Return of the screen sweetheart

Return of the screen sweetheart
Vivian Chow

HONG KONG's Vivian Chow was a big star in Taiwan in the 1990s, but she has never acted in a Taiwanese movie until now.

She plays a lovelorn cafe owner in Cafe.Waiting.Love, which is now showing in cinemas.

To be strictly accurate, she had appeared briefly in Giddens Ko's You Are The Apple Of My Eye (2011). Speaking over the telephone from Hong Kong, she says: "There was a notebook with a picture card of me in it and I was really surprised to see it.

"As a Hong Kong artist, seeing that Taiwanese audiences still remembered me gave me a very warm feeling and I felt very honoured."

Chow, 46, was the pin-up dream girl of the 1990s with her sweet looks and gentle demeanour. She released more than 25 albums in Cantonese and Mandarin and starred in about the same number of movies.

Dubbed the "eternal maiden queen", she was both girl-next-door and goddess, and Ko clearly was and may still be one of her smitten fans.

The Taiwanese novelist turned Apple into the all-time Chinese-language champ at the Hong Kong box office with more than HK$61 million (S$9.9 million) in takings.

Ko serves as producer of Cafe.Waiting.Love, which is also based on one of his novels.

Chow describes him thus: "I discovered that he's someone with a child-like spirit and that sense of innocence is his special characteristic and it's such a rare quality. He's also very forthright and says whatever's on his mind."

In front of her though, he seemed uncharacteristically quiet and shy. She recalls: "As he was the producer, there was not much communication between us. He didn't say much to me, but he would write cards and send WhatsApp messages to convey his thanks and to chat."

Chow retired from the entertainment scene in 1997 when she followed her long-time partner, writer-deejay- compere Joe Nieh, to Vancouver.

She returned to the limelight with an anti-ageing skincare range endorsement in 2004, but has since picked her projects with care. Her last film was the lesbian drama, All About Love (2010).

Apart from her admiration for Ko, another reason for doing Cafe.Waiting.Love was to show her support for the Taiwanese film industry given the adoration she had received from Taiwan over the years. And because it was billed as a special guest appearance, she needed to be on set for only a week.

She says: "I'm already married and family comes first, but as long as I can balance the two, I can still enjoy work. I need that to help me keep in touch with what's going on."

Since opening in Taiwan and Hong Kong on Aug 15, Cafe has been doing good business and has earned NT$165 million (S$6.9 million) and HK$14 million (S$2.3 million).

Chow had reportedly said that she would give Ko "something better than a hug" if the film did well and when asked about it, she laughs and says: "Actually, I was joking. Anyway, he should be the one giving me a gift, right?"

She adds: "The most important thing was that I could do my part well and work well with the Cafe.Waiting.Love team. Of course I'm happy that the box- office sales and word of mouth are good, but that's not within my control anyway."

One might think that the lovelorn cafe owner with her fierce attachment to a relationship would strike a chord in Chow as well. After all, she has stood by her man through reports of his cheating behaviour.

But she says firmly: "I'm completely different from the cafe owner. I'm not so fixated. When I need to hold on, I would grasp something tightly and cherish it, but when I need to let go, I would. It's important to move on."

Was it easy for her to move on from showbusiness back in 1997?

She muses that it was not a question of it being easy or hard. Instead, she was at a crisis point after working non-stop for a decade.

She says: "From a young girl, I was now a woman of almost 30 but I had never stopped working and it felt like I was trapped in this small circle. I needed to take a break to think about my own needs and responsibilities and to get to know myself again."

She is perfectly happy with where she is in her life where she tends to take up less demanding commercial commitments and gets to raise awareness for causes such as animal rights and breast cancer.

Chow tells Life! that she is actually in the midst of recording an album, though it may not be the music comeback her fans are expecting. She converted to Christianity in 2009 and has been waiting for the right moment to do a gospel album.

She says: "This is not for myself, but it's like handing in an assignment for my faith and to God, so it's not something to be taken lightly and I think I'm ready now.

"Because it's not a pop music record, I have to be very careful, from the concept to the lyrics, so there's no room for misunderstanding."

Sounding content and at ease with herself, she says: "I really work only when my interest is piqued now. I sing and act less often as I do not want to make too big a change in my life. I have no wish to return to being a full-time artist."

Cafe.Waiting.Love is showing in cinemas.

This article was first published on September 6, 2014.
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