Tiger Cubs roar again in Hong Kong

Actor Joe Ma picks his role as a police inspector in the Tiger Cub series as the one he is happiest with so far in his career.

Despite doing well in China, actor Joe Ma is excited to reprise his cop role in the sequel to hit TVB series Tiger Cubs.

Even though Hong Kong actor Joe Ma has been busy making big bucks as an actor in China for the past two years, he says that he has always kept his hometown on his mind.

Which is why he decided to return to Hong Kong television station TVB to film police procedural Tiger Cubs II, slated for broadcast later this year.

At an interview recently, the 45-year-old says in Mandarin: "I know I've been away in China but I still think of my audiences outside of China.

"I enjoy working elsewhere and gaining new experiences in different places, but I don't want to give up on the Hong Kong market either."

In Tiger Cubs II, a direct follow-up to the hit 2012 TVB series Tiger Cubs, about a group of Hong Kong elite paramilitary officers, he reprises his role as senior inspector Chin Hon To.

Also starring actors Him Law and Oscar Leung and actress Mandy Wong, the first Tiger Cubs show was both a critical and commercial hit and was the most-watched programme that year in its time slot.

Ma says with a grin: "I knew Tiger Cubs was a major success because the success was something that I could really feel first-hand. Everywhere I went since doing that show, people would come up to me to talk about how much they enjoyed watching me in Tiger Cubs.

"They have finally stopped talking about my role in Triumph In The Skies," he says, referring to the hugely popular 2003 airline drama in which he played senior pilot Vincent Ling.

Ma picks his Tiger Cubs role as the one that he is happiest with so far.

"I just loved the role, but the best part is how much the audiences loved the role too. In the sequel, I think my character has matured a lot more, which is great. Audiences will get to see something new in the new show - it won't just be a repeat of the old one."

Perhaps he feels extra pride, given that he worked as a cop for seven years before switching to show business in 1993 when he signed on as a full-time artist with TVB.

"Because I've had real-life experience as a police officer before, I don't even feel like I really need to act when I play a cop role," he says with a chuckle.

During his time with TVB, he was among the station's most prominent faces, starring in numerous top-rated dramas including At The Threshold Of An Era (1998) and Maiden's Vow (2006).

In 2008, he started looking to China, working on Hong Kong TVB dramas only on a per-series basis.

In November 2011, his image was severely tarnished when he was embroiled in a sexual harassment scandal, in which he and actor Benny Chan were accused of inappropriately touching actress Rose Chan.

Ma, who is married with a 15-year-old son, swiftly denied any wrongdoing and moved to China to work full-time a few months later.

Since then, he has starred in a string of Chinese dramas such as Under One Roof (2013) and Ad Mania (2013).

He says he will continue to focus his time in China for now, but will accept TVB drama offers when the role is "right".

In China, Hong Kong stars reportedly make up to 250,000 yuan (S$52,000) for a drama episode, a far cry from the reported TVB salary of around HK$30,000 (S$4,900) per episode.

Ma says: "If the roles are interesting, why won't I accept them? The location that I'm filming in doesn't matter as long as I get to do something that will entertain audiences."

8 QUESTIONS with Joe Ma

1. TVB is notorious for its punishing filming schedules. As Tiger Cubs II is your first Hong Kong drama in two years, did you find it even tougher than usual to film?

Definitely. Tiger Cubs II is the toughest drama I've ever had to film in 20 years of acting. This drama, in particular, was even tougher because we had to be covered up completely in full battle uniform with full-face helmets and everything - all in the sweltering heat of Hong Kong's summer.

You can't even breathe properly because you're just cooped up in those outfits, not to mention the fact that we also had to run around and do so many action stunts in that condition. It was really tough work.

2. Reportedly, while filming a scene for Tiger Cubs II, you tore your shoulder ligaments and had to be hospitalised. Is that true?

Yes, it's been about five months since the injury and I haven't recovered fully yet. I can't do sports and I can't put much pressure on my arms and shoulders, and I just have to be very careful.

It's a little inconvenient but there's nothing I can do. I'm an actor and I signed up for an action drama, so these things come with the job.

3. The Tiger Cubs series is known for its array of buff young hunks, including actors Him Law, Oscar Leung and Benjamin Yuen. Did you feel any pressure about being compared to them in the looks department?

(Laughs) I think it's great that they have such good looks. They are responsible for looking good. That way, the audience will get some variety.

If they want to look at hot bods, they can just look to these guys. If they want to see good acting, there are also others in the cast who will take care of that.

4. While you were away in China, did you keep tabs on Hong Kong's entertainment scene?

News will always travel, no matter where you go. So I'll still know what's going on in Hong Kong. But I admit that I haven't been watching Hong Kong TV dramas. To get to sit down and really follow the shows requires a lot of time and I just don't have that because of work.

5. Did you notice anything different about working at TVB after coming back?

Yes, there are very few of my old friends at the station now because many of them have left. So I've been seeing a lot of new faces everywhere.

But I think that it should be this way. We always need new people to move up the ranks and front shows so that there is something fresh for the audience to watch.

6. At the TVB Anniversary Awards, you have been nominated for Best Actor eight times, but have never won. Are you eager to snag a win?

No, I really have no expectations about that. I used to hope for it at the awards shows, but I think it only makes perfect sense for the TVB Anniversary Awards not to give me one now. After all, my career focus is in China now.

7. Many media reports have written about how your 15-year-old son is tall and good-looking, perfect for joining show business. How do you feel about that?

If he wants to enter the entertainment industry, I won't stop him. As long as he's happy, he can do what he wants. But what's important is that he must at least finish secondary school first. Talent scouts have asked him to model before, but I think he should remain "hidden" for now and finish school.

8. How would you like to be remembered?

How can I answer that? I can't control how other people will think of me or remember me. But ideally, I would love it if they could remember me for my work. It's not easy being an actor, so it would be nice if they could remember some of my series and also as an actor who has worked hard.

yipwy@sph.com.sg

Tiger Cubs II is slated for broadcast later this year.

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