Don't call me a feminist

Don't call me a feminist

In the male-dominated world of Chinese language films, Taiwanese actress-director Sylvia Chang stands out as a rare female voice.

Her scripts and directorial works are often women-centric, telling stories of realistic female characters who are otherwise so lacking in mainstream films such as Hong Kong cop movies.

Her 2004 film 20 30 40, for example, followed the lives of three women with the ages of the title, portraying female desires at different stages in life.

Nine years before that, 1995's Siao Yu told the story of a Taiwanese woman who pays an American man to marry her so she can get a green card.

Her latest film, Murmur Of The Hearts, which opens in Singapore next week, is once again centred on a woman - this time, an artist named Yu Mei (played by Isabella Leong) who feels lost in life after her mother (Lee Sinje) dies and she is separated from her elder brother (Lawrence Ko).

But do not call Chang a feminist - that term is "a little discriminatory", she says.

"No one ever asks a man, 'Your movies are all about men, so are you fighting for men's rights?' But why is it that if a woman makes a movie about women, people always have to bring up the notion of feminism? "I'm a woman and so I tell stories from the perspective of a woman. That is all," she tells Life! thoughtfully in Mandarin.

Still, she admits that women in the film industry often have to "work harder", given the circumstances.

"I think I have been treated well and fair, but the Chinese film industry is nonetheless dominated by men. Women tend to get fewer opportunities.

"Even for actresses, they will have movies to act in, but these movies may not be about women or care about women."

Speaking slowly and carefully, she comes across as not only fiercely intelligent, but also very down-to-earth. Looking considerably younger than her 61 years of age, the always elegant actress-turneddirector is classy even in the distressed jeans and casual grey top she donned for this interview.

Every now and then, she looks over to the other reporters in the room and asks if they would like a snack while waiting for their turn to interview her.

Murmur is her first film in seven years and it is evident that she is excited about sitting in the director's chair again.

"It's about time I made a movie again, don't you think?" she exclaims with a laugh at the start of the interview.

"I was never away from the film world, but I needed to film something of my own again."

During her film-making hiatus between 2008's Run Papa Run and Murmur, she starred in Li Yu's drama Buddha Mountain (2010) and served on the boards of several international film festivals, including the Hong Kong International Film Festival.

Last year, she took chairmanship of the Golden Horse Film Festival's executive committee, considered the most prestigious film event in the Chinese-language movie world.

Returning to the director's chair, she chose to make Murmur out of two scripts she had ready "because the story is so touching". Drafted by Taiwanbased Japanese actor Yukihiko Kageyama, the film is loosely based on his own experience with his family. After looking at it, Chang took over as co-writer and filled out the screenplay.

"When I first read his story, I could already visualise the scenes because it was so vivid and moving. It is rare for a man to write what's in his heart, to show so openly how much he misses his family and loved ones," she says.

There is much hype over the film, not only because this is her comeback film of sorts. It also happens to be a comeback for its Macau-born star Isabella Leong, who has not acted since she was in Hollywood's The Mummy: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor (2008).

During her time away from the entertainment scene, the 26-year-old made headlines for dating billionaire Richard Li, 48, the younger son of Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing. Before the couple split in 2011, they had a son in 2009 and twin boys a year later.

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