Ma Chun Wai: I find it difficult to truly laugh or cry; even family members might not have seen me cried.
This week’s interviewer: Eunice Lam Yin-Nei 林燕妮
林燕妮: At age 17, she attended University of California at Berkeley, USA; subsequently obtaining a BS degree in Genetics Engineering. Thereafter, she graduated with a Master degree in Chinese Classical Literature from the University of Hong Kong. It can be said a well rounded blending of arts and sciences. She has traveled all over the world, and her field of vision is broad and wide. To date, she has published over 60 novels and prose essays. She won the 2nd Hong Kong Artistes Guild Best Author Award. 香港第二届艺术家联盟
This week’s guest: Steven Ma Chun Wai.
Ma Chun Wai: Hong Kong TVB artiste. Started off as a nonentity that nobody cared to talk about to being supporting characters in DIF (sic IV & V) 《一号皇庭》 and Healing Hands 1 《妙手仁心》to his break out role as Kangxi in Domd 1998 《鹿鼎记》, ultimately rising all the way to being TVB frontliner xiu sang . His representative work include: The Return of the Cuckoo, (sic not true) WTLB and Pitnol,
Steven is a very familiar face to TV audience; however, I had never met him until a chance encounter. But as far as this interview goes, I could have easily written it up without my notes because he is a very genuine person. This interview started off with laughter and concluded with tears.
I met him at one of Ming Pao’s 《明报周刊》elaborate, grand banquets. Celebrities giving Ming Pao’s face attended in droves. I am one of those people who are too lazy to walk around intermingling with the crowd, once seated I will not budge. Being over exposed to stars, I have no interest in star gazing.
I believe it was fate. A former Director of Ming Pao’s Interviews Dept., Tsui Yong Yong (TN: 徐蓉蓉 - SM's ex manager) brought Steven before me. She (TYY) had resigned 10 years ago. I had never met her prior to this. That night, Ming Pao’s Executive editor-in-chief, Zhou Jun Huan周群欢, did the introduction.
“This is Ah Tsui,” Ah Huan said.
“This is Ma Chun Wai,” Ah Tsui said.
“This is Ma Zai. He would like to speak to you,” Ah Tsui continued.
A stranger introducing yet another stranger, very interesting.
"Ah! You’re Tsui Yong Yong. 10 years ago when Ma Zai lost his mother, you did an interview with him. You wrote: "This child this and that." We’ve already met through your words." (see fn1 below. Must commend on Ms. Lam’s memory.) Then I said: “I too wish to interview Ma Chun Wai.”
“I came over just to meet you, not with the intention of being interviewed by you,” said Ma Zai.
“A chance encounter beats a deliberate one. Since we met up now, there’s no time like right now to arrange an interview with you, ” said I.
After all, Ma Zai, since 22 years old, has been in TVB for 15 years [sic]; starred in many series and is considerably well-known; of course, I would want an interview with him. Actually, he also writes. In fact, he had looked me up to discuss writing. (tn: hence this encounter) Tsui Yong Yong assists him in his publishing company as well as in other matters. Ah Tsui told me: “Actually, Ma Zai is my boss.”
Ma Zai’s contract with TVB is of the ‘old’ version, therefore, its conditions are naturally better than what they are now. TVB pays him an annual remuneration package 包薪, pay out in 12 monthly installments per year.
Mazai was dressed very casually: a dark color, long-sleeves shirt and a pair of trousers, and that’s it. I dread seeing gaudily dressed men. Men should look like men. Mazai is very manly. He laughed: “I’m a Chiu Chow chauvinistic male.” (dai lam yan)
Not much of a tv fan, I suddenly remembered: “You once acted Cho Ji!”
Mazai nodded: “That’s my most unforgettable character. Cho Ji’s literary talents and 'fung liu' 文采风流. When he was forced by his older brother, Cho Pei, to compose a 7-step poem, Ada, portraying Fuyi, took out her and Cho Ji’s silk handkerchief love token, and with teary eyes, she wistfully smiles as if to encourage him. My (Cho Ji) talent is subsequently evoked because of her. That deep love imbued with meaning but not obvious from expression, only Ada could perform it.”
“Then when you were filming WTLB, did you fall in love with Ada?”
“When performing Cho Ji, my emotions were temperamental. In the series, everybody was against me, using deviousness to coerce me, only she supported me, so during that period of filming, I did fall for Ada,” said Mazai.
Since we had so much to say to each other, we promptly set up a date and time for an interview. On that night, we did the interview as we ate our dinner. Mazai picked up the tab, reason being: “I’m a chauvinistic male.” Then we went to Hotel Shangrila to drink and chat. It was getting late, but we had not finished talking, so we hopped over to a late night premise that stayed open until 4 am.
