Hsu Feng: GorGor Is The Brightest Star In The Sky Forever
The first time Susanna and I [Qinglang (thereafter called "Q"), of Nanfeng Daily, Guangzhou, China] entered into the office of Hsu Feng located in Causeway Bay, we were pleasantly surprised by an unexpected feeling of familiarity and friendliness because this movie queen of the 13th and 17th Taiwan Golden Horse Film Awards did not flaunt her credentials of her past splendour and glory within the confines of her spacious office. However the surrounding walls of her office were posted with pictures of GorGor Leslie Cheung and gifts that were presented to her by the entire cast of 'Farewell My Concubine' and director Chen Kaige. Hsu Feng said that as the producer of 'Farewell My Concubine', she felt that she was at her peak at that point while GorGor Leslie Cheung who starred as Chen Deiyi in the film will always be brightest of stars in her heart for he is irreplaceable.
Q: Madam Hsu Feng, first of all let me thank you for granting us this interview. Actually LLA has been organising a lot of events for GorGor in the past but this year because it is GorGor's 50th birthday, we thought of holding a bigger and happier programme to celebrate his birthday. You have known GorGor for many years; you must have lots of recollections to share with everyone. Actually how did you get to know GorGor in the beginning?
Hsu Feng: I've known him for a long time but it was during a visit to Jackie Chan's office that I began to have a closer contact with him. His manager, Chan Chee Keong, mentioned that GorGor was keen to make a film based on a novel. He said if someone was willing to shoot this film, he was prepared to invest half in it.
Q: GorGor was willing to invest half in the film? When did this happen?
Hsu Feng: It was a long time ago could be around 1988. Chan Chee Keong said to me, "It is not possible for our company to make such a film." (At that time he was still with Golden Harvest) "But it is alright for your company." He told me GorGor would rather invest in making this kind of film on his own because he was very keen to play such a role.
Q: What is the name of the novel that so captivated GorGor's interest?
Hsu Feng: It was Lillian Li's 'Farewell My Concubine'. Back then after GorGor had read Lillian Li's novel, he liked it very much. He told me about this at one time. I even said jokingly to him, "Are you serious about this? Are you sure you are going to invest half in the film?" Following GorGor's recommendation, I immediately bought the book. As soon as I finished reading the novel, I rang Lillian Li straightaway. Afterwards we arranged to meet for a discussion at the Mandarin Hotel. The discussion went on for three nights. Each night we started our discussions around 11 p.m.; our discussions went on till about 3 a.m. to 4 a.m.
Q: You carried on your discussions till the wee hours?
Hsu Feng: Yes. It was because at that time my husband and I were about to leave for the Cannes Film Festival in a few days so every night I came home very late. My husband said to me, "Are you for real? I have already woken up from a good sleep and you are still not home." I told him I had no choice because Lillian Li was a night owl so I just had to carry on these late discussions with her. My husband said every time I make a movie, I get too involved and never regarded it as just an ordinary business venture. After I had bought the film copyrights of the novel, 'Farewell My Concubine' I felt that GorGor was the only person fit for the role. Moreover he also liked the role very much; he would certainly give a very good performance.
Q: Oh yes, we could see from his performance that he had poured his profound sentiments into the role.
Hsu Feng: That's correct. Therefore at that time I had already decided that he would be the one for the role. A few days later I left for Cannes to sell some films. At that time it was a first that a Chinese person rented a stall there to sell Taiwanese films. It was in Cannes that I met Chen Kaige. That year Chen Kaige went there with his film, 'King of the Children'. The funny thing was many people that had watched 'King of the Children' found it to be an extremely boring film so it was awarded the 'Golden Alarm Clock' prize.
Q: A Golden Alarm Clock award? Was there such an amusing award in Cannes?
Hsu Feng: Oh yes! However this wasn't listed as an official award nor was there any official presentation ceremony. Every year there are many participating films that could be so very boring that they put people to sleep so alarm clocks are required to wake them up; thus the media came up with this award.
Q: So it was an award conferred by the media?
Hsu Feng: Besides the media, there were also the film critics. Even the film critics were bored to death but I know that Chen Kaige was extremely talented so therefore I entrusted him with 'Farewell My Concubine'. However in the beginning he wasn't too happy with it because he felt that this was a rather common novel but I felt that this kind of common novel ought to be filmed by a director like Chen Kaige; it's just like blending coffee with milk.
Q: So both of you had made contact back in 1988 but why did it take such a long time to get started?
