Monday, May 20, 2013

ND Daily Interview: Sheren Tang and Chow Yuk Ming speak out about the recent ‘controversy’ over ‘’Beauty at War’’

As promised, here’s the translated interview that both Sheren and Chow Yuk Ming did with a Mainland newspaper.  This particular interview / article actually came out last week (on May 15th to be exact), but due to its length, I didn’t get around to finishing the translation until now.  

I’m actually not going to comment too much on the interview, as I feel the article speaks for itself.  In the past few weeks, there has been much ‘controversy’ surrounding the series Beauty at War – some of the news reports have been positive, but majority of the time, it’s been negative.  And it doesn’t help that the ratings for the series is at an all-time low, which of course gives the HK Media the perfect opportunity to ‘sensationalize’ and stir up controversy about the series and its cast/crew.  Yes, of course I know that’s the way things work in the heavy ‘tabloid’ culture that is the HK entertainment world – but even so, I can’t help feeling sorry for the cast and crew who so far have all been ‘dragged through mud’ so to speak because of all the events and ‘controversies’ that have unfolded to this point.

This is why I chose to painstakingly translate this particular article from ND Daily.   Over the past few weeks, there have been dozens of articles published about the series, including interviews with cast and crew (with Sheren alone, there have been at least 7 or 8 interviews that I’ve read) – out of all those interviews so far, this one from ND Daily is the only one that I feel is truly worth reading because it’s the only one that gives ‘both sides of the story’ so to speak – meaning that it’s the only article out there (so far) that allowed both Sheren and Chow Yuk Ming to state their arguments and let the readers decide who they want to believe / side with.  What I appreciate most about the article is the format – basically, the reporter asks both Sheren and CYM similar questions and presents both their responses in a ‘side-by-side’ format.  To me, this is more fair than all the embellished, slanted reports that the HK Media have been pushing out (about this issue) up to this point.  I’ve read the ‘summary’ of the below interview that the various HK Media outlets did and will honestly say that none of those recaps do justice to the original interview (especially since none of them give the ‘whole picture’ and pretty much slant in one person’s favor).  As someone who has been ‘following’ the whole BAW fiasco from the beginning, I definitely appreciate reading this particular article, as it answered a lot of ‘questions’ that had been floating around in my head from the other reports.

Lastly, I do want to make one thing clear – my ‘position’ with regard to this whole issue is a neutral one.   After reading this article, I have a better understanding of where both sides (Sheren and CYM) are coming from and though there are things I both agree and disagree with from both sides, I appreciate the overall effort made to clarify things.   

To those who read this particular post:  to me, which side you support (Sheren or CYM) and for what reasons doesn’t really matter because I’m not here to try and ‘change’ your guys’ perspectives.  All I’m trying to do is present a more ‘fair’ account of the ‘story’ so those who care (or don’t care) can at least get both sides of the story.


Serious [Actress] vs Serious [Scriptwriter]:  Beauty at War’s ‘Serious’ Showdown
ND Daily’s face-to-face interview with Beauty At War’s lead actress Sheren Tang and scriptwriter Chow Yuk Ming

Source:  ND Daily News

Article originally published May 15th, 2013

Nine years ago, TVB series War and Beauty (金枝欲孽) caused a huge sensation in Hong Kong.  With its clever method of utilizing the inner palace struggles of Imperial times to reflect the daily struggles of modern society, well-developed characters constantly in conflict with one another, and brilliant dialogue, the series not only soared to popularity almost instantly, it also stirred up a subsequent popular ‘craze’ for ‘palace-fighting’ drama series. 

With such huge popularity of the first installment, it came as no surprise that now, 9 years later, the expectations for the series’ sequel Beauty at War (金枝欲孽2) would be high – to the point that the sequel was expected to be one of 2013’s most anticipated and acclaimed series.  Unfortunately though, currently in its 3rd week of broadcast, Beauty at War has not been able to generate the same critical acclaim and widespread acceptance from audiences that its predecessor did.  Instead, the series has been plagued by seemingly endless criticisms and complaints, with ‘controversies’ surrounding such topics as the series being ‘too artistic’, ‘difficult to understand’, ‘miserably low ratings’, ‘zero script’ etc.  – definitely a far cry from the positive reception of the first installment!   In a further ‘blow’, the ratings for the series recently reached a ‘record’ low of 18 points, sparking further criticism as well as heated on-line discussions on the ‘cause’ of the poor ratings.

