Taiwanese actor Chang Chen slows down output to connect with his daughter

Chang Chen.
Chang Chen.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Chang Chen, who has a two-year-old daughter, is happy to be the voice of Snowball in the Taiwanese version of animated film The Secret Life Of Pets

Sometimes all a serious actor like Taiwanese star Chang Chen wants to do is play a maniacal bunny rabbit.

After years of playing intense, sometimes menacing roles in films, the acclaimed actor with the cool, aloof image voiced the psychopathic rabbit Snowball in the Taiwanese version of animated flick The Secret Life Of Pets (2016).

In Singapore on Monday for the opening of luxury clothing label Paul & Shark at Marina Bay Sands, he tells The Straits Times with a laugh that he was in fact the one who took the initiative to ask to be a part of the film.

"I had voiced an animated movie before, which was really fun, so I wanted to do it again. I happen to know people from the company behind the film, so I expressed interest in voicing a part. Plus, I have a pet of my own, so this movie was the perfect fit.

"I don't always want to do the serious stuff," says the 40-year-old, who owns a chihuahua and had previously voiced Sinbad for the Taiwanese version of Sinbad: Legend Of The Seven Seas (2003).

Does his choice of role have anything to do with the fact that he is now a father of a two-year-old daughter and therefore wishes to do something that she can enjoy watching?

As an actor, you don't want to keep doing the same thing. And I know it's hard to believe, but I am actually quite a funny person in real life.

CHANG CHEN, who is known for playing intense roles

"Not in this case," he says.

"She's too young, so we don't let her watch TV or cartoons. But in the years to come, I'm on the lookout for more films that children can watch. I won't always choose dark or artsy roles."

Chang debuted at the age of 15 playing the lead role of a student in Edward Yang's acclaimed arthouse drama A Brighter Summer Day (1991).

Since then, he has collaborated with other top auteurs in Asia, playing a troubled lover in fellow Taiwanese Hou Hsiao-hsien's Three Times (2005) as well as popping up in several of Hong Kong film-maker Wong Kar Wai's works, including 2046 (2004) and The Grandmaster (2013).

This year, he will be seen playing a professional hitman on the run in the drama Mr Long, which screened in competition at the Berlin International Film Festival; as well as reprising the role of a troubled imperial assassin in the wuxia flick Brotherhood Of Blades 2, a sequel to the critically acclaimed 2014 movie.

The new films come more than 11/2 years after the release of his last movie, Chen Kaige's Monk Comes Down The Mountain (2015).

The slowing film output is deliberate, he says.

"Kids grow up so quickly. If I don't stay home as much as I can now, I may lose that connection with my daughter. Soon, she may not give me kisses anymore," says Chang, who is married to his former assistant Ann Zhuang.

He is so intent on spending more time with his family that he will not be filming anything until August.

"I took the first half of the year off to be with my daughter. Last year, when I was filming, I would work three weeks in China and then fly back to Taiwan to be with my family for one week.

"It was pretty tiring, so I think this is the better option for me," he says.

When he does return to work, it will likely be for a romantic comedy - his first attempt at the genre.

"It's just wanting to try something completely different.

"As an actor, you don't want to keep doing the same thing.

"And I know it's hard to believe, but I am actually quite a funny person in real life," he says with a grin.

•Follow Yip Wai Yee on Twitter@STyipwaiyee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 10, 2017, with the headline 'There is a bunny rabbit in this serious actor'. Print Edition | Subscribe