Hsu Feng: It was because in the midst of it, I had to spend a long period of time before I could finally convinced Chen Kaige; for he didn't want to make this film initially. He felt that the novel was too common; he is actually quite an arrogant man inwardly so it took me a while to convince him. We spent at least 200 hours in discussions in order to make 'Farewell My Concubine'. It took me three years with in-depth communication with him before we both could achieve a consistent common goal. Actually Chen Kaige had made a film titled 'Life On A String'.
Q: May I interrupt? May I ask why you think that Chen Kaige was a suitable director for this film?
Hsu Feng: The reason is very simple. I believed if Chen Kaige were to direct this novel, 'Farewell My Concubine', the result would be quite unexpected. This was just my intuition; it is very hard to express; it is difficult to explain 'why'. Actually I also had discussions with Stanley Kwan because I really love his film 'Rouge'. However the crucial point was after I had watched 'King of the Children', I felt Chen Kaige ought to be the better choice of directors. Moreover Stanley Kwan had already collaborated with Lillian Li before; hence perhaps their sparkle would not be as intense like that of Lillian Li with Chen Kaige. Then I thought if Chen Kaige directed a novel of Lillian Li, with Leslie Cheung in the cast plus Gong Li in the role of Ju Xian; the collision force of the three of them would generate some sparkling fireworks. It is rather difficult to express this kind of feeling.
Q: At that time did Chen Kaige know GorGor?
Hsu Feng: No, Chen Kaige did not know GorGor; GorGor also did not know Chen Kaige at that time. Later I passed on to him three of GorGor's movies for him to watch; these were 'Rouge', 'A Better Tomorrow' and I think the third movie was 'A Chinese Ghost Story'. The first time Chen Kaige met GorGor was in 1991 when GorGor had already retired from show business. At that time the script was almost completed. When we met GorGor, he said, "So how is it? When are we going to commence filming?" He appeared to be very cheerful. He was already certain that he would be the one for this film. Although right from very start we felt that he was the one but in between there was a little episode.
Q: That must be John Lone?
Hsu Feng: Correct! Actually GorGor was very keen in the role. We also believe that he was made for it but his manager at that time stipulated many conditions. Everybody knows that when I became the owner of a film company and a film producer, I really never wasted any of my time over monetary entanglements. I would only idle away my time and energy on how we can shoot a film in the best possible way, how we can co-operate together; how to form a team with a good director, good actors and film crew to make a good film. I feel I must channel my energy towards this end. Then at this time John Lone entrusted all the people in the film circle around me to inform me of his keen interest in playing the role. At this time the contract with GorGor still had yet to be signed so I was getting very anxious; wondering if GorGor had really gone into retirement and no longer interested in making films; for at that time I was in contact with his financial manager all along and not directly with GorGor. With John Lone's indication that he wished to play the role, we started discussions. Then the news that John Lone wanted the role soon became known outside.
Q: So what was the cause for the change?
Hsu Feng: Then, GorGor, John Lone and I, we attended the Asian Film Festival and Golden Horse Film Awards in Taiwan. The event organisers had arranged GorGor to be a guest presenter; they also made the arrangements to have John Lone and me to present an award together. Before this I have only met John Lone once at a beauty salon; very briefly; less than 2 minutes so I didn't observe him closely. Then I had dinner with him in Taiwan. As soon as I saw him I was alarmed. I thought to myself, how terrible, I've chosen the wrong person. Although John Lone is undoubtedly handsome but his physical contours are rigid projecting an image angular and hard which was totally different from the novel. The next day I met GorGor. The contrast in comparison was stunning. GorGor's contours were beautiful, soft and gentle; he was really suitable. Afterwards when we returned to Hong Kong, my company commenced discussions with John Lone's manager on contract matters. He faxed over some papers; I almost passed out on reading the first sheet of paper. The conditions were extremely harsh. Then Chen Kaige found a Mainland actor for the role of Chen Deiyi but as soon as he went for the screen test, I said that that actor was definitely out of the question. Later this actor (Lei Han) ended up playing one of the characters in the film; that of Chen Deiyi's apprentice; the child that was adopted by Chen Deiyi.
Q: Xiao Si?
Hsu Feng: Yes. Unfortunately his contours were also rather hard; absolutely impossible for the role, GorGor was the only suitable person. Then when we were filming 'Farewell My Concubine', my sister and I paid a visit to the film set. When we saw 'Yu Ji' (the concubine), we shouted loudly, "Very beautiful!" We asked the make-up artist to create the same make-up of 'Yu Ji' for us just for the fun of it; but as it turned out, we looked terribly awful! Honestly, we just couldn't compare with GorGor... GorGor playing this role was absolutely beautiful!
Q: The perfect choice!