Recently, Beauty at War’s ‘Consort Yu’ -- lead actress Sheren Tang (鄧萃) – spoke out about the controversy surrounding the series.  Known for taking her work very seriously and always one to speak her mind on challenges related to her profession, Sheren strongly criticized the filming methods on the set of Beauty at War, with the brunt of the criticism directed at the series’ scriptwriter Chow Yuk Ming (周旭明) due to his ‘habit’ of providing ‘on-the-fly’ scripts.

Last week, ND Daily’s reporter sat down with both Sheren and scriptwriter Chow (on separate occasions) to discuss with them face-to-face their ‘take’ on Beauty at War and why the series failed to resonate with audiences.  With Sheren being a ‘serious’ actress [one who takes her acting profession very seriously] and Chow Yuk Ming being a ‘serious’ scriptwriter [one who is very meticulous about his writing], this became a ‘showdown’ of the ‘serious’.  During the interview, both Sheren and scriptwriter Chow revealed many behind-the-scenes ‘stories’ related to filming the sequel, including the trials and tribulations they encountered as well as their original hopes and expectations toward the series.

ND = ND Daily’s Reporter
ST = Sheren Tang
YM = Chow Yuk Ming


Showdown’--  Creative Process:  Was the fault due to ‘zero script’??

[Sheren gives her perspective….]

ND:  Why the ‘high profile’ criticism of the ‘zero script’?

ST:   When I filmed this series, I was very unhappy and it was primarily due to the lack of a completed script.  I developed mood disorder and at the time, the illness was so severe to the point that I could fall apart and collapse any minute.  I felt like a rubber band being stretched to its limit, on the verge of breaking – the health issue was very serious.  At the time, I was in a lot of pain, my skin was discolored and even some of my hair was falling out – it’s just that none of that was visible because of the makeup (I really need to thank my makeup artist!).  But after the makeup was removed, the skin on my face was a blackish-reddish color, very different from the color of the skin on my neck -- I was suffering and it felt like my whole body was being tossed around in a black hole…it definitely freaked me out!   Since everyone is asking what the problem is with this series, I bring up what I feel is a very important issue based on my professional standards – from the perspective of a ‘drama fanatic’ like myself who has been in the acting profession for many years, I can very honestly say that if there is ‘no script’ while filming, sorry, but that’s a huge problem!

Actually, 9 years ago, during the filming of War and Beauty, I had also expressed the same dissatisfaction [with lack of complete script] – in fact, at the time, I had also expressed that the ‘flying paper’ [on-the-fly’ script] method was too painful and I even cried over it, but no one really paid attention to me.  Then, when War and Beauty aired, it was so well-received and there was such overwhelming praise for the series that if I had [publicly] mentioned at that time that I felt the ‘flying paper’ method was problematic, would anyone have believed me?  I’m not the type of person who says one thing to one person and a different thing to someone else – it’s just that to me, the success from last time [popularity from War and Beauty] was basically luck.  This time around though [with the sequel], as everyone starts reflecting on what problems occurred with the series, I could no longer bury my conscience and say that there were no problems.  If I say that I am bringing up this issue because it is a problem industry-wide that all of us need to reflect upon and review, then maybe people will feel it’s more believable?

ND:  Is it because the ratings [for the series] are at a record low of 19 points right now, so you’re angry to the point of lashing out?

ST:  I’ve never been one to care about ratings, so it doesn’t make sense for me to speak out just because the ratings are low.  Back then, War and Beauty had received high ratings, but I didn’t feel it was due to my performance alone – in fact, I stated that my performance just met the standard and it was really the combination of the producer’s editing as well as the well-written dialogue by the scriptwriter that gave the overall performance bonus points.  I feel that this time around, the main reason why my performance of ‘Consort Yu’ wasn’t as good as the previous one was because last time, I received 20 episodes of the script’s rough draft in advance whereas this time, it was ‘zero’ script.