Mazai had just bought a new camera; told me to stand here, stand there; told me to look into the camera and out came an image of a pair of female twins. Resembling a monkey, he jumped up and he jumped down as if he were a director; very lively. I discovered his directing instinct is very strong. He made the decisions for everything.
“You smile ba, not like this, smile a bit more. When you don’t smile, your eyes look murderous!”
Snapped a whole lot of pictures; the result was not too bad. But what I needed was his pictures not mine. So we had to bother Ah Tsui and her husband for assistance. Mazai casually sat down, did not even pose for the few snapshots that were dully taken. I like it. I dread pretentious men who preened and postured.
Mazai pointed at his nose: “My best feature is my nose.”
“I know”. I told him that his nose is very straight and pointy. The line along the nose bridge reflects light. (反光线??fan kwong sin) Very strange! Men's nose with high and straight bridge that also reflects light is very imposing.
“My eyes are not big enough. Haha! They are phoenix eyes,” said Mazai self-deprecatingly.
Talk and more talk, and up came life and death topic. Saw Mazai hung his head low, so low that one could not see his face properly. I asked him: "Mazai, you’re crying?” Maybe he was remembering his deceased mother who had passed away too young. He denied: “No, no. I’m just looking at the pictures, that’s all. I’m very sentimental over stuff that belongs to me. This camera is also.”
Talking about his mother he said: “Mother was 48 years old when she passed away. I was 28 years old then. When I was six years old I already knew that my mother was a chronic patient. She suffered terribly from her illness. She had cancer. Later, she could not even open her mouth, could not eat. Need to have an aperture done to her stomach for feeding. Mother initially didn’t want to do it but I couldn’t bear it so I cried. When she saw me cried, she immediately agreed to the surgery. But that night she died. The surgery was completed at around 10 pm. I accompanied her until she slept and then I went home to catch some sleep. Who knew, 8 hours after her surgery, she died. I did not get to see her for the last time. Only father was there with her. Mother when alive often frowned. I kissed her and said: “Mama, in my next lifetime I'd still want to be your son.”
Mama passed away, and this son was experiencing a mental breakdown. “When I got up from bed, I started drinking, drank until I was drunk. I could not face daylight. At 7 am when day breaks, I would quickly draw the curtains. And there I was; drunk, awake; awake, drunk. Loved ones cannot be replaced; should be cherished. That’s why I value life very much. For those who committed suicides, I feel pity but I will not sympathize. Because I’ve seen too many people because of survival strive to survive. Problems that can be solved are not problems. If my loved one wants to harm herself, then I will leave immediately. Often threatening to die, what about the family? I don’t want to create a single parent family.”
And now for the girlfriend topic: “In all, have 3: school days, first time, ran its course. 2nd love at 21 years old, dated for 3 years. She has an intimate friend now but we still keep in touch, and still sms each other. This current one, we have been dating for 6 years already. She’s younger than me by 1 year. I’m 37 years old now. But she looks young for her age and very lovable. She’s not in entertainment. She’s in business”
“Do you plan to get marry?” I asked.
“It’s at the bottle-neck now. Wait another 2 years ba. I want a family, want kids. I don’t want a divorce” said he, evenly.
“Two more years?” I said. “If dated for too long and not get married, it will often end in separation.”
“Other women had also stirred my heart, but not spurred me to action. Some whose physical appearances attracted me, some who converse well with me. They all have now become my female confidantes (intimate friends). I’m happy to have 3 female confidantes. (Hong ngan zi gei 红颜知己) I will not tell my problems to my family or to the men and sometimes not even to my girlfriend, but I will share them with my female confidantes," said Mazai.
“What kind of female confidantes? A lovers' or a close friends' kind of relationship? I asked.
"It does consist of a little bit of feelings in them. What’s the difference between a hong ngan confidante and a lover confidante?” asked he.
“A male and female relationship is like a thousand layer cake. I don’t know which layer they are on. Are they closer to the lover layer or to close friend layer? Only you would know,” said I.
Upon hearing this, Mazai was slightly confused.