Hsu Feng: Not only that; when I saw the costume still, in a strange way I knew then that 'Farewell My Concubine' would certainly be a success! Such a role; such an assembly of actors, I was confident that it would be a sensory feast for the eyes and ears of everyone. Compared to Mei Langfang's appearance for the role, I feel GorGor was more beautiful. I have never seen an opera artist who is as beautiful as GorGor. I am not saying that others are not good but he was really the best; therefore at that time I already felt that everything about this film had been decided. Life is strange; fate seemed to have everything planned although the path could be a little winding but nevertheless
Q: So the person who was most enthusiastic about this project finally got to complete it.
Hsu Feng: This is true. I was there that year when GorGor held his Final Encounter Concert. He invited me over for his concert. Watching him from below the stage, I could feel GorGor's dominance on stage; he had the audience under his total control; he was truly great! He surpassed the status of a movie star!
Q: Besides his charisma on stage, what are your feelings from your normal everyday dealings with him?
Hsu Feng: He was very adorable off stage. In those days, I seldom dropped in to visit film studios anymore. After eight years' experience as a film producer, I find that if a producer were to be with the cast at the actual filming, things would not be viewed objectively; because a lot of blood, sweat and toil have been put into a film, if the film was bad, yet you would still think it is good. This is why when I made 'Red Dust'; I never paid a visit to Brigitte Lin who was filming in the north-eastern provinces of China despite her many attempts in inviting me over to visit her. As for 'Farewell My Concubine', I only paid a visit a month after the film had commenced shooting. GorGor was very happy each time he saw me. He would always watch the playback every time he completed a scene. After he had finished watching the playback, he would hold my hand and ask, "How is it? Is it good?". I replied, "Very good!"
Q: Was GorGor in Beijing all the time?
Hsu Feng: Yes. Regardless of whether he had any scenes to do, he chose to remain in Beijing until everything was completed. He did not return to Hong Kong at all. The average actor would usually return home if he did not have any scenes for two days but not GorGor. Even if there were not any of his scenes for ten days, he would still remain there. Many people had no idea why GorGor acted so splendidly in the studio, they thought he was just a genius but as for me, I believe he was not only talented; he was also very hardworking, extremely diligent.
Q: Is it true that when he wasn't filming, he was rehearsing his part on his own?
Hsu Feng: Yes! He rehearsed diligently on his own in the hotel. Then when he arrived at the studio, he was able to perform brilliantly straightaway. When there were no scenes for him, he would never go away for drinks or to play. Never... he never went anywhere except to remain in the hotel to ponder over the best way to perform in his following scene.
Q: So he did not return to Hong Kong because he did not want any kind of distraction?
Hsu Feng: Yes, he did not wish to be distracted. He focussed all his energy and efforts to give a good performance in this film. However it is most regrettable because I feel that he should have been the first Chinese actor to receive an award in Cannes; but because in 1975 I had already been to the Cannes Film Festival I know too well the film jury's rules of the game. Because 'Farewell My Concubine' was GorGor's first film work to be exhibited in Cannes; if he had had a film that was nominated in the past prior to 'Farewell My Concubine', then many people would have known him and his chances of winning an award for 'Farewell My Concubine' would have been very high. Prior to Tony Leung getting an award, he already had a few films that were nominated previously; this gave him the opportunity to win an award. It was also because of 'Farewell My Concubine' that Ge You became known in Cannes; he later won the Cannes Best Actor award for the film 'Houzhe'.
Q: Anyway the fact that he was able to make this film with such a brilliant performance, he must be very happy about it.
Hsu Feng: Of course! He was absolutely overjoyed! It is such with an actor, the boss of a film company or even a director; it is very rare that you can have the opportunity of making a film that gives you full satisfaction in your life time! A lot of actors after making a life time of films seem not able to answer you if you ask them if they have a representative work, isn't this right? Therefore an actor or a film-maker is very happy when they are able to achieve a representative work once in their life time!
Q: He made the film; the film also made him?
Hsu Feng: This is indeed true. In fact it is a reciprocal privilege. Besides GorGor, there is Gong Li, Zhang Fengyi, Gu Changwei who became a director for the first time last year, his cinematography is first class; also our recording technician, assistant director as well as our costume designer, make-up artist and music director. Each of them is the cream of the crop. So after the making of 'Farewell My Concubine' it is very difficult to make another film. To excel oneself with yet another breakthrough project is indeed a difficult road; it is not an easy matter. This is the truth.
Q: The highest peak of artistic distinction has been attained?