ND:  How did the ‘zero script’ situation directly harm your performance?

ST:  At the time when my illness [mood disorder] occurred, [scriptwriter Chow] Yuk Ming did make the effort to give me the script [for the upcoming scenes] a little earlier, but at night, I was busy filming, so the only opportunity for me to review the script was in the early morning hours, right after filming wrapped.  However, there were some nights where I had nothing to film at all because I was waiting around for the script – the entire time, I would be worrying about how much dialogue there’d be in that particular scene, whether I’d be able to comprehend it, digest it, whether there’d be time to make changes – plus with all the classical language, not sure if there would be time to check the dictionary if needed.  Acting isn’t just about reading out the dialogue, it’s necessary to understand it and then figure out the best way to express it – this process requires a lot of time to study and digest, but with this method [on-the-fly script], there isn’t enough time.  I’m not the only one who had to endure this difficulty [‘zero script’] – the rest of the cast had to go through it as well, so I feel that it’s necessary to be forthcoming about this.  I’ve been in the industry close to 30 years already – I have a huge passion for acting and also have a huge amount of respect for those who work in the field of the arts.  At my level, I cannot allow myself to be the type of actress who merely looks up words in a dictionary and recites the dialogue without regard for anything else – unfortunately though, when filming Beauty at War, I had no choice but to do just that [recite dialogue without studying / digesting it] .   I felt helpless and my mood at the time was very miserable.

ND:   If the person writing the script is a little late in delivering the final product, perhaps he is just trying to strive for perfection.  If that’s the case, you still feel it’s ‘unforgivable’?

ST:  Back when we filmed War and Beauty, Yuk Ming also did the ‘flying paper’ thing, but the difference is that he already had a rough draft of 20 episodes ready for us, including dialogue – sure, later on he ended up changing all the dialogue, but at least I already had a framework to study and work from….this actually makes a huge difference!   By not giving us [actors/actresses] the chance to study and prepare for our roles [due to the on-the-fly scripts], he [the scriptwriter] is essentially strangling our creativity -- to me, this is very selfish behavior.  Yes, my criticism is directed toward Yuk Ming [BAW’s scriptwriter] and my hope is that he will reflect upon this.

ND:  Others feel that as long as the script is unique and creative, they are willing to accept the idea of on-the-fly scripts.  So why is it that you’re the only one criticizing?

ST:   Everyone has a different way of looking at things.  Sure, I can understand that others may feel this script is particularly outstanding and has its own style so they would rather endure not having a script than to give up on such an opportunity.  And I know that not everyone is as ‘foolish’ as me…after all, receiving the script late isn’t really my issue [as an actress] – if I receive the script late, then just do the best I can given the circumstances.  So why is it that I chose to take such a strong stance on this issue?  Because I feel that I have to uphold my professionalism as an actress and speak up on behalf of the acting profession as a whole – others may feel that [the ‘flying paper’ method] is perfectly fine and just let things slide, but I can’t.  As an actress, I also have my creative side – Yuk Ming may feel that he is just trying to put forth his ‘best’ work [TN:  hence the constant writing/re-writing that causes the script to be delayed] – I understand that, but what about my ‘best’?  Should my professionalism as an actress be destroyed in his hands?   When it comes to my profession [acting], I have certain responsibilities too – it’s unfair to disregard our efforts as actors/actresses;  just because he has the talent, doesn’t mean that everyone should just tolerate it and accommodate him.  I need to be accountable to the audiences who watch my performance as well as to my own professionalism as an actress!

[Scriptwriter Chow Yuk Ming gives his perspective….]

ND:  Why was there ‘zero script’?  Why the constant delay in providing completed scripts?  What are your thoughts on Sheren’s criticism?

YM:  Writers usually have such a habit – whether  it’s journalists, novelists, TV scriptwriters, all have this bad habit.   My ‘bad habit’ is particularly severe – since I couldn’t change it [this habit] prior to turning 30, I guess I’ll be taking it to my grave. 

In terms of Sheren’s criticism, I’ll take this opportunity to respond.  Usually, I’ll have the script to Sheren 2 days in advance of filming, though there have been times when I couldn’t get it to her until the night before (not a lot though).   Perhaps Sheren forgot, so I will try to refresh her memory…actually, the ‘on-the-fly- script situation was worse during the filming of War and Beauty – I admit this and no one should have to speak on my behalf. 

