Actor Feng Shaofeng 'doesn't care' for Hollywood cameos

A scene from The Golden Era features Feng Shaofeng as Xiao Jun and actress Tang Wei as Xiao Hong.

It is hard to miss Feng Shaofeng's face in large posters plastered on the walls of Beijing's subway stations, promoting The Golden Era, a Chinese movie that will be screened in cinemas during the country's upcoming "golden week", the National Day holidays.

Feng, 36, a mainland A-listed actor, recently made headlines with two new movies, The Golden Era and Wolf Totem.

The former movie has been selected to represent Hong Kong in the foreign films category at next year's Oscars and the latter is an animal epic by French director Jean-Jacques Annaud, a Sino-French production adapted from a Chinese best-seller.

The Shanghai-born actor, who began his career in 2001, and has gained fame from starring as a Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) prince in the time-travel TV series Palace I in 2011, tells China Daily that he is lucky to play Xiao Jun, a left-wing author and the husband of novelist Xiao Hong (played by Tang Wei), in The Golden Era.

Slotted as the closing film of this year's Venice International Film Festival that ended on Sept 6, The Golden Era tells the story of Xiao Hong's eventful life in the most turbulent times in modern Chinese history.

Her birth in 1911 in Heilongjiang province coincided with China's shift from dynastic imperial rule to becoming a modern republic.

The Golden Era's director Ann Hui, the only artist who has won Hong Kong Film Awards' Best Director four times, is his idol, Feng says. "I had wanted to work with her for many years."

But when he finally met Hui in 2012, the two just had a casual chat, and the director didn't talk about the movie.

But a few days after their meeting, Feng received a script from Hui and was immediately taken by it.

"Hui didn't cast me as Xiao Jun in the beginning," Feng says.

But he says he could relate to the strong personality of Xiao Jun, who saves the then-pregnant Xiao Hong when she is abandoned by her fiance, and marries her afterward.

Feng calls Xiao Jun, a man "very close to his heart" because he is never the one to hesitate in expressing love or hate.

He is glad he finally got to play the character and is proud that he didn't disappoint the 67-year-old director, who applauded his performance at a Beijing media conference in September.

He cites a scene on the set in frigid Harbin in northern China's Heilongjiang province, where he had to dump a bucket of icy water on his own head.

"I almost froze, but it did have a pretty good effect," Feng recalls, smiling.

Tan Hong, the producer of The Golden Era, reveals that Feng had asked not to be paid to support the director he has always admired, as the budget for the movie was only 3.7 million yuan (S$769,530), which was tight for a full-length movie starring A-list stars.

According to Chinese entertainment websites, a showbiz celebrity can easily pick up about 10 to 30 million yuan when starring in a movie. The going rate for Tang Wei - the youngest Golden Eagle-winning actress - for example, is 30 million yuan a film.

When asked if this is a "golden era" for Chinese stars to raise their stature in more mature movie markets such as Hollywood, Feng is dismissive. "Obviously the era is different. But it's not worthwhile to appear in a movie for just a few seconds, even if it is directed by a top international director," he says.

"I don't care for cameos. I already have an excellent stage to showcase my talent in China, so why should I go to the West?"

But some industry insiders believe that Feng is among the few top Chinese mainland stars who may have a future in Hollywood.