Saturday, January 13, 2007

[3 Weekly - Issue 370 - 11 Nov 2006]

A Litre of Blood and Tears - Lee Kwok Lun

To shed a litre of tears, you don't have to watch a tragedy of life! If watching television series can also make you shed a litre of tears, then you will find a scene anywhere in life where a true story of blood and tears will make you cry endlessly.

Especially in a big organisation like TVB, then if you are popular, then you have status. If you are only half-famous, then you have to make up for the rest with experience, say thirty to fifty years worth, will earn you the respect. For everyone else who is insignificant, then to survive, you have to be subservient, change your image to go along with the changes and after several decades in the industry, Lee Kwok Lun has met with several blocked directions and almost fell into the death zone.

After over twenty years in the industry, he has played major roles in series, has fallen back into character acting and been ostracised and mocked by many. When he set up a stunt troupe to try and make a comeback, a freak accident caused his partner to become disabled as a perfectly good eyeball fell out before him. After this trauma, he became afraid of death and turned back.

After another twenty years, the blood and tears is far more than just a litre?

Reaching the age of 50 this year, Lee Kwok Lun was born in Hong Kong and he had a strict father and a loving mother, two younger brothers and a younger sister. In his early years, his father was a police officer and he took his strict police regulations into the home. Living in the police quarters, Kwok Lun would see the neighbouring children going out to play all the time, but he and his brothers and sister had to spend their time in the home. The reason that Father Lee gave was simple, with the gangs and triads everywhere, he did not want his children to enter the wrong path, so he could only forbid them from leaving the house.

At 9 years old, under the teachings of his father, Lee Kwok Lun had never been to the playground and had to settle for riding the rocking horse at home instead

Strict Father Forbids him to Become Police Officer

"My dad was a very strict and controlling father. If he said one thing, you could not say another and you should not ask why. If he said you were not to go out, then you could not argue with him. Thinking back, I wouldn't say my father was bad, but he was not the best and he would smack our hands and bottoms, not everyone can accept this."

Father Lee did not allow his son to choose the childhood he wanted and furthermore, he did not allow his son to choose his own career either. Originally, as Kwok Lun first stepped out into the world, his ambition was to become a police officer like his father, but on the day of the high school exam results, when he announced to his father that he wanted to be apply to the police force, he received a straight rejection from his father. "That year, I had passed in five subjects and for the police, this was already a high standard, so I felt I had scope for promotion. However, when he heard that I wanted to apply for this, he suddenly replied: 'No! If this son of mine becomes a police officer, you will definitely end up in prison." At the time I did not understand what he meant by this, but I couldn't argue so I had no choice but to go along with him. I only realised gradually later, that he was talking about my tendency to try and take shortcuts and if I entered the corrupt force in those days, then I had a big chance of taking the wrong path and ending up in jail."

In 1997, Kwok Lun married his girlfriend from outside the industry and in 2002, she gave birth to their daughter. He says that he did not have any choice when he was a child, so he gives his daughter the choice for her life and will not force her to learn anything if she does not want to.

High Achieving Classmates

After Father Lee's refusal of a career in the police, Kwok Lun decided to apply to become an actor instead. That year, a school friend applied for the TVB Acting Class and having not spared a thought of becoming an actor, Kwok Lun went along with his friend, who didn't get accepted, but Kwok Lun was successful instead. When he went home and told his father, he was surprised that his father did not object. This was because he was not accustomed with this industry and as he could not come up with a reason to oppose, then he let his son try his luck in showbusiness.

"I remember when I applied for the class, there were three auditions that tested your script reading skills and acting. Beforehand, I was so scared that my hands were shaking, so I don't know why they selected me. To be honest, I really did not know that I had acting talent, but as my father had objected to me becoming a police officer, then at least as an actor, I could play one. I could learn and be paid at the same time, so why not give it a try?"

Kwok Lun's classmates at the time included the renowned director of today Johnnie To, TVB producer Poon Ka Tak and female star Cecilia Wong. As soon as Cecilia emerged, she quickly rose to fame and became one of TVB's top female artistes and Poon left to go behind the scenes soon after he graduated. It would seem that only Kwok Lun remained, floating around, not quite a superstar or a production executive. Asked if he is ever envious of other people's achievements being greater than his, he says: "At the time, Johnnie and Poon Ka Tak were already very mature. They felt from the beginning that they were not suited to being in front of the camera, so they planned to further their careers behind the scenes. Thinking back, they had good foresight. You know, it is always the backstage people who control the actors, so no-one wants to be controlled, so working backstage is more independent."

Kwok Lun has appeared in many ancient dramas and has injured himself in some of the action scenes. On some occasions he has undergone surgery to reattach his bones.

Keeping a Newspaper Cutting as Inspiration

In over twenty years in television, Kwok Lun has played numerous characters, but most of them were villains and he has never been a leading male. After just a few years in the industry, he had already become bewildered about his position: "One night, my father gave me a newspaper cutting that described showbusiness as a bowl of 'damp hot rice', that is, it is hard to bear. From that day on, I began to think seriously about whether I should give up or carry on and see it for myself. I kept that cutting in my wallet as my inspiration as well as a reminder of my thoughts and whenever I meet with happy or unhappy events, I will take it out and have a moment of reflection and consideration."

