Gongfu star Vincent Zhao has no problems taking on smaller roles

Gongfu star Vincent Zhao has no problems taking on smaller roles
Cinema still: True Legend. Starring Vincent Zhao.

Chinese actor and martial artist Vincent Zhao rocketed to superstardom in the early 90s playing legendary gongfu hero Master Wong Fei-Hung on the big screen.

The Beijing Sport University graduate, highly skilled in various wushu disciplines, was dubbed "the next Jet Li".

As Master Wong, he headlined the fourth (1993) and fifth (1994) instalments of Hong Kong's popular Once Upon a Time in China IV movie series, romancing sex siren Rosamund Kwan in the latter.

But Zhao, 42, did not find fame in Hollywood blockbusters as Li did.

These days, he stars mostly in China-produced television dramas.

His latest big screen outing is fantasy-action caper, The White-Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom, where he plays a scheming general Jin Duyi.

The baddie role sees him play second fiddle to Huang Xiaoming's suave, stoic clansman character, Zhuo Yihang.

While going from leading man - Zhao appeared in almost every frame of Once Upon a Time in China IV and V - to supporting actor is a big change, he does not view it as a relegation, just a slower working pace.


"It wasn't tough portraying Duyi, as his screentime wasn't much. I didn't have many fighting scenes either. Compared to my previous films, the filming process for this one was rather relaxed," he told The New Paper in an e-mail.

Channelling Jin's menacing ways was not easy.

"Initially, I resisted playing an evil character. But it's important to constantly try different roles. You're not an actor if you play yourself all the time.

"When I stepped into Duyi's shoes, I tried not to see him as a bad person. I tried to understand his motivations, ambitions and overwhelming love for his homeland that led him astray."

The White-Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom, rated PG13 and also starring Chinese actress Fan Bingbing, is now showing in cinemas here.

Zhao, who has a seven-year-old daughter and a three-year-old son, does not seem to be living on past glory.

"Wong Fei-Hung was a very successful and well-known character," he said.

"That said, right now, with age and life's experiences, I am able to take on a wider range of characters than before."

Even though he is a martial arts master, don't bet on his children following in his footsteps.

"My daughter is showing more passion for art and design. As for my son, he is still very young, I can't tell what he is passionate about," said Zhao.

"In the future, they are free to do anything they want as long as it's something they truly like.

"There is no point forcing them to do martial arts if it's not in their interest. They won't do it well."

While affable on the topic of acting and children, he became curt when asked about his publicised spat with fellow martial arts star Donnie Yen.

In March 2012, Zhao abruptly pulled out of Yen's crime flick, Special ID, claiming that Yen was a "scene hog" who was "demanding and difficult to work with".

Yen, 51, told Hong Kong reporters that he felt Zhao "owes everyone involved in Special ID an apology".

When TNP asked Zhao if he would consider working with Yen again, he said: "I've put that incident far behind me, let's not bring it up anymore."


This article was published on Aug 1 in The New Paper.

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