Actors, Features, Interviews, Recommended posts, Singers, Taiwan, USA

George Hu interview: “It felt really good to exert some of the energy stuck inside of me!”

We speak with the native New Yorker about his most recent film and what the future has in store…

Taiwanese pop idol and television superstar George Hu’s roots run deep in New York City.  Born and raised in the city before starting his explosive career in Taiwan, Hu returned home this summer to bring his new feature Han Dan to Western screens.  Making its North American premiere at the 18th Annual New York Asian Film Festival, the film marks a turning point for the actor.  Dark, bloody, and deep, Han Dan bears little resemblance to many of Hu’s lighter comedy and romance roles like Lovers Lie.

Han Dan is directed by veteran Taiwanese TV and film director Huang Chao-Liang and focuses on a small-town rivalry that escalates into years of a deadly balancing act.  Hu’s character, the meek aspiring teacher Zheng-Kun, makes an unspeakable mistake during an act of blind envy that sends him into a broken life of guilt.  We had the chance to discuss the role with Hu, as well as his approach to inhabiting darker characters…

Han Dan is your second feature after making a name for yourself in TV – were there any difficulties you found in adapting to working on a film set versus working on a TV set?

Well, I was born here – I was born in America.  I wasn’t really too familiar with the culture, because Han Dan is basically a ceremony where, if you have any regrets or you want to become rich, you would pray to this god.  The way the ceremony goes is you go on a seat, and you’re standing there, and they throw firecrackers on your body.  You’re wearing nothing except really short, red shorts and protection over the face – that’s it.  And those firecrackers are really wailing on your body.  This is for you to feel the heat from this god, and that’s where all those regrets and all those wishes come towards you, once you’re done with the ceremony.  So this is a culture where I never really understood it until I did some homework on it.  It actually kind of scares me, a little bit.  I was saying, “Alright, director, if anything happens, I’m done!”

If you get third-degree burns, yeah!

It was actually interesting, because I never knew that the ceremony is an actual ceremony in the southern part of Taiwan.

Okay, so the ceremony isn’t across the whole country, it’s regional?

Right, in the northern part of Taiwan, nobody actually knew about it too much.  I was really surprised, and I was really into it afterwards, reading the script and all – how it intertwined ceremonial culture into the script.

So, there was that element that was a little bit tough to prepare for.

To prepare and to swallow, because really…

Well, how’d it go?

Well, with all the safety features and everything – first aid was there, paramedics were there, just to make sure that everything was going to go according to plan.  So, I was like, “Okay, as long as they have that on the side, we’ll be fine.”  Plus, only men are able to be a part of the ceremony, so before standing on top of the podium, you gotta do the ceremonial prayer just to have them protect you.  I had to do that every time, so, luckily…

It must have worked; you didn’t burn up.

Exactly!

That’s a rather intense part of the movie, but the movie itself seems to have a rather dark tone – heavy themes like violence, redemption.  Do you see yourself seeking out more roles like this in the future?

Oh definitely, definitely.  This is the first or second – I’ve done TV shows more than actual movies.  To be honest, this is the first role where I’ve ever tried to be my turning point, instead of just trying to be like a sunshine boy and all that stuff – this is really dark.  This was a good experience for me to further pursue my acting career.

So, you enjoyed the heavier aspect of it?

Oh yeah, I liked the dark turning point of this character, Li Zheng-Kun, because he had a promising future, he had a career in teaching.  In Taitung, which is a southern part of Taiwan, back in the day, there wasn’t that much opportunity for people to make money.  But, being a teacher was an actual promising career for someone to have a nice future.  He had that kind of future planned out for him already, but it’s to a point where – I don’t know if I can say it, but he accidentally killed somebody.  That was his turning point to become dark.  And that was fun.  For me, it was breathtaking.

Another role comes up like that in the future, and you’ll jump on it?

Definitely!

As a New Yorker born and raised, how does it feel to be bringing this work stateside for its North American premiere?

I’m really, really excited.  I’ve never actually had any – except for like TV shows over here – any role this extreme broadcast in North America.  I’m really psyched about this part, just to show that I can do more and go further with my acting career.

Speaking of going further with acting, do you ever see perhaps a career in Hollywood and Taiwan?

I’ve been searching for a couple of years; I’ve been searching for like – maybe ten years?  But, hopefully, it’s my breaking point.

@ Ryan Charland

It’s as good a one as any – heavy role, New York film festival.

 Yeah, I mean, for anything, most of the roles are in California and New York.  There are more roles over there, in California.  But, a lot of shows are coming here to film, so it’s a good opportunity.  It’s a good time.