Mazai’s childhood background was not good, lived in Shum Sui Po public housing. Now famous, he lives in a bright and clean apartment at Ho Man Tin. He lives with his older sister and brother-in-law. His father, used to his old residence, does not want to move in. But every so often he will drop by to make soup for his son. Mazai will leave a note for his father, “Soup is very good!” Another room is reserved for his mother. The forest may be still but the winds blow unceasingly in it; the son yearns but loved one is gone. (子欲养而亲不在) Mazai personally chose the original wallpapers for her room and adamantly refuses to have it replaced. Nobody is allowed to use that room; it remains forever his mother’s.* (see fn2 below)
Mazai likes to chat with people older than him. “I entered the working society very early. I went to CMA Secondary School,CMASS (華厂商會學校學) vocational school and studied metal works and carpentry there. Starting Form 3, after school at 3:35 pm, I would go to Sing Kwong Street in Causeway Bay and worked until 8:30 pm. I would be at school by 7 am the next morning. Form 3, Form 4 and Form 5, I worked consecutively for 3 years including selling ice cream for a bakery company. I also worked at Longman book warehouse selling educational books, and at 齡記書店 bookstore for 3 months, also selling educational books. And then went to Tin Chemicals Co. 田氏化工 to sell plastics.”
Having worked so long as a salesman, naturally his articulation is good. During the summer breaks when school was out, he worked full time. During those periods, he could hand over a hundred over dollars per month to his mama. Mazai’s character exemplifies the Chew Chow people’s endurance to hard work and forbearance in hardship. His sales jobs enabled him to improve his articulation in Cantonese, Mandarin and English. Moreover, he likes to intersperse his speech with these 3 languages.
When injured doing a scene, he thought nothing of it. He has dealt with that in metalwork and carpentry at school before. “Once there was this scene in a series, I had to pull an enormous cannon up a hill. (tn: pitnol) Unexpectedly, my fingers were cut by a rock outcrop and bled all over both my hands. All I did was casually shook my hands to rid the blood off them. The girls viewed me as a hero. And then when riding a horse, it suddenly flung back its head and coincidentally bumped right onto my face. Now my right eye, if lack of sleep, will sink.
“I love to act. Tomorrow I will go to the market to learn how to cut fish. In my next series I will portray a fish monger. That series is called SOL 《占星奇缘》。 After that I will have to shave my head bald. Will portray Pu Songling, Qing period drama."
I said: “There’s not much materials on Pu Songling’s life. Mazai, you can totally let loose your imagination and make him a personality.”
“Hou ah!” Sure! said Mazai.
There’s one quota Mazai reserved for himself: “I want to be the antagonist for once. The kind that viewers like and not hate; that’s what I hope for. I’m always portraying the good guy; a constantly good person will bore people.”
Good roles are hard to come by; like Godfather, both father and son are the antagonists but yet well liked by the viewers. Here’s hoping that such a good villainous role would fall into Mazai’s hand. Mazai’s showbiz luck is considerable. Soon after joining TVB, he got to portray Kangxi in Domd1998. “At that time, I was a skinny Kangxi version, only 125 lbs. Now it’s at standard, 150 lbs.” Match his height of 1.78 meters; it’s very ideal.
“I’ve released albums. In 1993, I participated in Pioneer Karaoke Singing Competition, and won the championship. The prize was a set of audio equipments (hi-fi set?) HK$10,000 cash and a trip to Japan. That was my first time leaving Hong Kong. The same year, I released my first cd. After joining TVB, I sang many theme songs such as Healing Hands; in all I’ve released 14 cds.”
Thereafter, he enthusiastically suggested going to karaoke. His vocal was not bad at all. At karaoke, Mazai took much pleasure in singing. Ah Tsui sang too, as did Ah Huan (周群欢), who surprisingly possesses a 16-year- old sweet voice. I don’t, so did not sing. Mazai has an ability to bring people together. He did not even treat this as an interview. If my memory was not this good, I would not know what to do. I like 《李香兰》， (note: Steven’s championship song) but Mazai refused to sing it. But finally, pressured by me, he sang it. Not bad at all ya, considering that song is pretty tricky to sing. Frolicking non stop; interview still not completed yet. So we made an appointment for another day.
Next day dinner, then Peninsular Hotel disco, where Mazai got to show off his dance moves. Later, “Let’s go to my house ba,” Mazai suggested. At home, we were more relaxed. We drank a lot of red wine. Mazai, after some wine, had his guards completely down.
“You’re very brutal ya, 蛮, obstinately unreasonable 刁蛮; no, barbaric 蛮, barbarian 野蛮 . Asking the same question that you’ve already asked before, why ask it again?” he said to me. (note: wordplay on 蛮)
Thank you, complaining I was barbaric means I was looked upon as friend. I only asked him Cho Ji was Cao Cao’s number what son, forced him to sing “李香兰”，and about his relationship with his girlfriend, because last time I asked I sensed something amiss.
“Broke up.” They have broken off already, Mazai told me.
