New York Asian 2019 Interview: HAN DAN Star George Hu on Setting Fire to the Past

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New York Asian 2019 Interview: HAN DAN Star George Hu on Setting Fire to the Past
The career path of George Hu has been a serendipitous one:  The native New Yorker was talent scouted whilst on a family visit to Taiwan, despite being unable to fluently speak Mandarin, or Taiwanese.  That didn’t stop Hu from becoming one of Taiwan’s most popular television and film actors.  
 
In director Huang Chao-liang’s semi-biographical opus, Han Dan, Hu seethes volcanically as the good boy bullied into going bad.  Hu sat for an exclusive chat with LMD about the movie’s combustible mix of internalised rage and firecrackers.
 
 
The Lady Miz Diva: How did the role of Lin {Zheng-Kun} come to you?
 
George Hu:  Well, we {director Huang Chao-liang} worked together {Summer Fever}, so he had the image of me playing this role.  He was just trying to connect my own personality to this character.  There’s two main leads in this film; and they’re each a shadow of him.  They are both sides of him, my character is his good side gone bad.  The other character is the bully becoming the good guy.
 
So, he would give me one word in Chinese, which translated means “hide,” or “buried.”  I didn’t understand until I started looking at the character’s background story and the script, and it felt like I knew what he meant afterward. 
 
Because there are areas where, if, for a regular person -- for instance, like me -- if you would come across a conflict, sometimes you would explode.  Sometimes you would react towards the person that gives you these negative comments, or negative behavior toward you; but director wanted his character, Lin -- he’s burying all those emotions, and it got me sick.  It got me sick to the point where we were filming, and I was like, “Why?  Why?”. {Laughs}
 
LMD:  This film has enough character development for four different movies.  Your Lin is the quintessential 'good boy,'  Yet, throughout the duration of this film, his emotional arc is like a roller coaster.  How did you work with director Huang Chao-liang, to keep a steady line through so much upheaval? 
 
GH:  Before filming, we were reading the script probably three or four times, back and forth, back and forth.  So, in every scene would talk about, ‘What do you think this character would do?’  In his mind, Director has his own story, and I would have my own story; and we would just try to meet in the middle.  He wouldn’t go too overboard in saying, ‘I want this,’ or ‘I want that.’  He would be more lenient.  So, when we found our point, it would be easier to film this character.
 
There were times when we would go off the roller coaster; I would go straight sometimes, and he would say, “No, no, no, you gotta take it back in.  You have to wait for this moment to explode”.  So, that was why when I exploded, it felt so good.  I finally exploded, because there were all these emotions buried deep within this character.
 
LMD:  Knowing that so much of the film is based on the life and personality of director Huang, was he open to your interpretation and suggestions about a character that was essentially himself?
 
GH:  He was definitely open to my suggestions, and I was definitely open to his.  Plus, because this character is based on his self-memory, as well, I would definitely have to listen to his side of the story and mesh it with my side of the story to make it more reasonable for me to be comfortable acting this character as a role. 
 
So, at first it was a little bit {tricky}, but then afterwards, it was like, ‘You know what?  It does make sense, because he’s been through it.’  He says it’s been through it, so I’m not going to question that.  {Laughs}
 
LMD:  There is not a lot of dialog in this film, and we have to sort of study your character’s face to understand what he’s thinking.  In that climactic scene, before Lin finally does explode, you can see the moment when his heart breaks watching the girl he loves with his trash rival, and then the bottled up fury when the rival taunts him.  In that moment you keep waiting for him to haul off and rip the guy to pieces, but he never does.
 
GH:  This character, I would say, can backstab a person, if he wanted to.  He doesn’t want any confrontation up front; he wants confrontation in the back.  In that moment when he just wants to punish that bully, he didn’t want to really kill him.  He just wanted to punish him.  Lin wanted him to deal with the pain that he dealt with, that he had to go through.  So, he pretty much lights it up on fire, but he didn’t think that that situation would happen.  He didn’t think it all through.
 
LMD:  You mentioned how you were becoming physically sick of having to internalise so much of Lin’s emotions.  Were you able to leave Lin on the set at the end of the day?
 
GH: I thought when it was the huge wrap -- when we were done with the film -- that I was leaving him, already.  Back when we were filming the first film together, that got to me after two years.  Looking at the trailer, I broke down.  I thought I was over it, because it was two years after that film, why am I being upset and really blue when watching this trailer?  So, I’m not totally over it.  So, I reminded myself not to get too deep with this new character.  
 