Back during the time when I wrote the script for The Criminal Investigator (O記實) [in 1995], I already had the habit of editing my scripts on-the-fly – in fact, I did it to the point that Felix Wong (黃日) [TN: lead actor in the series] really hated me for it.  Of course I know that it’s frustrating for the cast and crew, but unfortunately, all these years, I haven’t been able to change it.  Actually though, these past two years I’ve done less of it and when I do, I try to do it earlier.  It’s true that I’m not able to give the cast a complete script in a timely manner, but I do provide a complete scene summary as well as rough draft to everyone.  The rough draft wasn’t written by a newbie scriptwriter [TN: as is often the habit in the industry] – it was handled in a serious manner and edits were made where necessary.  Each person in the cast was very clear on what their role would be, it’s just that they couldn’t study or prepare the dialogue because they had to wait for me to write it.  To be honest though, in comparisons to past series, I already did the least amount of on-the-fly editing with Beauty at War.

Sometimes I would feel pessimistic and the thought would come into my mind:  when a ship is about to sink, there will always be people who’d rather play mouse and try to escape first – this is truly the feeling I got this time around.  But when I look internally, I know that I can’t deflect blame either because I truly do have this bad habit – doesn’t matter how much or how little I do it – it’s still an issue and it negatively impacts the cast. 

I actually already knew a long time ago that Sheren always requests to have the script early, so I prioritize and always try to get her the script earlier than everyone else.  Why haven’t the other artists said anything?   She describes it as only herself speaking out and everyone else kept quiet, which makes it sound like the others are just putting up with it and indulging my bad habit – that’s unfair to the other artists.  They [the cast] are all aware of my bad habit, as [producer] Jonathan Chik (戚其) puts in a lot of effort to clearly communicate with the cast ahead of time in the hopes of minimizing the negative impact of getting the script late.  Some artists that we’ve worked with for many years – Moses Chan (陈豪) and Ada Choi (蔡少芬) for example – understand this and don’t have a problem with it.  However, just because they are used to it doesn’t mean it’s ok for me to do it – I recognize that I definitely have issues and I’ve truly been wasting the artists’ time.

ND:  The ratings recently plunged to 19 [now 18] points.  When you wrote this script, any idea that it would be unpopular?

YM:  We had already anticipated that the ratings definitely wouldn’t be as high as War and Beauty, but we didn’t expect that the ratings would be this low.  Also, the number of audiences who gave up on watching the series was more than we expected.  I know that we lost a lot of younger audiences as well as mothers and housewives – even my mom gave up on watching, as she’s always felt that the series I write aren’t that good.  Those still watching Beauty at War aren’t traditional audiences. 

My friends often tell me that they feel I’m a bit contemptuous and have somewhat of a ‘temper’ – I admit that I’m a willful person.   But one thing I’ve understood since back in the day when I was writing stage plays for theaters is that, as a writer, it’s impossible to not want to communicate with audiences.  If the audiences sitting there have no reaction and have no clue what you’re saying, it’s definitely not a good thing.  Of course I want to interact with audiences, but I’m not trying to do it in a highbrow manner. 

I truly believe [that the poor reception for BAW] isn’t because audiences ‘don’t understand’ the series, rather, they dislike the series and feel that it’s boring – to me, this is a different matter altogether.   It might sound ironic, but that’s the disadvantage of doing sequels.  Some people complained that the sequel totally ruined their good impression of the original War and Beauty – to be honest, I once regretted writing the sequel too, as I felt it was an arduous and thankless task.  But later on, when my mind had cleared a bit, I realized that it [writing the sequel] wasn’t necessarily a bad thing – at the very least, it allowed me to review my previous work (the original War and Beauty series) and come to the realization that [the series] wasn’t as ‘perfect’ as I had thought.  Audiences like watching all that palace fighting and scheming stuff, but it was all just a small part of the plot – it was pretty much just using certain techniques and tricks to ‘fool’ the audiences.  Basically, all of that wasn’t the main point of what I wanted to write – actually, my intended focus was more on ‘feelings’ and ‘relationships’.  With that said, I do understand that every person will have displaced memories of  even the most beautiful of things – this applies to audiences and to me as well.

