Tommy Tam Fu-wing, better known by his screen name Ti Lung (狄龍), has played heroic roles in countless movies and TV dramas since the 1970s.
He’s won the coveted Golden Horse Award and Hong Kong Film Award. As an actor, there’s not much he has yet to prove.
What about playing the role of himself? That’s exactly what he’s doing now, along with his true-to-life son, as they host a show on maladies and remedies called Health and Wealth, which airs every Monday at 8.30 p.m. on RTHK TV 31.
Aged 69, Tam hasn’t thought of retirement yet. He says he loves acting so much he simply can’t quit.
His son, Shaun Tam Chun-yin, has been pursuing an acting career as well since 2000.
“As the saying goes, there aren’t any minor roles. As long as you perfect your role, you’re a great actor,” says Tam, who always advises his son to stay humble and be well-prepared as the golden opportunity may come any time.
The film that catapulted Tam to fame was John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow (英雄本色) in 1986, where he co-starred with Chow Yun-fat (周潤發) as the head of triad gangsters, Sung Tse-ho or Brother Ho.
Tam didn’t want his son to enter the movie business.
“He never took me to the set,” says the younger Tam. “And after the showing of A Better Tomorrow, I got chased and beaten up at school because my friends thought that beating up the son of ‘Brother Ho’ was cool.”
That’s the reason why Tam did not to take up any more films that promote Hong Kong’s triad society.
“The message of triad films could be quite misleading. Some children might not be mature enough to understand them and so they might pay a high price if they went astray.”
However, Tam refuses to take the credit for not spreading the culture of triad gangs. He says it’s just a personal decision; he felt he was becoming too repetitive for performing in so many movies of the same kind.
Another famous role Tam played is that of Justice Bao Zheng, a righteous man of law in ancient China’s Song Dynasty.
Shaun believes the role fits his father well because he has the same personality. Tam politely dismisses the compliment, saying he’s a dull person in real life.
Tam and his wife Tao Man-ming are regarded as a model couple in the industry.
“The way I look at it, it’s my dad who always gives in at the last minute,” says Shaun. “Mom is always his top priority.”
Tam says having seen so many sad instances of relationships gone wrong, he wouldn’t want to see the same thing happen in his own family.
And so he makes it a point to avoid anything that may result in a misunderstanding later on.
In his latest movie, All You Need is Love, director Richie Ren reveals that Tam always kept his hands behind his back and refused to take the hands of a female dance teacher during a training session. Tam says he wouldn’t hold hands with anyone but his wife.
“Oh, my wife knows dancing and so I think she’s the best person to show me how to do it,” he says.
Why didn’t Tam want his son to join the movie industry?
“I used to have nothing. But since my son was born, I have everything I need. I sincerely hope that he can live the way he wants to.”
Shaun hasn’t disappointed his father. He fulfilled his father’s wish by earning a degree in advertising in Canada before joining the entertainment circle.
Plus he also has a happy family of his own with an adorable daughter.
According to Shaun, his father, although seen as a hero on screen, is very serious but overly pessimistic in real life.
“The water supply at home was cut off once. Since then, my father always keeps a few buckets of fresh water at home every day.”
“Three on the rooftop and two on the balcony,” Tam proudly admits.
“I also stored enough instant noodles at home for one week not long ago when the entire Soy Street in Mong Kok was blocked [during the Umbrella Movement].”
It might be the most practical thing to do. “I am getting old. I simply need something that comes handy.”
It’s not hard to imagine how Tam prepares for an acting role. He does it meticulously.
“Whenever he gets the script, he will copy it out once,” says Shaun. “That’s his habit. He finds it easier to memorize the script that way.”
“Of course, I wouldn’t want to make ‘No Good’ scenes because of my mistakes,” adds Tam.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept. 7.
Translation by Darlie Yiu
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