Kinky Sex No Problem as Taiwan’s Wu Kang-ren Is Willing to Shred His Celebrity and Clothes in Service of ‘The Chronicles of Libidoists’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Posted on

Maximum secrecy - including an omerta about the cast - was observed during the filming of "The Chronicles of Libidoists," a Taiwanese film fable that is pitched as a modern-day retelling of "The Little Mermaid" fairy tale.

A work-in-progress teaser in Cannes, however, disclosed that major Taiwan star Wu Kang-ren was the protagonist of the production which, now completed, seems certain to challenge censors worldwide.

With the film poised for imminent commercial release in Taiwan and a series of autumn festival play dates being lined up, it is easy to see why the cloak of anonymity was required. The other main players are Liu Chu-ping, Alisia Liang and Will Or.

In Hans Christian Andersen's original 19th century telling, "The Little Mermaid" was a tale of an impossible romance between a mermaid and a prince, involving love, betrayal, death and resurrection. Metaphors and allegorical meanings were plentiful.

In the hands of Yang Ya-che ("Blue Gate Crossing,"Girlfriend, Boyfriend"), "The Chronicles of Libidoists" is an exploration of sex and sexuality pursued by a contemporary coterie of sophisticated urban dwellers. The sumptuously mounted film contains eniugh high-mindedness and hidden meaning (often conveyed through music and flowers) for art-house audiences to pick over, and enough story contextualize the sex scenes.

But it does so with very few clothes and scarcely an orifice unprobed.

In pursuit of their overlapping goals, Wu's businessman-author, a transgender woman, an heiress and a motorcyle delivery man (who leads a double life in the neon-lit sex industry) engage in a cycle of full-frontal nudity, group sex, hardcore bondage, homesexuality and the use of objects.

High-profile, sexually-explicit films from Asia have previously courted opprobrium. Chinese actor Tang Wei was famously banned for several years in her native country after starring in Ang Lee's "Lust, Caution," though her male co-star Tony Leung Chiu-wai was celebrated for it. The source material for 1999 Korean BDSM film "Lies" landed its author in jail, though 25 years later a restored, remastered and uncut version of Jang Sun Woo's more nihilist movie is now playing the specialty festival circuit.

In an interview with Variety, Wu explains why he was willing to shed his clothes and risk shredding his reputation only after earning multiple awards for his stellar performances as a deaf man in "Abang Adik" and as a deadbeat husband in "Fly Me to the Moon."

what attracted you to the project? What persuaded you to join?


I actually agreed to work on this project without even having read the script. I have known director Yang for a long time and had always wanted to work with him. I knew that he was going to make a new film, but nobody knew what it was about. I simply submitted my CV. Yang was like, “Cool, let’s have a chat” and told me roughly when they were going to shoot. I blocked my time for it, still without knowing the story.
When I got the script, I was surprised, but at the same time not surprised. And I’ve never asked him why he wanted to make this.

What I was being offered was like returning to the time I started my career. It’s very pure. There is no burden. I just needed to invest myself and focus on playing that role to my best.

Did you ask friends, family or your agent for help in weighing the positives and negatives of joining this film?

I don’t have an agent or a manager. And, actually, I didn’t discuss it with anybody.
When I started out, I had a mentor, a very senior director, and worked with him to position myself as an arthouse actor. But because of the environment in Taiwan, I ended up doing more and more commercial projects. I got various different product endorsement contracts. Being a movie star comes with financial and reputational benefits. And through a combination of hard work and luck, I won some awards. So, people probably have an image of me as someone who is very mainstream, healthy and positive.
But there is a difference between movie star and actor. As an actor, I’m very happy that I agreed to this film. It is like the tension accumulated over the past decades has been released.
Other people’s reactions, the external environment is not something I can control. But for myself, it’s all about playing the role and doing my job well.

So, this film's shock value was neither a negative nor part of its attraction?

The film industry is a business. So, there will be positive and negative things. But I did not invest myself in this kind of role, because I want to create shock value.
Honestly, the kinds of nudity I was willing to be involved in may not be the last time. And I’m not bothered by the moral standards attributed by other people. In the end, the film belongs to the director.
An actor may have a peak period of maybe 20 to 30 years. Well, I’m now 15 years into my career. I have a lot of passion and am still willing to take some risks.

What was the emphasis of your performance? What was the emphasis of the direction?

The main focus of my preparation was trying to understand what was going through the director’s head. The way that Yang wrote the script left huge room for imagination. Once we were on set, Yang gave us a lot of very abstract descriptions of things. Only rarely did he say, Ddo it faster” or “more emotion.”

This film is mainly about people’s sexual fantasies. And we were required to visualize them — people with different preferences and interests, and some things we’ve never ourselves experienced. Yang gave us a lot of room to grow our imaginations. I got rid of all my acting methodologies and learned about my body through my performance.

Have you ever worked with an intimacy coordinator before? How was the experience?

In the Chinese speaking world, this kind of setup is not as common as maybe in the west. But I actually knew the woman [coordinator] from before.

Scenes with a lot of nudity, a lot of sex require a lot of preparation in advance. Everybody was very stressed, especially the crew, who fortunately were very serious about it. Every move, every touch. It was all calculated and communicated.

The coordinator, in the beginning, would demonstrate with a pillow. The pillow would be me and the coordinator would role play the leading actress. Then she’d swap and play the role of the actor, with the pillow. Then it would be me with the coordinator. Then the actress with the coordinator. Finally, the actress and I would do a test shot together. And so, by the time we’re actually filming the scenes, I don’t think there was any remaining awkwardness. Everyone was comfortable, because we all know exactly what is going to happen – cast and crew.

Also, this way there was no need for body doubles for any of the actors at any time.

What is next for you?

Recently, at an awards ceremony, I found myself sitting next to Tony Leung, who is a legend, especially for Chinese speaking actors like me. There, he told me that he was going to Germany to do a new film 〔Ildiko Enyedi's Silent Friend'〕. He’s like a moving boat, one that you can never catch up with. After all this time, he’s still going off exploring a new continent, looking for new treasure.

Like him, I’m willing to do a lot of exploration. But I don’t think I have finished exploring the Greater China region. There are so many different dialects. So, it’s all Chinese but you can express yourself in different dialects and variants. I would like to keep breaking the mold and work on more. Or maybe take a role in Japanese.

And in terms of changing my physicality, I’ve previously dropped a lot of weight to become skinny in a very short period of time. I don’t see myself doing that again any time soon. That’s really not good for your body.