It was about nine years ago since Chinese superstar Fan Bingbing graced our shores for the press tour of X-Men: Days of Future Past, and this time, her return is marked by a monumental accolade: to receive the Cinema Icon Award at the 34th Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF).
“I love this city, it’s too pretty. Everybody’s very excited and passionate,” beams Fan, who sits across me on one Friday morning. Up close, her well-travelled beauty—think blow-out hair, doll-eyes blazing and porcelain skin—is ravishing and stupendous; yet it is her amiable nature and easy demeanour that leaves a lasting impression. I see this in the way she nods supportively at my feeble attempts in Mandarin and her inquisitive sidebar questions on our current local film scene.
This year, the industry titan’s appearance at SGIFF also debuts her comeback film Green Night, her first project since her prolonged hiatus. Taking the lead in this feminist thriller set in South Korea, Fan plays a Chinese woman named Jin Xia, who meets a mysterious green-haired girl (played by South Korean actor Lee Joo Young) and finds herself inexplicably drawn to her. The two soon befall a series of dangerous events against a mighty drug syndicate, all while Jin Xia tries to free herself from the shackles of an abusive husband.
It’s a side that we’ve yet to see from Fan, who personally feels charged and motivated to bring a different kind of performance onscreen. Below, she shares more about the important themes of Green Night and how she endeavoured to bring the role of Jin Xia to life.
Tell us more about Green Night and what’s important about the film.
This is my first time being a part of a film that explores romantic intimacy between women. I believe that all relationships can be acknowledged and justified, especially given the changes and developments in our society; every relationship has a soulful connection. However, the film isn’t just about the relationship between two women, it isn’t really about a love story between two women. This film wants to express that only women would understand women—what they are going through and how they can help one another.
Could you share more about the role of Jin Xia.
Jin Xia is a very traditional Chinese woman and there’s something within her that wishes to breaks free. Actually, she’s similar to most women in our modern society—she carries burdens and responsibilities from work from family and from kids. With Jin Xia, in every scene you can see how she struggles internally. Most of the time, she’s uptight and suppressed and there are times when she wants to implode and vent. And there are times when she wants to implode and vent it all out. So when she meets this Korean girl who is the complete opposite of herself, she realises that she’s someone she wants to be, but can’t seem to be. Slowly, they form a bond and forge their own path together.
How did you prepare to play a complex character like Jin Xia?
The director of the film, Han Shuai, is great at capturing the intricacies of a story and roles of the characters. She wanted me to be different from the other roles that I’ve portrayed. I’ve played loud and sensational characters, beautiful characters, crazy characters, but in this film, she wished for my role to be more introverted and my feelings to be inward. It’s a side that the audience have not seen from me. While my personality in real life is upbeat and cheerful, I felt very suppressed in this role, which is what Han Shuai wanted to translate on screen.
You had to do most of your lines in Korean. What was that like?
It was terrible! [laughs] When it comes to language ability, I’m not the best at it. I prepared for about one and a half months, first I recorded the lines in Korean with a teacher and then I would listen and memorise them. I have Korean friends who praised my pronunciation in the film, but I told them after I had said the lines, I had forgotten all about it. Overall, it turned out well and speaking in Korean didn’t become an obstacle for me.
The film explores many social issues, what do you wish for the audience to walk away with?
I think for women, we have more of a common understanding. Only women understand women and the predicaments that we’re placed in as well as the complex emotions that we feel. So I think the audience can see the complexities of the characters’ emotions, and how they break free from their situations. At the end of the film, when Jin Xia embraces the puppy, she tells it not to be afraid and to be brave. It’s to tell all women that in life, while there are obstacles and difficulties, if you’re brave and stand up to it, there will be a way out.
You’ll be presented the Cinema Icon Award, looking back on your career which spans two decades, how do you feel? While it feels like you’ve done everything, what are you looking forward to next?
I’ve been in this career for over two decades, which almost takes up close to half of my life. I still feel very passionate about what I do, I love acting and performing, and I feel like there are always different degrees to each role, based on the life phase I’m currently in. So I still wish to experience good roles and good directors to help me take on new heights.
I feel extremely honoured and blessed to be given this award at this year’s SGIFF. This is a country that really loves its films and everyone is so passionate about cinema. Singapore’s a place I really love and a place that’s so global and diversified with many languages. There’s so much growth from Asian cinema, whether it be in Singapore, Korea, Thailand, Japan or China. There’s always new and fresh perspectives from the Asian pool. So I wish to collaborate with Singaporean directors on new roles in the future.