Hsu Feng: However there is a tinge of regret. In fact we wanted to invest in GorGor's first film; GorGor and I as well as Lillian Li. Lillian Li was the screenwriter. Actually at that time discussions had gone on for half a year. Later in the midst of our discussions he confided to me that some people in Beijing wished to invest in him to make a movie. He told us he would make that movie first. Lillian Li said we were first to confirm everything before them. All I could say to Lillian Li was, "Never mind, it does not matter. Let him get some practice."
Q: But the Beijing film fell through?
Hsu Feng: Yes, this is right. That investor later did not wish to invest anymore. Afterwards I said to GorGor, "Never mind about not shooting that film, we will still make our film." It is really no big deal but afterwards he suffered from depression.
One time I had just come back to Hong Kong; he was sitting on the sofa in my home; Lillian Li was present too. Lillian Li and I looked at him; he sat huddled on the sofa. Then I said, "GorGor, what's wrong?" He said possibly someone had put a curse on him because he had just come home from Thailand. I said, "That's not possible. You're probably suffering from depression. Please see a doctor quickly!"
Q: At that time, it had just started .?
Hsu Feng: He hadn't started seeing any doctor back then. After he had gone, I was much troubled and remorseful. I suffered depression for two years because I felt I should have called him more often during those days. He refused telephone calls; it either to leave a voice message or someone else that answered the telephone but as soon as he knew it was me, he would answer immediately. I asked him if he was feeling any better; he replied in the positive. Now I think I should have told him more about depression. Because of this, I was depressed for two years!
Q: It is GorGor's 50th birthday this year. You must have attended many of his birthday parties?
Hsu Feng: GorGor's birthday is always a happy occasion. He always used to invite about 6 to 7 tables full of guests for dinner. As long as I am in Hong Kong, he would always invite me to his party. In those days my two sons were still very young so I took them along to have some fun. The dinner guests were mostly his good and true friends. He never invited too many people to his party; it is usually very low-key. In addition, in my opinion he was someone who knew how to enjoy life.
Q: Your office here has many pictures of GorGor.
Hsu Feng: This is because I like him. I really like him! Take a look at all his role images. Regardless of the kinds of role he played; whether he was playing Yang Guifei; or singing 'The Peony Pavilion' or 'Yu Ji', he was absolutely beautiful! Each one was just as splendid! Honestly!
Q: If you were to reminisce now, what are the things you remember most about GorGor?
Hsu Feng: The time when we were making 'Farewell My Concubine'. I remember once we were returning after finishing dinner; in 1992 there were not as many rental cars in Beijing; they were also rather old. My son and GorGor sat at the front of the car while Chen Kaige and I plus another person sat at the back. My son started to complain, "Why is this car so small and cramp?" GorGor then answered, "You must not be like this. A little kid is lucky if he gets a seat." He continued to reason with my son; my son began to feel ashamed. I said to him, "GorGor is not your family, why he is telling you things that you don't like to hear? He is doing it for your own good. If an elder tells you the truth and points out your mistake, it means he really cares about you. You are the son of the boss who invests in this movie; why did GorGor say things that you don't like to hear? This is because he truly cares about you." I will never forget this incident.
Q: GorGor is a most genuine person.
Hsu Feng: Yes, definitely and he knew that I am also a very genuine person. Every time when things made him unhappy he would confide in me. He would tell me his feelings or someone whom he did not fancy very much. This is what I like most about him. This is very rare in the movie world.
Q: In the fund-raising programme launched by Leslie Legacy Association in collaboration with mop.com in their website, 'www.happybirthdaytoleslie.com' in which all contributions will be donated to charity in the name of GorGor, you took the lead in donating HK$50,000?
Hsu Feng: Yes indeed because I was extremely touched by the thoughtfulness and sincerity of every fan in this fan club. They continue to do a lot of work for him so I was moved to contribute a little bit; my contribution is just a very tiny effort. The fans in this fan club are the ones that have done lots of things; moreover they are very caring; I am really touched. In addition, each one of them absolutely adores GorGor and he truly deserves their love and adoration; extremely well-deserved.
Q: If you have to describe GorGor in a sentence, what would you say?
Hsu Feng: Extremely difficult. I think it is very hard to describe him in a sentence. If you really want me to do this, then I would say there are many stars in the skies of the movie world but GorGor is the brightest and most eye-catching star of all. Presently there is no one in my mind that can be a substitute for his little star or there are no other stars that shine brighter than him; none at all; at this moment I don't think there is any at all. He is the brightest star in the sky forever!
- source: Mop.com - http://www.happybirthdaytoleslie.com - interview in Chinese and gallery of pictures
- this interview is available also in Japanese on Leslie Legacy Japan
many thanks to Mrs. Hsu Feng - many thanks to Qinglang and Susanna
many thanks to Simie for her translation
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