I admit that the failure this time [poor reception of BAW] rests entirely on the script.  Perhaps it was written too pretentiously, the pace was too slow…and the complaints about on-the-fly editing – these are all facts.


Showdown’ -- Characters:  the success and failure of the ‘Consort Yu’ character

[Sheren gives her perspective….]

ND:  You said that you’re afraid to re-watch your performance [in Beauty at War].  Is it because you feel the performance as ‘Consort Yu’ wasn’t as good as last time?

ST:  Yes.  I feel I didn’t do a good enough job this time around and there were a lot of flaws.  For this performance, I did something that I don’t normally do – that is, I went into it without having the slightest idea how I should portray the character of ‘Consort Yu’ this time around.  I really wanted to portray the character well, but I was virtually clueless about the character – I didn’t know what type of person she was or what the purpose of her actions was.  In the past, I’m usually able to explain the characters I portray to reporters, but this time around, I don’t have a good grasp of the character.  To be honest, the ‘decision’ of how to portray this character wasn’t really in my hands – because of the problems I encountered with my body [the effects of the mood disorder], the ‘decision’ was really determined by my health situation at the time.

ND:  Overall, most audiences still aren’t able to accept the type of drama series where only selective audiences understand what is going on, such as with the series that Chow Yuk Ming writes.  Do you feel that Yuk Ming’s effort at ‘creativity’ this time around was a failure?

ST:  I wouldn’t use ‘success’ or ‘failure’ to describe it.  In my opinion, such a ‘lightly flavored’ drama as Beauty at War isn’t really suited for a TV series.  But of course, I understand that true creativity requires free expression of the arts, so it’s hard to be completely utilitarian – in order to be creative, one will need to take risks.  To be honest, I have no problem with portraying a gentle, weak  feminine character and actually am very glad to be given the chance to do so.  Of course I already knew going into it that this new ‘Consort Yu’ won’t ‘stand out’ like my characters in Rosy Business and No Regrets did, but that’s fine because it was a new challenge for me – after all, as an actress, I don’t want to continue playing the same types of roles all the time.  This is why I didn’t interfere at all with how Yuk Ming and Jonathan wanted to ‘design’ the character of Consort Yu for the sequel.  Instead, I told them that I already anticipated they wouldn’t repeat the same character traits from last time -- so basically I was fine with them doing the sequel differently.

[Scriptwriter Chow Yuk Ming gives his perspective….]

ND:  Sheren herself was a bit confused on whether this ‘different’ Consort Yu was the right direction to take.   For example – the character always seems to be praying to Buddha and it seems there is not enough ‘drama’ to her.  Sheren indicated that if she were to give the ‘old’ Consort Yu (from WAB) a score of 80 points, she would only give the ‘new’ Consort Yu (from BAW) a score of 50 points.

YM:  All I can say is that this time around, Consort Yu is a completely different character.  We had originally intended to give the audiences a little variety [by presenting a completely different Consort Yu], but didn’t really have confidence whether audiences would like it. 

To use the example of cooking – if you add seasonings to a dish, of course it’s going to taste good, but does that mean that you must add seasoning every single time you cook that dish?  If the seasoning was the only thing that made the dish taste good, then there’s no need for the chef to spend time specially preparing the dish.  In the industry, the ‘fast-food’ method of handling a series is common practice, but sometimes, it’s necessary to give a different ‘flavor’ and deviate from the norm a bit.  If I were to carry over the same Consort Yu from WAB into the sequel, a small group of audiences will probably complain about the lack of ‘creativity’, but majority of audiences definitely wouldn’t mind and probably would still tune in to watch.   From the beginning, I had already made it clear that I didn’t want to write about palace infighting again [hence the creation of a ‘softer, nicer’ Consort Yu], but it seems that the audiences’ wish was to see a ‘domineering’ Consort Yu similar to the original series – there’s nothing I can do about this.  To me, the Consort Yu from the first installment could pretty much be summed up in 2 sentences.