The film explores elements of Taiwanese culture, like the fireworks festival.  Did the filming process allow you to explore quite a bit?  Not physically explore, but explore aspects of that culture in a deeper way than you’re accustomed to?

Yeah, there was an SOP – standards of process – where you have to be cleansed first, then you have to pray, then, before standing on top of the podium, they offer you a prayer plus – I don’t know what it’s called – a stone from the god, for you to be protected at all times.  That I didn’t know – just doing research says that it’s some people on podiums being blasted by firecrackers.

Oh, alright.

Right, I didn’t know there was this huge ceremonial process before that!  And that was it.  I interviewed some of the people that actually go through this a lot.  They go, “It’s an honour.”  Some of the people have done it so much that they just say, “It feels good.”  Not in the physical matter, but in the mentality.  It’s cleansing yourself.

What is the festival’s proper name?

Han Dan.  That’s the name for the ceremony, the festival itself, and the deity.

How did this role come about, how did the script end up at your doorstep? 

The director, he and I had actually worked together before.  We filmed a TV show before, and then he felt like for this role, he could have me do a 180 turn.  It’s the total opposite of what we’ve worked on before.  He worked on the script for four years and said that he could try me out.  I didn’t mind trying it, because I always try to be more versatile in characters, not just sticking in my comfort zone.  When I tried it out, he was like, “Yeah, this is how I pictured you to be – exactly how it is.”  He was just saying, “You look like a person that can bury a lot of things inside, and you don’t find the opportunity to let go.  You have that kind of a feel.”  And I was like, “Okay, so it’s perfect for the character.”  I thought, “I can try this out,” and it felt really good to exert some of the energy stuck inside of me!

Nice!  It’s a bit of a backhanded compliment, really – “You look repressed!”

Yeah!

And how was the process of working on this picture with him?

It was great, ‘cuz he had a lot of changes, plus, at the same time, we discussed the script for a long time, even before shooting.  We had to go to the set – it was a long stay in Taitung.  Before shooting, we had to go down to Taitung just to experience – because, this character was definitely a huge challenge.  I never smoked in my life, and this character smokes like a chimney, okay?  He has to know the mechanics of a dump truck and a dumpster.  He opens up a dumpster for himself.  And I have to know the mechanics, how to work all these trucks and all that.  It was a lot, and so much training.  He was like, “Yeah, you’ve got to go for it, this is what’s gonna make the character pop.”  Working with him is great – we’d work all night and he kids around.  He kids around more than before, that’s all I can say.  Before, he was always really tense, but working for him the second time on Han Dan, I was like, “You’ve changed a lot!”

© Ryan Charland

With Bernard Rose. © NYAFF

I’ve heard that heavier movies have a way of making behind-the-scenes a little bit lighter.

Yeah, you’ve got to make it a little bit light, because if it’s too dark…  You’ve got to try and let go of it.  Not on set, though – behind the scenes.

Anything else you want to tell me about the movie or about the role?

This movie takes place back in the 1980s, around, and it takes place in Taitung.  The time period is from 1980 until probably, I would say, 2000.  So, I mean, we have a difference between the backstory and the present story, which is a good thing.  My character, like I said, he had a really nice, bright future.  But, before all that, he was really bullied a lot.  He has this really bad karma towards the other character, the other main role.  Ever since seventh grade through twelfth grade, he’d been bullied by this same character.  And so he has that mentality that, “I don’t want to be associated with this person at all.”  But then, there’s his lifetime crush, and he finds out that his adversary and his crush are together.

Oh.

Yeah, that’s a turning point.  That’s when it gets good, that’s when the story starts.  I’m looking forward to the audience to see how many layers my character has – from being pure to redemption to being revengeful.  There’s a lot of layers in this character that I hope the audience can read.

I bet they will, and I bet it will be an interesting experience.

Thank you so much.  I had a lot of fun acting this character.

© Stephanie Lun

So, what’s next for you?

There are several shows being brought up, but I don’t know the release date.  I’m still deciding my next role, whether it’s going to be a movie or a show.

That’s not a bad decision to have to make!  Are you leaning towards one or the other?

I’m leaning towards probably… Oh, I can’t!  I don’t know yet, I’m really stuck in the middle – just got to see the storyline.

Han Dan made its North American premiere at the 18th New York Asian Film Festival 2019.

Main image © Stephanie Lun. 

About the author

Ryan CharlandRyan Charland Ryan Charland
Ryan is a student from the East Coast of the U.S., currently earning his B.S. in biology from Providence College. He’d like to make it to Japan one of these days, but for now, he’ll settle for watching a couple hundred movies. More »
Read all posts by Ryan Charland

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