Thursday, September 20, 2012

Interview: This is ‘So Gay’: Koo Ming Wah’s difficult 18 year career journey

I'm currently watching the TVB series Divas in Distress (巴不得媽媽) -- well, too be specific, 'kind of watching' is the more appropriate way to put it, since I've pretty much been forwarding through most of the episodes due to not liking some of the cast and also parts of the storyline. 

Not planning on commenting much about the series itself, since I technically didn't even watch majority of it, but there are a few characters that I actually like from the series -- one of them is the character of 'So Gay' played by veteran actor Koo Ming Wah (古明華). 

Ok, I'm sure most people probably never even heard of Koo Ming Wah prior to this series -- for me personally though, I've known of him since the 90s, as I remember that he had some pretty good roles back then, even though the roles were small and mostly insignificant (yet he was able to leave an impression, at least on me).  I really started paying more attention to Koo Ming Wah after Gun Metal Grey, since I really enjoyed that series and his performance in there was quite good.  Actually, even back in the 90s, his acting was already very good, it's just that he never had much luck in terms of his career, as he was almost always relegated to playing minor characters (and he's been at TVB for 18 years already!).  This is why I'm glad that Koo Lo (as most people call him) is finally getting recognition for his acting -- IT'S ABOUT TIME!!!  I'm very happy for him and definitely hope that TVB will give him better roles in the future!

By the way....Koo Ming Wah did 6 interviews with various Media outlets recently and after reading all of them, I chose to translate this particular one from East Week Magazine (primarily because it's the most detailed one and also the most moving) .  It's a very touching interview and after reading it, my respect for Koo Ming Wah definitely went up several notches -- the part where he talks about his mother and his daughter really got me teary-eyed!  From these interviews, it's obvious that Koo Ming Wah is a good man!  I wish him the best of luck!