When it comes to sequels, our general practice [most TVB producers/scriptwriters] is to understand what audiences liked from the first installment and base the sequel off these elements in the hopes of meeting audiences’ expectations.  The Rosy Business franchise is a good example of this – audiences really loved Sheren’s Fourth Mistress in Rosy Business, so it makes sense that in the sequel, we would give audiences a similarly strong character in Cheng Gou Mui – this way, the audiences are happy.  Of course we [himself and Jonathan Chik] understand the ‘techniques’ that go into doing a sequel, but we just didn’t want to follow the ‘traditional’ model.  Instead, we chose to take a much riskier alternative route and very irresponsibly used the company’s money to do something that we knew wouldn’t reap much reward.  We also chose to use a more figurative, less traditional method of linking the sequel and its predecessor together.  It was definitely a gamble though – not a gamble of whether we would have luck on our side again or not, but rather, a gamble of whether audiences’ tastes would be more ‘open’ and be willing to accept such an unconventional series.  With the current poor ratings, I can’t blame the audiences for not being open-minded enough though – I admit that this time around, the way I handled things [the story and overall script] was definitely problematic.

ND:  Will Consort Yu’s character continue to be so insipid and ‘weak’ in the latter half of the series?  Or will there be a ‘change’ to the character down the road?

YM:  Consort Yu’s position is actually quite clear.  In the first series, she’s very smart and knows that there are certain things she wants in life, so she endlessly fights for what she wants and harms many people in the process.  In the sequel, she is still very smart, but the difference is that she doesn’t ‘want’ anything this time around, so there is less conflict, however, due to her high position [amongst the emperor’s concubines in the palace], she will always be a ‘target’ for others to attack.  Of course, Consort Yu isn’t going to remain ‘passive’ the entire series – as the story develops, she will go through some changes that make sense based on the situations that occur.  Personally, I didn’t want Consort Yu to go through changes in the latter part of the series, but I understand that at the end of the day, TV series are a form of entertainment, so it’s necessary to include some ‘twists and turns’ in the plot to keep audiences entertained.  There will certainly be some ‘twists and turns’ coming up in the plot, but it won’t be what audiences expect or are used to seeing.


Showdown’ – Audiences and TV Market:  What about the poor reception for BAW?

[Sheren gives her perspective….]

ND:  Do you agree with majority audience’s perspective that BAW is ‘not good’, ‘boring’, ‘hard to understand’?

ST:   If the audiences don’t ‘buy’ the series and aren’t willing to accept it, of course we have to admit it and take responsibility – but that doesn’t mean that I’m spurning the series.  I completely accept the fact that audiences don’t like BAW or don’t have the patience to watch the series – there’s nothing wrong with this, as everyone as their own interests and audiences have the right to not like a series.  I know that Chow Yuk Ming and Jonathan Chik have many die-hard fans, so there will always be audiences out there who appreciate their series.  For those who don’t like the series, it’s unfair to say that they just don’t understand it or don’t know how to appreciate it – the reality is, these types of things can’t be forced.  The series has definitely ignited some controversies with comments being both positive and negative – I feel that there are many good things about the series, but at the same time, there’s also definite room for improvement. 

ND:  Personally, what do you feel is the biggest problem with this series that has caused so many audiences to give up on it?

ST:  I feel that the biggest problem is with the script’s framework – the storyline is too choppy and scattered.   For example, there would be a few scenes talking about Consort Yu with her son [5th Prince] and just when audiences start to become engaged in the story, the next scene suddenly talks about a completely different character.  To be honest, when I was reading the script, this was also an area that confused me as well.  We have to understand that when most audiences watch series, they will naturally gravitate towards certain characters and become ‘attached’ to them on an emotional level – when you have a storyline that jumps back and forth too much between too many characters, it can be too exhaustive for audiences to follow.  I feel that if we truly care about the audiences, then it’s necessary to accept different feedbacks and opinions.  I don’t doubt Yuk Ming’s talent at all, but when there are concerns, I feel they should be raised.  Of course there’s a ‘fire’ in me – if not, I wouldn’t be the ‘lone dissenter’ and say such ‘unfavorable’ things.  It’s actually very simple – just like with the series itself, some people will like it and some people won’t!

