Film still: The Road to Mandalay/Facebook
Video: Vina Chia
“I don’t think this is my return to showbiz - I’ve never really left,” Kai Ko grinned. With a sheepish grin, he added, “I was just busy for that year or so.” The 25-year-old Taiwan actor made headlines for all the wrong reasons when he, together with Jaycee Chan, got busted for marijuana use in 2014.
After serving time in a Beijing detention centre, he started off with participating in charitable events before finally making his return to acting in director Midi Z’s latest film, The Road to Mandalay.
Kai, Midi Z, lead actress Wu Ke Xi and producer Patrick Mao Huang attended an In Conversation session with members of the media and public hours before the movie’s premiere in Singapore on December 1. Held at the ArtScience Museum as part of the Singapore International Film Festival lineup, the cast and crew spoke candidly about the immense preparation that was put into this film.
L-R: Kai Ko, Wu Ke Xi, Midi Z
Both Kai and Ke Xi were sent to a factory in Thailand to assimilate with their roles of Myanmar citizens who illegally entered Thailand in a quest for a better life. “If you look at them now, you’d know with one look that they’re stars - just look how they shine,” Midi Z explained. “I visited them every two weeks when they were there. For the first two months, they still looked exactly as they are now; after that, they started to blend into the surroundings - I would never have been able to pick them out from the rest of the workers there.”
Prior to jetting off to Thailand, Ke Xi was also sent to a restaurant in Taiwan to do the dishes for six months. “The director wanted my hands to look really rough so that I would look realistic as a factory worker,” she explained. “There were a couple of my celeb pals who spotted me there, though they kept it quiet because they heard about the reason why I was on dishwashing duty.”
Continued: What does Kai have to say about fans who think he's no longer attractive after watching his new film?
L-R: Kai Ko, Wu Ke Xi, Midi Z, Patrick Mao Huang
On their life in Thailand, Kai said, “We used to wake up at 4am to leave for the factory; we’d start work at 6.30am or so and only be able to go home at night.” While the physical challenges sounded daunting enough for the average person, he shared that the emotional suppression he experienced during his one year stay there was what he thought was hardest to cope with.
“I thought I was going into depression,” he confessed. “My character is someone who keeps things bottled up and because I wanted to become like him, I did my best to follow suit (...) I had a very hard time convincing myself to become my character because we have very different values and mentalities, so it was really easy for me to shed his personality once filming wrapped.”
For his hard work, Kai was nominated in the Best Actor category at the recent Golden Horse Awards. While the award ultimately went to Fan Wei for his role in Mr No Problem, Kai mused that he is content to have been pitted against industry heavyweights in the first place.
On his thoughts of Kai missing out on the Best Actor award, Midi Z chuckled, “I don’t believe in regrets - the only time that I feel that I did the actors wrong is when it comes to performance categories at awards - I cut out segments of the film that really showcased their acting chops but because of how the movie’s flow was, I had no choice but to leave them out. If I had included all of that in, people might have been more impressed by both actors' skills."
While Midi Z's choice of leading man for his first big production might have raised a few eyebrows, he maintained that Kai's natural talent is what convinced him to cast the actor when nobody else would.
"I don't have any projects lined up at the moment," Kai confessed. "I'll be busy for the next couple of months with promoting The Road to Mandalay, so I'll probably only start work on a new movie after the new year."
As for shedding his heartthrob-next-door image to convincingly portray his role, Kai philosophised, “If I had fans who started liking me during You Are The Apple Of My Eye but decided that I’m not that attractive any longer after watching The Road To Mandalay, I’ll feel that I’ve actually done my job well as an actor.”
He continued with a wry smile, “After all, I’ll continue filming movies and I believe the day will come where I choose a really charming character as my next role to drive all of them crazy again.”