Touched by a psychic

Taiwanese actress Kuo Shu-yau (above) plays temple medium Xiao Zhen in HBO Asia’s first Mandarin original series.
Taiwanese actress Kuo Shu-yau (above) plays temple medium Xiao Zhen in HBO Asia’s first Mandarin original series. PHOTO: HBO ASIA
Taiwanese actress Kuo Shu-yau plays temple medium Xiao Zhen (above) in HBO Asia’s first Mandarin original series.
Taiwanese actress Kuo Shu-yau plays temple medium Xiao Zhen (above) in HBO Asia’s first Mandarin original series. PHOTO: HBO ASIA

Playing a temple medium in The Teenage Psychic makes Taiwanese actress Kuo Shu-yau cherish her loved ones more

Taiwanese actress Kuo Shu-yau, 26, plays a temple medium who can see ghosts in HBO Asia's first Mandarin original series, The Teenage Psychic, which premieres on the cable channel on Sunday.

If Kuo possesses the paranormal ability in reality, she wants to connect with the spirit of her late father, who died of a heart attack when she was 17.

"I have so much to tell him. I want to share with him about my work. My heart aches whenever I think about how my father will not be there to walk me down the aisle when I get married," says the actress, who is reportedly dating dancer Jin Yang, 25.

She was speaking to The Straits Times last week at a press event in Kuala Lumpur to promote the six- episode drama, which revolves around the psychic high-schooler's struggle to lead a normal life as she carries out her spiritual duties in the temple.

Being the oldest daughter, Kuo took it upon herself to help her mother with the family's finances, taking on part-time jobs which led to her show-business break.

She was talent-spotted while modelling and shot to fame after appearing in a Taiwanese video- gaming commercial clad in a bustier top and mini skirt in 2009.

That year, she released her debut album Love's Embrace and promoted it by holding autograph- cum-hugging sessions.

Blessed with an angelic face and a voluptuous figure, her physical attributes were also a bane as netizens labelled her an airhead .

But she proved critics wrong when she won the Golden Horse Best Newcomer award in 2013 for her role as a teenage tug-of-war team member in the Taiwanese movie, Step Back To Glory (2013).

Calling it a turning point in her career, she says in Mandarin: "Before getting the award, most of the things I did were not acknowledged by the public. I did not go to acting school and I often wondered if I was suitable for this line of work.

"The award gave me more confidence and courage to continue pursuing acting."

She now picks roles that she finds a challenge and which resonate with her.

That was why she auditioned for the role of medium Xiao Zhen, who uses her gift to help the living come to terms with the loss of their loved ones.

"I was drawn to the script's unconventional premise of a young girl working at a temple," says Kuo, who has a younger brother and a younger sister.

"I also felt for the role, which changed my perspective on life. I now truly understand the adage, 'seize the day'. I've learnt to cherish my loved ones more."

To get into character, she sought advice from former medium Sophiyah Liu, whose growing years and time working at a temple served as inspiration for the script.

Liu was invited to be the show's consultant, giving Kuo tips on the proper stance to wield a sword in a ritual and how to draw a talisman.

Kuo does not find interacting with the paranormal world, albeit a make-believe one, frightening.

She says the tabloid nature of the Taiwanese media makes her feel that "humans are scarier than ghosts".

For example, she was plagued by rumours of being arrogant on set and romancing her co-star Kent Tsai.

She says: "No matter what I talk about in an interview, the Taiwanese press will focus on gossip.

"I'm worried the rumours will overshadow the production. This is when I feel that humans can be scarier than ghosts."

•The Teenage Psychic premieres on Sunday at 10pm on HBO (StarHub TV Channel 601). The series will also be available on HBO On Demand (StarHub TV Ch 602) and HBO on StarHub Go.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 27, 2017, with the headline 'Touched by a psychic'. Print Edition | Subscribe