Taiwanese star: 'I was slapped 30 times'

Wu Ke-xi, who wrote and stars in Nina Wu, at the 72nd Cannes film festival.
Wu Ke-xi, who wrote and stars in Nina Wu, at the 72nd Cannes film festival. PHOTO: REUTERS

CANNES (France) • Actress Wu Ke-xi has never been raped by an all-powerful movie mogul - as happens in her striking new movie at the Cannes film festival.

But the Taiwanese star knows what it is to be humiliated by a director drunk on his own power.

She will never forget being repeatedly slapped in the face during the shoot of an advertisement for a mahjong video game early in her career. Wu was publicly punished for having the temerity to ask the director a question.

"I just wanted to know whether a shot would be a close-up or in long shot so I could prepare myself," the actress said at Cannes, where the movie Nina Wu, which she both wrote and stars in, is in the official section.

"The director asked the whole crew to collect all the banknotes they were using in the advert and to bring them to him. He made a fan out of them. Then he asked another actor to slap me in the face with them about 30 times.

"It went on and on, him shooting it all in close-up. Everyone was shocked. This wasn't in the script," Wu, 36, said.

She said it was a punishment for speaking out of turn. Hers was only a bit part and "someone who is so low-class didn't have the right to ask a question".

The spectre of Harvey Weinstein hangs heavily over Nina Wu, the story of a failing actress so desperate to grab her one chance of fame that she is prepared to put herself through anything.

Indeed Wu, who began as a hip-hop dancer and endured "some crazy years" before her own career took off, started writing it after the Hollywood mogul's fall.

"I kept wondering what happened in those rooms. I was so shocked and curious," she said as scandal after scandal broke in Hollywood, South Korea and Japan.

In Taiwan itself, one of the island's most acclaimed directors, Chang Tso-chi, was already behind bars for raping a scriptwriter. And in February, another major industry player, actor-director Doze Niu, was charged with sexual assault.

But it was the appalling cases involving South Korean actresses that haunted Wu, in particular that of Jang Ja-yeon, whose suicide in 2009, after she was abused by the head of her studio, was initially covered up.

Nina Wu director Midi Z said the film industry in Asia is probably no better or worse in terms of abuse than anywhere else.

"People tend to be polite", yet if something did happen, there is not much of a culture of speaking out, he admitted. "This is not based on anybody, it is fiction, a drama, but the feelings are real.

"I wanted the audience to be right in the character's head and to feel what she does, all the subtle sounds like the (film producer's) boiling kettle that stick in people's heads", and trigger their trauma when she hears something similar.

"If that freaks people out, then I'm happy," he added.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 23, 2019, with the headline 'Taiwanese star: 'I was slapped 30 times''. Print Edition | Subscribe