This is ‘So Gay’:  Koo Ming Wah’s difficult 18 year career journey
Translation:  llwy12
TVB’s currently airing drama series  Divas in Distress巴不得媽媽caused beauty pageant winner Eliza Sam (岑麗香) to become the new ‘Golden [Discussion Forum] Goddess’, but at the same time, it also brought about unexpected popularity for veteran actor Koo Ming Wah (古明華) [known as ‘Koo Lo’ (古佬) to his friends and colleagues], who plays the effeminate character ‘So Gay’ (蘇基) in the series.  Since the series aired, Koo Lo has garnered tremendous praise for his performance, with netizens creating a ‘One Person One Like – Support So Gay for an Award’ Facebook page, showing their support for him to win in either the ‘Most Improved Actor’ or ‘Best Supporting Actor’ categories at the TVB Anniversary Awards this year.  Within a matter of days, the Facebook page received over 60,000 ‘Like’ votes and over 900 comments praising Koo Lo’s performance – despite becoming an ‘overnight sensation’, the 48 year old actor reveals that he’s not sure how to react to the sudden popularity.
Take today’s interview for instance – when we asked him to do the photo shoot portion of the interview in his ‘So Gay’ persona, Koo Lo willingly obliged.   As he prepared for the interview, he bumped into various colleagues at TVB City, all of whom greeted him affectionately, loudly yelling out: “Gay Gay!” [his nickname in the series] or telling him: “So Gay!  Support you all the way!” – some of his colleagues even requested to take pictures with him!   Towards all of this, Koo Lo responds with a shy grin:  “Thank you, thank you!”
Asked about the success of the character ‘So Gay’, Koo Lo grins sheepishly and states:  “I never imagined the character would become so popular!  Re-watching my performance, I feel that there are still many areas where I could have done better.  Back when we were filming the series, the behind-the-scenes crew would tell me:  ‘Wow, this character will definitely become a hit!’ but I would respond back with: ‘Oh, stop being crazy!  You guys always say that with all of my performances!  Tell me, which performance have you not said would be a hit?’   Hahaha!  Actually, many behind-the-scenes crew contributed to the success of the character ‘So Gay’ – but of course, I have to thank the series producer Tak Gor (Poon Ka Tak 潘嘉德) for being brave enough to cast me in the role!  If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have so many supporters now and wouldn’t be able to understand how wonderful this feeling of ‘perplexity’ [over the sudden popularity] truly is!  But, to be honest, this moment could very well be a temporary thing that will eventually come to pass.”
See, this is how ‘So Gay’ is like in real life!
The past 18 years
After the photo shoot, Koo Ming Wah stepped out of his ‘So Gay’ persona and went back to being ‘Koo Lo’ – the difference in his appearance was significant, as his looks instantly returned to being ‘scruffy-looking’ without a single trace of  the character’s ‘effeminate nature’ about him.  Koo Lo states:  “When Tak Gor first suggested me for the role of ‘So Gay’, there were people who doubted his decision, but he simply stated: ‘He can do it!  Koo Ming Wah can do it!’  With that, he gave me the role!   The mutual trust that we have in each other, to be honest, it would probably never happen with any other producer!  Actually, the role I had in the series Street Fighters 《廟街.媽.兄弟》[aired in the year 2000] was also pretty significant and had a lot of screen time – that series was also produced by Tak Gor.  So going from being a ‘nobody’ to being recognized now, I am really very grateful to him!”
In 1993, Koo Ming Wah earned a ‘Best Newcomer’ nomination at that year’s Hong Kong Film Awards (HKFA) for his performance in the film Sex Racecourse《旺角馬場》.  Even though he didn’t win the award [TN:  he lost to future HKFA Best Actress winner Anita Yuen], he did capture the attention of TVB and not long afterwards, he was recruited to join the TV station.  In the 18 years since then, Koo Lo has participated in more than 40 TV series (he had to look up the info in Wikipedia to confirm):  “Counting through the series – The Driving Power非常外父, Ten Brothers 十兄弟, The Wintermelon Tale大冬瓜, Street Fighters, etc. – if you ask me how many series I was truly happy filming, there are probably less than 8 altogether!  And that’s over a period of 18 years!”
From our calculation, the reason for Koo Lo’s ‘dispirited’ feeling was probably because the majority of the roles he played in those 18 years were either insignificant villain characters such as a rapist, murderer, criminal, debt collector, etc. or if he happened to play a ‘good’ guy, he was usually a one of a group of workers at a café or perhaps even a street vendor.  There were times when the characters he played didn’t even have a name and his status was even less than that of a 4th or 5th line actor:  “Actually, throughout these 18 years, the time I spent NOT working was even greater than the time spent filming!  If we talk about time spent actually filming something, I would say it was only about 100 days out of the year – so pretty much I only spent a third of the year filming!”