Faced with Death in a Stunt

Because he did not want to be a failure, Kwok Lun and some like-minded friends formed a stunt troupe, taking on jobs to film dangerous scenes for films and television. At the time, his income was quite substantial and he thought he could make a career for himself in this way, but maybe when things are going well, your ego is over-inflated and on one occasion, he was talking on the phone whilst driving as he flippantly rehearsed a speeding scene. A moment of inattention made the car crash into an obstacle and with a huge bang, he found his arm trapped in the door and he suffered his first serious injury.

"At the time, I was an actor on one hand and on the other I was a speeding stuntman, so I didn't have time to rest, so getting injured was inevitable. Although I had a serious injury, I still did not feel the terror of death and it was only when my partner managed to crash his car vertically into the ground on another speeding scene and I saw his eyeball coming out of the socket as he was rescued by the emergency services that I realised. He was covered in blood and his shoulder was crooked, I thought he would die. At that moment, I realised that I was getting very close to death and I was playing games with my own life." After that serious accident, Kwok Lun learned his lesson and disbanded the troupe, returning to becoming a full time artiste.

Fellow members of the Artiste Training Alumni Association, Kwok Lun worked with Chow Yun Fat in a charity performance of 'Scholar Wildly Courts a Beauty'.

Mocked by a Rising Female Star

Showbusiness has always been complex and power-mongering and TVB has always had a class-orientated approach being labelled as 'if you are popular you have status, if you are not then you are just muck'. Kwok Lun has experienced first hand this type of behaviour, but he still says diplomatically: "Of course I have, but it is not just the television station that is like this, business is all the same. It is just that I am an actor, so you are more interested in me. To be honest, I have seen all types of people and been through all kinds of humiliation."

Pushed to tell more about his blood and tears experiences, he suddenly laughs out loud and continues his diplomacy: "Originally, I got on quite well with a female artiste, but for some reason after a while, when I greeted her, she would ignore me and even sneered in my face! Afterwards, when I worked with her, she would act very uppity in front of the newcomers and superior in front of the experienced actors. Maybe she felt she was very popular and had the right to step on whoever she met. If you ask me if I was mad, I wasn't. Everyone has their own personalities and she was just not refined. For me, if she cannot be my friend, then she can just be a colleague."

In the past, Kwok Lun has played many villains, but recently he has turned his attention to comedies, such as Sap Yat Gor in 'Virtues of Harmony' and Alex Pao in 'War of Genders'. This has won the attentions of advertising sponsors, who have asked him to shoot some ads for them, like this one for a digestion remedy.

Don't Wish for What is Not Yours

With so many years of toil at TVB, it seems that Kwok Lun has not reaped his rewards - he has never received an anniversary award and has been subjected to mockery by his juniors. Does he accept this? Is he unhappy? Has he shed tears? Twenty years of experience and learnng has left him very open-minded: "Everyone has their position and if you compare, then you can compare for ever, so you just have to take what steps you can. Twenty years, I have met with many dynasties of kings and the rise and falls of many a diva. Some people work hard at acting and eventually find fame and fortune; some do their best, but still linger in mediocrity; others do a slapdash job but still win the acceptance of the audience and cause a commotion when they stand out; there are those who become too proud of their fame and treat others badly, yelling and screaming, but they are popular, so they have the right to be arrogant, what can you do about that? This is all about your destiny, when life brings it, then you will receive, when it is not yours, then you cannot wish for it, otherwise you will be so unhappy that you will hit a wall seven times a day."

Kwok Lun says that you have to be content in life and to have a career that you like is already the greatest fortune. He says that if he plays a character well and to have someone approaching him on the street and saying: "Aren't you Sap Yat Gor? (His character from sitcom 'Virtues of Harmony')" is already enough to make him feel very satisfied. Even without great fame and fortune, you just have to show a level of respect for your occupation, then you will be happy whatever position you are in and you don't need to shed a litre of tears every night.

Don't Wish for Anything

In interviewing Lee Kwok Lun, my original brief was for him to reveal some stories of nastiness within the television industry, but this was not achieved as we fell foul of the diplomacy of an old hand. Just before he left, he said: "I don't think I gave you much material!" At that point, I replied: "It's enough!" but in my mind, I was thinking: "It was a little drab!"

Later when I picked up my pen and looked back at my notes during the interview, I found that amid the drabness, there was an underlying moral. This was the understanding of what is 'not wishing for anything'. Since I was young, I would ask myself: "Why are my mother and father not rich?", "Why am I not as handsome as someone else?", "Why is the girl I fancy dating someone else?", "Why am I not a big brother?"...

The phrase "Don't Wish for Anything" is very apt. I have a happy family, I have a healthy body, I have a steady job, I have a loving girlfriend - is this not already the greatest fortune? Whether you shed a litre of tears of sadness, or a litre of tears of gratitude, the choice is entirely yours.


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