After suffering a stroke, Taiwanese actor Lee Kang-sheng is grateful for any role

Golden Horse award winner Lee Kang-sheng is thankful for the movie roles he gets despite his health woes

Lee Kang-sheng plays a gay professor who rents an apartment with his student lover in The Tenants Downstairs.
Lee Kang-sheng plays a gay professor who rents an apartment with his student lover in The Tenants Downstairs. PHOTO: MM2 ENTERTAINMENT

Taiwanese actor Lee Kang-sheng, who is most famous for being acclaimed director Tsai Ming-liang's frequent collaborator, is happy he is still getting movie roles.

After suffering a minor stroke two years ago, he does not mind not playing leading parts.

Given his physical condition, he has had to look at his career and life a little differently, says the 47-year- old, who won a Golden Horse award for Best Actor for the film, Stray Dogs (2013).

"I'm forever grateful to directors who still give me a chance to act in their films. I have to stay at home and rest a lot of the time because of my health, but I still love to perform and I don't see myself quitting anytime soon.

"For others to see that and to keep giving me so many opportunities, it's really just amazing," he tells The Straits Times in Mandarin over the telephone from his home in Taipei.

His speech is slow and slightly muffled, likely a result of the stroke he suffered while touring in Europe for the stage production, The Monk From Tang Dynasty.

The stroke is in addition to a neck injury that he suffered as a teenager, which has since worsened and occasionally causes his head to involuntarily roll to one side.

"If the neck injury gets worse, I think I'll have to go behind the scenes altogether. You can't have a guy in front of a camera with his head rolling everywhere," says the bachelor.

So, he says he cherishes every acting project he does these days, including his latest film, The Tenants Downstairs, which opens in cinemas tomorrow.

Based on the book, You're The Apple Of My Eye, by Giddens Ko, who also directed the 2011 film of the same name, the thriller is about a landlord (played by Simon Yam) who spies on and orchestrates events among his tenants.

Lee plays one of the tenants, a gay professor who rents an apartment with his younger student lover (played by newcomer Bernard Sen Jun).

This is not the first gay character he has portrayed, having also played gay men in films such as Rebels Of The Neon God (1992) and The River (1997).

"I used to mind it when directors kept giving me only gay roles because I was afraid of being typecast. But now, I don't complain. As long as the script is good, that's good enough for me," says the actor who has never revealed his sexual orientation.

"Director Adam Tsuei was very sincere when he came to ask me to join his cast and said I was the only one who would be able to play the role well. It's hard to say no to that."

Tsuei, who makes his directorial debut with Tenants, was the former president of Sony Music Entertainment for the Greater China Region and who has since become an influential film producer in recent years.

Some of the films he has produced include the mega hits, You're The Apple Of My Eye and Chinese romance drama Tiny Times (2013).

Lee says: "For a new director, I think he has done a great job. We talked a lot about the story and the characters before filming, so we were on the same page."

Having a director tell Lee in detail what he wants is probably a new experience for the actor, considering how experimental his long- time collaborator Tsai is.

Lee has appeared in all 10 feature films helmed by the Malaysia-born, Taiwan-based arthouse film-maker, including Stray Dogs, the work that earned him his Golden Horse acting award, as well as The River (1997) and The Wayward Cloud (2005).

According to Lee, Tsai, 58, often takes excruciatingly long single takes of scenes, simply because "he doesn't know what he wants".

He says half-jokingly: "Tsai shoots long shots because he's hoping to get the most realistic and best part of the whole thing somewhere in the middle. Sometimes, it's really, really long."

For Stray Dogs, for example, he had to squat by the river for 40 minutes.

"The entire time I was squatting there, I was wondering when the director would yell 'cut'. Finally, when the skies got dark, he decided to stop production.

"As the crew packed up around me, I continued to squat there. They asked me, 'Why are you not getting up yet?' And I could only tell them that my legs were numb."

•Follow Yip Wai Yee on Twitter @STyipwaiyee

•The Tenants Downstairs opens in cinemas tomorrow.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 12, 2016, with the headline After suffering a stroke, Taiwanese actor Lee Kang-sheng is grateful for any role. Subscribe