Koo Lo continues:  “I’ve never been disappointed about not getting to be male lead – all I hope for is that the characters I play can have a little bit more to do.  For example, in the series Gun Metal Grey刑警, I played the role of a veteran cop – with that role, I was already very happy that I was able to find myself in that character and in that performance!  Because I truly truly love acting!”
Path to becoming a voice actor
Luckily, Koo Lo still had his job as a voice actor to help him make a living.  As a voice actor, Koo Lo participated in the Cantonese-language dubbing process for foreign films such as Puss In Boots, Toy Story 3, Shrek 2, Transformers:  Revenge of the Fallen, Three Kingdoms, etc.:   “Prior to joining TVB, I worked at the HK Repertory Theatre – one day, Ting Yu (丁羽) [renown veteran voice artist] came to visit and said that he was looking for some ‘new voices’ – just like that, I became part of the theatrical group and from that point on, I would film series as well as do voice work on the side.”
Two years prior to accepting the role for Divas In Distress, Koo Ming Wah had actually already made the decision to transfer to the voice acting department at TVB and not film series anymore:  “To be very honest, the first 2 years after I joined TVB, I felt happy because everything was so new and fresh, but then 5 years went by, then 10, then 15 and I started to see creativity becoming more and more limited – I started feeling that my ‘fighting spirit’ was slowly diminishing, so I thought perhaps it was the time for a change.”
Koo Lo continues:  “But then prior to switching over, I got the chance to film Gun Metal Grey and work with actors such as Felix Wong (黃日華), Michael Miu (苗僑偉), Vincent Wong (王浩信), Oscar Leung (梁烈唯), etc. – seeing them have such passion and heart for acting, it immediately reminded me that in actuality, the company didn’t really change and such actors were always present, it’s just that my attitude toward acting had changed.  After switching to the voice acting department, I swore to myself that I would take my work and life more seriously going forward – as a result, I was able to learn a lot more about acting, since I had to watch a lot of films for my job in voice acting.  Then, at the beginning of this year, Tak Gor challenged me to take on the role of ‘So Gay’."
The youthful HKAPA days
Koo Ming Wah graduated from the HK Academy of Performing Arts (HKAPA) in 1990.  He revealed that back in the day, he decided to apply to the HKAPA because of his friend, comedian / actor Tat Ming Cheung (張達明):  “Tat Ming and I were classmates in primary school and high school, so we were really good friends.  After graduating, he continued with his studies, whereas I went to work at my brother’s factory as a machine operator.  Not sure what triggered it, but one day, all of a sudden, he came over and asked me if I was interested in joining a theater company with him – just like that, we ended up joining [veteran actress] Law Koon Lan’s (羅冠蘭) theater troupe.”
“Later on, we found out about a place called the HK Academy of Performing Arts, so Law Koon Lan suggested that we try to apply.  Since my factory job at that time was extremely boring and I wanted a change in environment, I decided to go with Tat Ming to apply.   Only Tat Ming was accepted the first year  -- I tried applying again the second year and finally got in.”
Koo Lo emphasized that the 4 years he spent studying at the HKAPA were the happiest years of his life:  “If I didn’t have those 4 years, it definitely would have been regrettable!  Since grants and loans were available back then to help with schooling, seven of my male classmates and I pooled some money together to rent a house in Sheung Wan to serve as a dormitory  -- with 8 guys going to school and hanging out together day and night, imagine the fun we had!  Haha!”  [Koo Lo’s 7 male classmates included Sunny Chan (陳錦鴻), Emotion Cheung (張錦程), Tat Ming Cheung (張達明), Joey Leung (梁榮忠), Chung Chi Wing (鍾志榮), Desmond Tang (鄧偉傑)].
Koo Lo continued:  “After we got off from school, we would all hang out at the house and review through the stuff we learned or sometimes just sit around and chat.  Of course, we had fun outside of school too, eating and drinking, hanging out with other friends, partying, etc.  Haha!  The school environment was very nice too  -- the buildings were clean and pretty, there were a lot of glass windows with a view of the harbor, pretty girls dancing upstairs [TN: referring to the dance department at the HKAPA]…haha!  Those few years, we didn’t have any burdens and could do pretty much anything we wanted (except for illegal stuff and things that might embarrass our families).  That was definitely the ‘good life’…haha!  It was also during those 4 years that I got the chance to really study acting and explore it in depth – because prior to that, I didn’t feel that I had any talent for performing at all!”