[Scriptwriter Chow Yuk Ming gives his perspective….]

ND:  What do you feel was the most regrettable thing about Beauty at War?

YM:  Most regrettable is that we actually edited out a lot of stuff.  People often ask why our [Chow Yuk Ming/Jonathan Chik] series are so ‘confusing’ and ‘unclear’ -- it always seems as though too much is being ‘implied’ and nothing is explained clearly.  The reason is because of the editing.  We understand that the pace of the series may be too slow, so in our haste to adjust this, sometimes the editing decisions may not have been entirely thought out.  There’ve been times when we’d cut out entire segments because we were afraid those [segments] would drag down the pacing – as a result, certain parts of the storyline end up being ‘implied’ rather than drawn out with a clear explanation.

I actually have quite a deep affection for Beauty at War – for me, it’s a very personal thing.   As I told you guys previously, BAW is a love letter – it’s a very personal expression of my feelings and in a sense, it’s a bit egotistical.  I know very well which parts of the original War and Beauty series I loved most and which segments were most sentimental for me, so with the sequel, I’m actually ‘interacting’ with my own self from 9 years ago – it’s a gratifying experience, but at the same time, it’s a bit irresponsible.  This is why there will undoubtedly be a group of people out there who will love Beauty at War immensely, to the point of being irrational – the so-called ‘die-hard fans’.  I admit that treating BAW as a personal expression of my feelings wasn’t a rational way of handling this project at all – at the time, I was about to leave TVB and since this would be my final project, I put a lot more of my own personal feelings and emotions into the script than I should have.

ND:  In your opinion, why do you think so many audiences gave up on watching this series?

YM:  It’s similar to encountering a huge mountain in front of you and not wanting to climb it because it’s too difficult…in reality, the mountain is not as high as you think and there was never the need to climb it in the first place -- from the beginning, we had already decided to take a different route.  But of course, audiences will think: ‘Are you kidding me? You’re not giving me want I want!’  We took a risk and hoped that people wouldn’t abandon us, but we realize we guessed wrong – the number of people who gave up on us was way more than we expected.  I know that the series is a bit of a ‘niche’ series that fits the tastes of only a small group of audiences, but overall, I don’t feel that this is a ‘bad’ series.  Was the production hastily put together without a care?  No – we took this production more seriously than most other series.  Problem with the acting?  No – the actors and actresses all put more effort into this performance than they had in previous performances.   Then that means the fault lies with the script.  I admit that this is the case, so if someone needs to take the blame, then blame me.

ND:  Do you feel the series is a bit too ‘artistic’ with too many poetic elements to it, resulting in a lack of climactic plot that is necessary to push the pace steadily forward?   This is one area where audiences have expressed impatience with the series.

YM:  I understand…but the stuff that audiences want they are already able to get with other series such as The Legend of Zhen Huan (甄嬛传) and Bu Bu Jing Xing (步步惊心), for example, so why should I follow the same path?   From a creativity standpoint, there are many different schools of thought:  some understand clearly what the audiences want and try to do everything they can to satisfy the audiences while some understand clearly what the audiences want , but hope to show them something different that perhaps they [the audiences] have never seen before.  The former is of an ‘operational’ mindset where the ‘numbers’ and calculations are very important and providing consumers with what they want is the utmost goal; the latter has a merely ‘creative’ mindset who will put their own personal ‘stuff’ into the process – stuff that has special meaning for them. 

For many years now, Jonathan [Chik] and I have stubbornly chosen to take the ‘creative’ path rather than the ‘operational’ one.  With the ‘creative’ path, there are bound to be a few ‘missteps’ here and there – for example, with BAW, there were definitely some things that didn’t work.  This type of creativity is way too personal – even those ‘die-hard’ audiences who are normally very supportive of us found [the series] too exhaustive and really tested their patience, so imagine how regular mainstream audiences must feel!    I admit that this time around, I was a bit too selfish and focused too much on being in my own world.  In many respects, I ended up fulfilling my own needs with this series more than the audience’s needs – the result is that we ended up losing more audiences than anticipated.

