to film, I agree to it, even if sometimes I don’t feel like it. There have been times where I ‘reluctantly’ take on a filming project…why do I say ‘reluctantly’? Because sometimes they ask me to do a cameo role that doesn’t have much screentime – I like participating in entire filming projects whenever possible.”

With a career spanning 60 years, Sau Gor has participated in countless movies and TV series. When asked which movie or series he is the most proud of, Sau Gor admits that it gives him a headache just thinking about it, as he participated in so many that it’s difficult for him to remember them all: “In the series The Final Verdict《誓不低頭》(1988), I played an honest and upright lawyer – many people say that was my most representative work – I feel it was pretty good.” Recently, in the movie Overheard 2 《竊聽風雲2》, Sau Gor got the chance once again to act alongside his good friend [and The Final Verdict co-star] Kenneth Tsang (曾江) – his only ‘complaint’ about that performance was that he had “too little screentime…more would have been better!” It’s obvious that Sau Gor never gets tired of acting and his passion for the craft is still very strong.


The forefather of the ‘underground’ relationship

Wu Fung’s real name is Wu Gai Sau (胡繼修) [TN: hence, everyone calls him ‘Sau Gor’] – his father was a renown antiques inspector, so at the age of 21, he arranged for Sau Gor to work at an uncle’s antiques shop. However, Sau Gor had no interest in antiques whatsoever and didn’t want to waste his life in such a dull job. One time, when he was serving as the best man at a friend’s wedding, many people praised how handsome he looked in a tuxedo, commenting that he looked “more handsome than many celebrities out there”. This ‘accolade’ ended up changing his life forever….one day, he came across a production company’s ad recruiting actors to join their company – he applied right away.

“Perhaps I was born to be in this industry! I have a stuttering ailment in real life, yet as soon as I’m in front of the camera, the dialogue flows out smoothly and fluently for some reason.”

Sau Gor joined the entertainment industry in 1953. In his very first film A Man’s Heart《男人心》, he was already cast as the male lead, starring opposite popular actress Fong Yim Fen (芳艷芬) – with his trademark dimples and good looks, he captured the hearts of many young female audiences and soon, the fan letters started pouring in.

Shortly thereafter, he got the chance to collaborate with many of the ‘Ah Jie’ level fa dans at the time – Patricia Lam (林鳳), Bai Yan (白燕), Tang Bik Wan (鄧碧雲), Nam Hung (南紅), etc. – most of whom brought along their housekeepers and chauffeurs to take care of them while they worked. Sau Gor was never put off by this ‘grandeur’ and instead, continued to work hard – even Bak Suet Seen, who had notoriously high standards, would continually praise his performances.

In the late 1960s, musicals became very popular and actresses such as Josephine Hsiao and Connie Chan (陳寶珠) rose to fame – formerly, as child stars, Josephine and Connie had played Sau Gor’s daughters, but now as adults, they became his ‘love interest’ in many popular musicals focused on singing and dancing. From that period on, Sau Gor earned a nickname that has stuck with him for decades – ‘Dance King Sau’.

Sau Gor married at the age of 24 – his wife was his first girlfriend and they had started dating even before he entered showbiz. At the time he decided to marry, he was a popular siu sang and so it was not recommended to marry so early, however his 90 year old grandmother wanted great-grandchildren, so he obliged. His boss at the production company he worked for didn’t want him to publicize his marriage and at that time, there was no such thing as the ‘paparazzi’, so Sau Gor and his wife married in a low-key, private ceremony – it can be said that he was part of the first generation of celebrities who ‘secretly’ married. It wasn’t until his kids were 5 to 6 years old that he publicly acknowledged his marriage and in 1995, they completed the ‘official’ registration process.

“The best thing about my wife is that she never gets jealous – she also prefers a low-key, ordinary life. She always tells me that whenever I do interviews with reporters, try not to talk about her if it can be avoided. She is very easy to get along with and our relationship is a comfortable one.” With the blink of eye, Sau Gor and his wife have been together for more than 50 years.


Healthy walking and jogging

Sau Gor is a huge advocate of leading by example and all these years, that is what he has taught his children and grandchildren. He sets the example by maintaining a stable and steady style of living and discouraging the pursuit of greed and vanity. He prides himself in the fact that none of his children or grandchildren have the desire to be celebrities or enter the world of showbiz.

“I’ve always been the ‘steady’ type; even back when I earned decent money with my acting career, I never had the desire to invest in a business or become an entrepreneur – my focus was on being a good actor. Even though I once opened my own production company, the whole purpose was to make it easier to further my acting career – when there were no more movies to make, there was no point maintaining it. My children are the same way – they are ordinary workers with steady jobs and regular income and when they earn a little more money, they might make some small investments, but nothing major. It’s best to live a simple life.”

When his kids were small, Sau Gor was busy with filming, so he did not get the chance to spend as much time with them as he wanted. Now that they are all grown up and he is getting older himself, he hopes to spend more time with them to ‘make up’ for the lost time in childhood. Therefore, whenever there’s free time, he and his wife fly overseas to visit their children and grandchildren.

At 80 years old, Sau Gor is still strong and healthy as well as very lively and active. He reveals that his ‘secret trick’ is walking – every chance he gets, he walks. At home, he walks along the walls of his living room, at work, he does slow pacing in the dressing room and studio while waiting to shoot his scenes, and before he goes to sleep, he walks a few circles around the bed. Basically, just walk slowly and relaxingly at every opportunity – over the years, this has slowly become a ‘habit’ for Sau Gor, one that he has been able to maintain for several decades.

“I also maintain a healthy diet – I try not to eat greasy foods and at home, we try to cook light dishes whenever possible. Also, avoid eating foods that are high in cholesterol.” His method of healthy living is already so ingrained in his mind that he does not need his children to remind him – it comes naturally to him now.

To prepare for his concert, he has also taken on jogging to practice his stamina – he usually jogs near his home, for about 10 to 20 minutes at a time, in the hopes that when he gets on stage, he won’t be out of breath.


2-2-2-2-0 [Twenty]

Even though Sau Gor’s stuttering was still apparent during the interview and at times, he had to break up his sentences into multiple parts, it’s obvious that he does not like to speak superfluously – each time, he would get to the point right away. He also does not like to dwell on the past and instead prefers to finish what he wants to say quickly and effectively.

After the interview, as Sau Gor got ready to leave, our reporter let him know that the pictures from the interview will be given to him after they’re developed. Then, after saying goodbye, Sau Gor headed up Waterloo Road toward his home – though the road was a bit slanted, that did not prevent him from walking quickly and steadily. As the sign at his party inferred, Sau Gor is still ‘young at heart’ -- his manner is indeed similar to that of a [2-2-2-0 year old] lad.

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