A mother’s love for her child
Aside from Tat Ming Cheung encouraging him, Koo Lo also decided to go into acting because  of something his mother said to him:  “At that time, I asked my family: ‘If I wanted to go back to school, would that be okay?’  The reality is that back then, my family would not be able to support me financially, since our family was big and only my dad was working – therefore, when I asked the question, my dad did not give an opinion, since he knew he would not be able to support me…however….” (Koo Lo’s eyes start to tear up)  “…my mom took the matter to heart…” (the tears slowly start to flow) “…my mom told me: ‘Little brother [his nickname as a child] – life is short!  If going back to school is what you want to do, then go ahead and do it!  Mom will support you no matter what!’” (at this point during the interview, Koo Lo could no longer hold back the flow of tears and sobs silently).
After regaining his composure, Koo Lo continued:  “Those words from my mom gave me tremendous strength and energy!  It completely changed my life!”
Growing up as the 5th of a total of 6 children, Koo Lo’s family lived in a small house in Ngau Tou Kwok.  During the day, the place where they lived was a manufacturing center for wicker chairs and at night it become the place where they ate and slept:  “My dad was the only breadwinner in the family.  Every morning, my mom would make porridge and some eggs and that would be our breakfast – once a month, we’d get the chance to go out to the city and have a bowl of noodles.  A lot of times, we would help boil water for the workers making the chairs so they could take a bath, then after they finished eating dinner, we would help clean the tables – after they got off work, we would help clean up the place…life was pretty difficult back then!”
Out of the 6 children, Koo Lo was the one who had the closest relationship with his mother:  “My mom and I were very close!  That’s because as a kid and even when I was growing up, she never had to worry about me – at school, I always made sure that I was on my best behavior and never did anything that could get me in trouble.  Even though my mom never went through much education, she was a very reasonable and understanding woman who loved all her children dearly – she sacrificed a lot and invested all her time and energy in raising us to be good people.  She is a model mother!”
Two years ago, Koo Lo’s mother passed away:  “She had diabetes as well as heart problems...she went into the hospital one day, but the doctors weren’t able to save her….”  As Koo Lo recounted his mother’s passing, tears once again flowed down his face:  “…but the benevolence and love that both she and my dad showed to us children really impacted me greatly and helped me understand what type of parent I should be in the future!”
This is truly what we call ‘teaching with love’!
He is willing to die for her…
Koo Ming Wah is married and has a 14 year old daughter named Tammi:  “I met my wife back during my Acting Academy days – she was in the dance school (specializing in Chinese dance) and I was in the drama school.  We dated for 8 years and this year, we will be married for 16 years already.”
After his wife graduated from the HKAPA, she became a freelance dancer – unfortunately, not long after they married, his wife got into a car accident that caused permanent injury to her leg and ended her dancing career:  “After that, she became a ‘lazy bug’ – even when I told her to go out and work, she wouldn’t do it!  Haha!” (He pretends to be upset.)
As for his daughter Tammi:  “Hahaha!  She is very independent!  Her classmates know that I am her dad, but they’ve never bothered her about getting celebrity pictures or autographs – but even if they do, she always handles the matter very calmly, though it could also be that I’m just not popular enough! Ha!”
Koo Lo continues:  “The great love that my mom showed me definitely affected the love I have for my daughter!  When my daughter was born, she had difficulty coughing up the spittle in her throat and I thought to myself:  ‘can I cough it up for her instead?’  Her health is not very good and even when she was a child, she would constantly get sick – she also has asthma as well as kidney problems.  Sometimes when I see her getting really sick, I get scared that she might not be able to make it through and worry that she might leave us – each time, I pray to God and ask him to take my life instead!  It’s true!  If you ask me who I would be willing to die for…my wife – no, but my daughter – absolutely!”
Seeing Koo Lo’s eyes start to well up with tears again, I [the reporter] couldn’t help also feeling a knot in my throat.