Of course I feel disappointed as well, but what’s done is done – the pace for the rest of the series isn’t going to be too much faster than it is currently, it’s just that for the ending, there will be some climactic elements and we’ll go back to using some of the common ‘techniques’ to help engage audiences a bit more.  But to be honest, I’m not holding out hope that audiences will come back and pick up the series again – the moment audiences dislike a series and stop watching it, there isn’t a whole lot we can do to regain them back.


ND Daily Exclusive:  Sheren responds to recent rumors

In a follow-up interview with ND Daily, Sheren also took the opportunity to respond to a few of the recent ‘rumors’ and negative reports about her.  Below is a summary from that interview…

ND:  What are your thoughts on Chow Yuk Ming’s ‘sinking ship’ analogy?  Are you truly trying to ‘jump ship’? 

Sheren:  I had mentioned my mood disorder thing prior to the series even airing, so to say that I’m using that as an excuse only now because of the low ratings is ridiculous!   I’m not the type of person who feels the need to ‘strike when I lose and claim glory when I win’.  Speaking out about issues doesn’t mean I’m trying to deflect blame – if I already boarded the ship, of course I’m not going to try to jump off it.  I’ve lived for so many years and have been in the industry for so long, I definitely understand what loyalty and righteousness mean, so why would I even try to jump off the ship?   ‘Consort Yu’ is such an important character in the series, how is it possible for me to abandon ship?   No matter what the ratings or critical acclaim for the series end up being, I must endure it along with everyone else on the ship.  If I truly had any thought about jumping ship, I would have already done so earlier during filming when the problems with my health started to occur!   

I feel that we all need to face reality and not cover up things with flowery words -- my real-life personality is actually quite similar to that of Consort Yu from War and Beauty.   Perhaps the people who keep telling audiences to ‘give [the series] a little more time and patience’ are just trying to get more people to watch the series – when I first started participating in promo events for the series, I also said the same thing, but after the series started airing, I saw the various feedback and opinions about the series.  I feel it’s necessary to reflect on audience’s feedback and try to understand what types of problems the cast and crew may have encountered during filming.  Just because I bring up things I was unhappy with during the filming process doesn’t mean I have no affection towards the series and it definitely doesn’t mean that I’m bashing the series as ‘bad’!   Basically, I’m not trying to ‘abandon ship’.

ND:  Why didn’t you show up at promo events?

ST:  When I saw the reports that I was being ‘uncooperative’ with the promotion for the series, I was shocked!    The truth is that the reporter asked me in a seemingly serious tone: “Why didn’t you go film the promotional clip?  Seems like they asked all of the other artists but didn’t ask you?”  I had no clue what the reporter was talking about, so I responded:  “Huh?  They asked me to film a promo clip? No, they didn’t.”   I had actually already forgotten about the conversation after that, so why would I complain about not being included?  Unfortunately, though, the reporter didn’t forget and by the time I figured out what was going on, the headlines were already out that I had lashed out about the promo clip incident.

ND:  How about the rumors of being at odds with Jonathan Chik and Chow Yuk Ming?

ST:   I was definitely unhappy with the ‘zero script’ – if I had known earlier that there would be ‘zero script’, I definitely would not have collaborated with them.  In the future, I won’t film any series that don’t have a complete script.   I’m not trying to pick on them – it’s just that when you get bitten by a snake once, wouldn’t you be scared too?  With all the fear and helplessness I experienced during filming [due to the mood disorder brought on by the lack of script], of course I am going to speak out about it, as I want everyone to know that this type of method [on-the-fly scripts] doesn’t work.

ND:  What about the rumors of being at odds with Christine Ng?

ST:  Why would I look down upon Christine?  Those rumors are unfounded!  Remember, 9 years ago, when Gigi Lai (黎姿) and I held each other’s hand during promotion, it was reported that we were ‘pretending to get along’, then when I didn’t hold her hand, it was reported that I ‘looked down on her’?    That’s how rumors are.  Again, why would I look down upon Christine?  When filming the series, I had the most scenes with her and the two of us got along well.  All of us have been working hard to promote the series – Christine headed up the first wave of promotion, I’m responsible for the second wave, and Ada [Choi] for the third wave.  I feel that there’s no need to turn this situation into some conspiracy theory thing like in the series, especially since all along, our collaboration has been a happy one!

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