In addition to our interview with director Ray Yueng at the Berlin International Film Festival this year, Film Inquiry also sat down with Suk Suk‘s three main actors (Tai Bo, Ben Yuen and Patra Au) to talk about working on such a uniquely important project in Hong Kong cinema.
**The following interview was translated from Cantonese to English, with changes made for clarity purposes**
Wilson Kwong for Film Inquiry: Given how different Suk Suk is compared to most other films from Hong Kong, how do you think audiences will react to this film?
Tai Bo: I think we rarely see a Hong Kong film that deals with family relationships in such an interesting and intimate way. And given the current state in Hong Kong with the Coronavirus, people aren’t necessarily in a happy mood. I think watching Suk Suk might temper some of those feelings, and I honestly believe that Hong Kong audiences will most certainly enjoy this film.
Patra Au: I think they will like the film because during some of the test screenings, some of my friends who were in their 60s and 70s (who aren’t usually that receptive to this type of content) watched it and actually really enjoyed it. Because it’s not just a film about gay people, it’s about family and about love in general. Of course, I don’t think young audiences will have any problems with the film, so I think Hong Kong audiences in general will like it.
Ben Yuen: I think this is a good opportunity for the older generation to understand the younger generation, and vice versa, in terms of what they are actually experiencing. As my two colleagues said, the film is really about family relationships. After playing this character (Hoi), whenever I see an elderly person living alone, I’ll now think about how they once contributed to society in a meaningful way. And now in their twilight years, shouldn’t they have some dignity and respect? A lot of them value their privacy, and the circumstances they find themselves in later in life causes them to lose that. I hope that Hong Kong audiences will be able to accept this film and its ideas.
I know that Ray Yeung (director) did a lot of research prior to writing and subsequently directing Suk Suk, but did you three have to do a lot of research as well after taking on your respective roles?
Tai Bo: The first thing I did was read the script, because this is a film about a gay man in his 60s, and I personally had no context for this. I know some people from the LGBTQ community, but I would never ask them about their deep personal feelings because I would want to respect their privacy. So the book (Travis Kong’s Oral History of Older Gay Men) was helpful, and through my own experience as an actor in the industry for many years, I’ve known a lot of different personalities as well. In particular, I’ve come across a lot of elderly people both professionally and personally, and used all that to form my character’s emotions and personality. So the character itself formed in a very natural way
Patra Au: For me, I based my character using my cousin’s wife as inspiration. She was a housewife who wasn’t very educated, had four children and was very family oriented. And to be honest, at that time, there probably wasn’t a lot of passion or love. My cousin was very handsome in his younger days and he had a lot of women, which we all knew, including his wife, who kept quiet about it. So I was really throwing myself into her shoes, because I’m sure my character suspected that her husband had someone out there, but just never talked about it.
Ben Yuen: It’s really just a part of what any actor should usually do. I researched using the book, the script and spoke with some friends about the film’s issues. But the biggest thing for me this time was finding that dynamic for someone who really does understand himself, yet has troubles expressing themselves truthfully. The director (Ray Yeung) also provided a lot of context and information about the character, making that internal dialogue of the character much easier to express.
The next question is for Patra and Ben. The two of you are primarily known for your stage acting, so how was it transitioning to acting on screen instead?
Patra Au: For me, it’s quite difficult because this is the first time I’ve done a film, and stage acting is very different. But the one good thing about working with Ray is that he did bios before filming, and a lot of screenwriters and directors don’t like doing this. But having them available makes the process of getting into a character easier. For an example, there’s a scene with my character’s husband (Tai Bo‘s Pak) buying me crab, which was actually very emotional because of the backstory. When my character was younger, she was very poor and her sister married a rich family and would always brag about eating crabs. So in the film, when he buys me crab and says “let’s share it together”, it just melted my heart and that emotion really echoed with the scene. This was all in the bio, so the audience wouldn’t know it, but I knew it.
Ben Yuen: It was easier for me because I had already acted in a few films before Suk Suk, so had an idea of how to adapt from stage to screen acting. The cores principles are always the same, but the challenge this time was that director Ray would sometimes say “Ben, that’s too big.” And I would say that it’s actually really small, but then we looked at the playback together, and he talked about how on a big screen it would seem very big. So we had to minimize everything, without losing what was on the inside. But for both screen and stage acting, the core principle of knowing exactly what’s on the inside is the same, it’s just how you express it on the outside that might be different.
And for Tai Bo, you’re typically known for playing the tough guy in actions films, particular when you were younger. Did you have any concerns about how accepting people might be of you taking on such a different role from what they’re used to seeing you in?
Tai Bo: I’ve done a lot of different roles over the years, but this was not concerning to me at all. In fact, it felt very refreshing and I didn’t think that it would affect my image at all. Instead, I thought it would increase my image as a serious actor. I mean, would this be worse than playing a murdering criminal? I wouldn’t want to play that. So with Suk Suk, I had a lot of unexpected surprises, including playing a role that I’ve never played despite acting for so many years in the industry.
When I spoke with Ray Yeung earlier, we talked about how the film doesn’t over-dramatize things and everything tends to be very subtle. Was that difficult for you guys as actors, having to perform in such a minimalistic way?
Ben Yueng: I think the current trend is changing for actors, and I would even see a lot of television actors not be as overt in their performances. Even on stage, it’s often about externalizing my inner emotions without a lot of dialogue, and this is what I had to do on this film. And to be honest, that’s one of the most important things we need to do as an actor anyways.
Patra Au: I agree with Ben, because the inner intensity is more important than the outward expression. Even in stage acting, we want the same thing and want things to be very natural. We can scream and rant, but people will laugh instead of being touched. So as long as you have that intensity, it will show in your eyes and people will feel it.
Tai Bo: I used to be pretty exaggerating in my older commercial films, but with this film, it was different.When I saw a line of dialogue, I spent more time thinking about the dialogue itself, rather than how I was actually going to say it. So that’s how I approached it, and then I relied on the director to say whether it was actually enough.
As a final question, how was it working with Ray Yueng, and knowing that this was such a unique film.
Ben: Can he not sit here during this question? [everyone laughs]
Tai Bo: From the moment I met Ray and we started working on the film, there has never been a moment where he was angry. He’s always polite and positive in the way he gives feedback, and very easy to get along with. Ive worked with a lot of directors over the years, and many will come back to find me again for another film. I really hope that Ray‘s next film will be an action film!
Patra Au: Well, this was my first film, and it was an excellent experience. If I were to continue working in the film industry, I hope I will get to work with directors that are as considerate as Ray is.
Ben Yuen: Ray is the kind of director who really helps and supports his actors so that they can understand the emotions of the film’s overall narrative. And what was amazing was how he was able to get my idol Patra Au to be so amazing in her first performance as a screen actor. Specifically, being able to bring out that sense of vulnerability and realism in a seemingly typical family matriarch. Whenever you see a film where every actor or performance is so good, it’s always a result of the director. I’d say that even if he wasn’t sitting here!
Film Inquiry would like to thank Tai Bo, Ben Yuen and Patra Au for taking the t ime to speak with us.
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