  1. Wow I never knew Koo Ming Wah and Sunny were from the same year of HK Academy of Performing Arts! Their schools years sounded like alot of fun. Both of them are such great fathers. It's really surprising how his role got so popular! I wasn't even watching this series but when I read the news of "So Gay" I quickly started watching. Most people said they watched it for So Gay, Mandy, and Him Lam's characters.

    In a way maybe working more in voice actor allow Koo Ming Wah to find another side of him for acting. I just started watching but it's so refreshing to see him in such a feminine role for once rather than the usual rugged roles.

    1. @sport3888: Yea, I also didn't know that Koo Ming Wah and Sunny were classmates and also such close friends. In one of the other interviews, there was actually a picture of them hanging out during a month long trip that they took together....Sunny didn't look too different, but Koo Ming Wah looked so thin! LOL!

      I didn't know very much about Koo Ming Wah either until after I read the interviews (even though I already knew that he was a great actor even since the 90s). He's definitely a good man -- great father, great husband, great son! I have the utmost respect and admiration for him now after finding out about his difficult life and how much he had to endure -- makes me all the happier that he is finally able to taste success now!

      And yes, most people are watching DID because of Koo Ming Wah's So Gay and also because of Him and Mandy....though for me personally, I'm already sick of the Him / Mandy relationship in the series (way too draggy and torturous....hate those types of relationships!). I basically continued watching because of So Gay and also because I like the King Sir / Mimi Chu storyline....I've been pretty much forwarding through the rest of the series (especially all the Chin Kar Lok / Eliza Sam scenes -- eeekkkk!).

      That's so true -- up to this point, the image I've always had of Koo Ming Wah is that 'rugged, scruffy-looking' guy who is good at playing villains because he actually looks like one (haha!). Never did I imagine that he would be able to play such an effeminate character so well -- not only that, he did it in a way that comes off very natural and likable (meaning that it doesn't look fake or awkward). No wonder so many people like the character and praise his acting!

  2. Yes they play the effeminate character naturally and didn't come off as forced or weird. He's so funny and his character is so kind. When Him makes Mandy angry the way So Gay would nicely console/say sorry to her was really cute. Yea I find myself forward most of the scenes except these three. Also I just can't stand the continuous song playing in the background. At one point I was wondering whether I was watching a music movie instead! OMG and is TVB really that cheap? I don't know who they got to resing those English songs but the accent and singing is just horrible! It's actually more annoying than enhancing the storyline! Why didn't they just use the original songs, it would've been alot better.

    1. Seriously this would've been alot better if TVB just made it an idol series with Him, Mandy, and Koo Ming Wah. The family feud and other supporting characters are so boring.

      This is an extremely good example of what Rick Wong described as stir-fry mixture that TVB keeps serving their audience! Why can't they be more professional like other countries such as US and Japan? When it's a love story then just focus on that, if it's medical drama, police drama, etc just focus on that rather than all these dinner scenes and what not that does do anything for the storyline.

    2. also I heard the Him and Mandy storyline seemed to have copied Taiwan drama. If so I'm not surprised. Except take it for TVB to make a worst version of the things they copy.

    3. @sport3888: Haha...I was waiting for someone to say something about the songs! Well, guess who sings those English songs used in the series? Yup, the singers from The Voice! Brian Tse sings "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" and King Lam (the guy that was in The Hippocratic Crush) and Stephanie Ho sing the duet (I think it's called "Separate Lives"). As for why TVB had their own people re-sing the songs instead of using the originals -- easy...cuz TVB is cheap like you said, but the other (main) reason is because they want to promote their own singers...

    4. @sport3888: Yup..that's the typical TVB formula. It's because their goal (even after all these years) is to cater to 'housewives' and they feel that's what most housewives want to see. In fact, I was just reading a particular issue of TVB Weekly Magazine today where they did an interview with one of TVB's top brass Au Wai Lam -- he even said himself that TVB's series are catered towards the 'general public' and what they want to see and that's why most of their series follow the same formula. Unfortunately, they assume that the 'general public' = 'housewives' (which to some extent was true back in the old days) -- only problem is that they don't seem to understand that the audience mix has changed...with the dawn of technology and the internet, the 'general public' audience for their series is no longer just the 'housewives', but yet they still continue to cater mostly to that group.

    5. @sport3888: Hmmm...I actually read (can't remember if it was in TVB Magazine or elsewhere) that the Him and Mandy storyline was meant to copy the Korean drama way of storytelling...not sure how true that is since I don't watch Korean dramas...but I do agree that even if that was their intention, TVB always manages to screw it up.