In a moment of stirred emotions, his penned up worries and grievances surged, overwhelming his heart. Mazai cried: “I’m tired, so very tired ya!” Truly tired indeed; when young, Mama was ill so he was unlike other regular kids who were taken care of by their mothers. He studied and worked at the same time. He shouldered the burdens of a home. Being busy in tv work is a good thing, but lack of rest is naturally tiring. “I’m tired.” Mazai laughed and cried; letting it out is good. Men sometimes are like kids; actually every one of them is that.
We’ve both enjoyed this roaming interview very much. I was very happy but still I need to recite some Ma’s quotes here:
“In the olden days, sexual passions were taboo, so they were depicted in ghost stories. So Pu Songling wrote Liao Zhai instead.”
“We, thespians, are not props. Whatever character company gives me, I need to bring it to life.”
“Partners are very important. If the person playing opposite you is good, then I can make that scene shine.”
“Action scenes: Body doubles falling every which way, but nobody seems to see them as people. Martial arts instructors or thespians, whenever they completed a dangerous act or maybe completed a lengthy scene at one go, everybody around would clap. Actually, everybody needs encouragement, regardless. But it’s a pity that obtaining an encouragement from a person’s mouth is so difficult.”
“Nowadays, society’s new generation is very picky. The advance in technology has given them too much. But they do not cherish it. They are lacking in self-introspection. All those who work must do some self-introspection and examine their conscience.”
“I was very strange, very aloof and withdrawn, over thinking since young, had a foul temper.”
“I love to dream, in my dreams I can do things that I can’t in real life, like flying. In dreams, I really flew the whole night long. When awake, will feel tired. When I dreamed I hurt my knees on a fall, when awake my knees truly hurt.”
“I fear cockroaches. Upon seeing one, will become stupefied; violently exterminate it.”
“In Sing Pao’s “Artistes’ Inner Voices” 700-word column, I penned 344 of the articles in it, each 700 words long.” (He has also published a prose essay book. He can write.)
“Falling in love can make people very happy, but it can also bring them excruciating pain. Committing suicide for love is most unromantic. In my life philosophy, it is not tolerated at all.”
“When I get married, I must have kids. Kids like me and I like them too. When I coax a kid to eat kwai ling gou 龟苓膏, I’ll say “See, your kwai kwai is coming!”"
“I always converse better with other people’s fathers than with mine. Just like how my brother-in-law can converse better with my father. Actually my personality is like my father’s. Father also loves me but somehow we just can't hold a conversation between us.”
“I think I’m quite capable. At this stage in my life, I do right by heaven, do right by earth and do right by my family and friends.”
“Men returning to Mainland China for wives is inevitable. Hong Kong females are too smart, too capable. The men simply can’t keep up with them. Actually, men enjoy being praised and admired.”
“I love to live within my own thoughts. My peers do not understand my thoughts, and precisely because of this, I mature even faster. That’s why most of my friends are older than me.”
“Men like being deeply loved by a woman.”
“Acting, what is rhythm / pacing? That should involve every one of the series characters’ responses to every thing and every line. It’s not Ma Chun Wai’s rhythm. Else wouldn’t I be forever just portraying myself?”
“A comedy cannot be carried out by just one person. It has to be a group activity; throwing, catching, all must be well timed and space coordinated for me; only then can it edify me to pull off the laughter provoking lines at the right time. Because in a comedy, a person’s dropping the ball will diminish your performance.”
“I find it difficult to truly laugh or cry; even family members might not have seen me cried. My female confidantes have seen me cried. To hypocrites, I will not even bother to smile.”
I believe during our numerous meetings, Mazai’s emotions were all genuine. Even an actor cannot fake them successively three times in a row, each time 8 hours ba?
fn1: Tsui Yong Yong and Steven became good friends after his interview with her about his mother's death. When Steven opened his own publishing company, he invited Ms. Tsui to join his company as the managing director. Ms. Tsui was very impressed with Steven as a person and as a writer so she quit her job at Ming Pao to take up Steven’s offer. TYY's 'rambling' on how she came to work for Steven.
fn2: from another news report about his mother's bedroom. post 563
He vowed to give his mother a better life. He bought a luxury home at Ho Man Tin (何文田), and had his parents moved from a public housing single unit to a 1000 over square feet luxury home. He purchased the new home in July 1999, but in the same month on the 21st, his mother passed away. Steven's stubborn clinging on to his mother's bedroom is not healthy as it prevents him from completely moving on and forward as his emotions of that time period is arrested/frozen in time, imo. Anyway, hopefully one day in time he can get past that tragedy and cleanse his soul of the guilt over his mother's death.
translated by: tamaya