Taiwanese actor Li Li-ren serenades wife with guitar

Taiwanese actor Li Li-ren, 40, is making good use of the music skills he picked up from scratch to play a guitarist on the Taiwanese drama Once Upon A Time In Beitou.

He has been strumming the guitar to entertain his two children and wife, A-list host and singer Matilda Tao, 44.

"I play the guitar for my wife and my kids. I play children's songs for my kids, and for my wife, I play her songs such as Let Love Maintain One's Heartbeat," says the dapper actor with a squeaky-clean image, who cannot wait to spend more time with his family.

He has filmed for eight consecutive months since October last year, flying between China and Taiwan for two dramas - Once Upon A Time In Beitou and China production The Empress Of China.

"By the time I reach home after filming in Taiwan, it's already midnight and I leave the house early in the morning. When I'm in China, it's even harder to see my family. During these past eight months, I didn't have much time to spend with them."

Once Upon A Time In Beitou, which is airing in Singapore, did so well in Taiwan that it even beat the ratings of popular Korean drama My Love From The Star, which aired in the same time slot.

Li, who debuted as a singer in 1997 and won the Best Supporting Actor nod at the Golden Bell Awards (2013) for war drama Home (2012), is expected to wrap up filming for The Empress Of China this month. After that, he is planning to take a three-month break.

His summer holidays, starting from next month, are devoted to his eight- year-old daughter and five-year-old son.

Li, who married Tao in 2005, says: "Just before taking this call, I rejected a role in a musical. Musicals take up a lot of time because of the rehearsals. I have to keep my promise to my kids to spend time with them."

But the dutiful father did make an exception to accept one project during the summer break for his wife's sake. He and Tao will be flying to South Korea to take part in the filming of a reality show tracking the travels of celebrity couples.

"I wasn't keen to take up this offer. But after my wife watched My Love From The Star, she wanted to visit Korea. I am happy for the chance to work together."

1 How do you respond to comments online that compare you unfavourably with your wife, saying that you do not earn as much as she does or are not as popular as she is?

She has been in show business longer than me, so it's only natural that she earns more money. But I have my abilities. I'm doing well in my career and my income is not too bad either. Both of us are giving our all to the family. If you are bothered by criticisms of outsiders, there will be no end to it.

2 You filmed a singing audition scene for Once Upon A Time In Beitou. What kind of memories did it evoke of your start as a singer?

My friends had goaded me into taking part in a singing contest. It was such a nightmare. I wasn't serious about getting into show business. I went for the fun of it. At the preliminary stage, I could not remove the original singer's voice from the recording that I used. Singer Jacky Cheung's voice accompanied me while I was singing - it was so embarrassing. Then during the semi-finals, I forgot the lyrics. Two months later, a record label called me and asked if I was interested in signing with it.

3 In Taiwan, Once Upon A Time In Beitou beat the ratings of Korean drama My Love From The Star. How happy were you when that happened?

It's not fair to compare the dramas this way. Many viewers watch My Love From The Star online - its viewership is in the millions. What I'm glad to know from the rating figures is that the age of the viewers of Taiwanese dialect dramas is getting lower. Many think that such dramas are only for the middle-aged and older, but Once Upon A Time In Beitou had high school and university students tuning in.

4 Your wife Matilda Tao likes Kim Soo Hyun, the dashing male star of My Love From The Star. She has even said that her biggest wish is to see him when the two of you head to South Korea for the travel reality show. Are you jealous?

I won't get jealous. We were just watching re-runs of My Love From The Star. My wife knows the show so well that she will tell me what will happen next. Kim did a good job acting, he has his own charm. He may be young but he's convincing playing a 400-year-old alien who has been through a lot in life. I don't get jealous of the male actors she likes. I like Kim myself.

5 You are a doting father. How do you keep in contact with your kids when you're overseas filming?

I try to call or text them every day. Due to heavy snowfall, I once had a two-day break during the filming of The Empress Of China in Wuxi, Jiangsu province. I took the 10am flight and flew about 21/2 hours to Taiwan. I surprised my children by having dinner with them and then I flew back to China the next day. It beats me spending time alone in China.

6 Since you love kids so much, how about having a third child?

I'm good with two kids. My wife isn't getting younger and it'll be tough on her to have another kid. We probably have more children in our next lives. We'd have to meet earlier so that we can have seven kids. In this life, we met too late.

7 What are your plans after taking the three-month break?

I would like to try my hand at producing and writing scripts.

8 How would you like to be remembered?

I hate being called a sensitive new age guy. There are so many good fathers and husbands out there, such as singer Phil Chang. He's been in a marriage longer than I have and he treats his wife and kids well. I thank everyone for liking me, but I don't really like this description. I hope people will remember me for my work and my roles.

This article was first published on JUNE 23, 2014.
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