Luckily, it was only a month, because after wrapping filming, I was doing some photo shoots and commercials, and I was looking in the mirror and seeing something wrong.  There was really something wrong with me. {Laughs}  It was definitely not me. {Laughs}  It’s something like possession, but it’s not.  I have to learn to get rid of all this. {Laughs}
 
LMD:  Tell us about filming the firecracker ritual.  Please tell me it was all CGI? 
 
GH: Okay, it was definitely CGI, but we had to make it more realistic.  We were still on the podium being carried around, and they would light the firecrackers from about three yards away.  I mean, it’s kind of far, but not too far, because firecrackers, they don’t have eyes; meaning when you light them up, they can shoot up anywhere. 
 
So, you still have a little bit hitting your skin, but it wasn’t anything too severe, but the feeling actually helped my character.
 
LMD:  I’m curious about what motivates Lin to not only take responsibility for A-yi {Ming-yi}’s rehabilitation, but to keep him nearby and really bring him into his life and business?  At first it seems clear it’s guilt over the fireworks incident, but then there is bonding that occurs between the pair of them.  Talk about the arc of their relationship.
 
GH:  In my version, I would say it’s because he didn’t have that many friends back then.  Even though A-yi was his childhood bully, Lin found his other side.  He see this other side, where, if we were best friends, A-yi would do anything for me:  We would protect each other, he would protect me, I would protect him, and it’s sort of like a brotherhood to him.  He saw this in him.  
 
But, when Lin calms down, and just thinks back -- because he can’t let go of the past, he thinks back a lot -- he thinks, if you didn’t bully me, I wouldn’t be the way I am right now.  It’s because of you that I’m me, and it’s because of me that you’re you.  So, he can’t forget the past, and once he thinks about it, it’s to the point where he’s hiding all the secrets behind him, and keeping them away from A-yi until he found out.
 
LMD:  That relationship is just plain weird…
 
GH:  It’s weird, yes.  It’s like, either it’s betrayal, or brotherhood.  It’s like a mix between those two.
 
LMD:  So, how did you and the other actor, Cheng Jen-Shuo work together to build that strange bond?  Did you spend time together off the set, or extra rehearsals?
 
GH:  Not really.  I mean, before shooting, we got the chance to meet with each other, and there was a spark that went off every time we’d meet each other.  It was like, ‘This is weird, but it’s nice,’ because we’d known each other for a long time, but we started work not too long ago, and we were buddy-buddies off set all the time.
 
For the brotherhood part, it was easy to act.  We would always kid around.  When it got intense, that was when we would really give it 110%.
 
LMD:  As HAN DAN is based off director Huang’s real-life experiences, were there particular memories he shared with you from his real life to help you develop your character?
 
GH:  Throughout his childhood, everybody was also looking up towards him.  Out of his siblings, everybody was looking at him, saying, ‘You have a bright future. I can tell you have a bright future.”  But at the same time, when he would go to school and deal with being bullied, he said to himself that he didn’t want to be the one protecting the bullies, so, he had that mentality to fight back.  So, that’s the part where the other side of his character comes in.  
 
Plus he’s from Taitung, which is the ceremonial area; it gives him an aspect of writing the script for four years.  So, he gave me a lot of inferences from back in the day, where he wanted to fight back, but if he fought back, it would affect his family’s name.  He told me things like that.  
 
In the end, I understood what he was saying about this character where you cannot do anything at all.  You will have your chance, just not the way the other character behaves towards fighting back.  Lin fights back smartly.
 
LMD:  Your career is fascinating: You hadn’t intended at all to become an actor, or singer, or any kind of famous anything, yet here you are.  Are you pretty much settled on professional life in Taiwan, or are you interested or pursuing acting roles here in the US?
 
GH:  I’ve always been interested.  After landing my first steps in the entertainment business, I was always like, my first language is English, and if I can use that to my advantage, I would actually try to land a role over here.  I’ve been trying, and so far, I guess it’s lost in translation, I dunno.  
 
I’m based in Asia right now, so if I were to land a role over here, in my point of view, I would have to move back here.  There are collaborations with Asia and America, where there are Asian films being filmed in America.  I haven’t had that chance to be a part of that kind of role.
 
This interview is cross-posted on my own site, The Diva Review. Please enjoy additional content, including exclusive photos there.
 
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George HuHan DanHuang Chao-liangNew York Asian Film FestivalNYAFFTaiwanTaiwanese Cinema

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