Takeshi Kaneshiro: The Consummate Idol

Takeshi Kaneshiro: The Consummate Idol

Think of some of the most influential, pop culture-defining films of the 1990s, and Wong Kar Wai’s Chungking Express (1994) springs to mind. It was Hong Kong cinema at its zenith, blending the unique vision of the auteur with the equally idiosyncratic style of Australian cinematographer (and frequent collaborator) Christopher Doyle. It was also noted for launching the career of (the then relatively unknown) Takeshi Kaneshiro, a fresh-faced actor of Taiwanese-Japanese descent.

Kaneshiro quickly gained hearthrob status across Asia for his sensitive portrayal of a goofy, lovelorn but altogether loveable policeman with a quirky habit of buying tinned pineapples with the expiration date of May 1. Loaded with a generous dose of introspective melancholy, Kaneshiro’s Cop 223 became an icon of the nineties man, at a time when masculinity grappled with a severe identity crisis brought on by the collapse of traditional masculine roles, and the increasing ranks of women who were breaking mythical glass ceilings.

Thanks to the critical success of Chungking Express, Kaneshiro enjoyed a string of sleeper hits and blockbusters, notably Fallen Angels (1995), his second collaboration with Wong Kar Wai; House of Flying Daggers (2004), his first project with acclaimed director Zhang Yimou; and the Red Cliff series (2008, 2009), where he once again thrilled audiences with his performance as the irrepressibly witty military strategist Zhuge Liang. Last seen in Peter Chan’s Wu Xia (2011), where he played the charmingly eccentric detective Xu Baijiu, the 39-year-old seems to have found his niche playing goofball characters or period swordsmen – not too shabby for an actor who has never received formal training, and whose acting chops were honed purely by practice. It’s perhaps because of this that, according to accounts from various directors and fellow castmembers, he remains so eager, so dedicated, so compliant.

Beyond the set, Kaneshiro found international fame as the spokesperson and model for Prada in 1998, a highly-prized gig that paved the way for many other lucrative deals including Biotherm Homme, Citizen, Honda and NTTDocomo, and a recently-concluded campaign for Emporio Armani. In an exclusive interview with Men’s Folio, Kaneshiro talks about his 20-year career in the entertainment industry, and why he prefers to remain an actor rather than become a producer or director.

What new projects are you working on at the moment?

There are some scripts that my agent is reading now… but I think none of those are confirmed… I guess you have to ask my agent… haha.

Among all the roles you’ve performed, which was your favourite and why? Which one was closest to your own personality? 

It is really difficult to say which is my favourite. I always see it as a package, the story, the cast and crew. All the elements count. I won’t really think too much about whether I’ll like a character a lot or not, or if any one of these is my favourite. And I don’t think any of the characters are close to my own personality. I mean, at one point or another, we might have something in common, but that’s about it.

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“I was not very sure about acting when I first started. I was just having fun with a group of people making films together, and I am very grateful to have had all these chances through the years.”

Do you still get the same buzz out of acting as you did when you first started out?

To be honest, I did not have that same buzz when I first started acting. I mean, I was not very sure about acting when I first started. I did not come from an acting academy or have any professional training either. I was just having fun with a group of people making films together, and I am very grateful to have had all these chances through these years. I can say that I still very much enjoy the process of working with a group of people to create a project… it’s a lot of fun to be involved.

For someone who has no formal training in acting, how would you judge your success?

I don’t know. I think you should ask the director or the audience… haha… I just try my best, and discuss my character, and the story with the director. I hope I can deliver what the directors want.

How do you think the Chinese-language film industry has evolved over the last five to 10 years?

The Chinese-language film industry has been very active these last couple of years. There are more cross-cultural/joint venture productions compared to a decade ago. Even some Hollywood studios are cooperating with Chinese production houses, and shooting in Asia. I think this is very good, and has a positive impact on the industry.

Given the chance, which actor, director or producer would you most want to collaborate with?

I think it is not necessary to say which actor, director or producer I’d like to work with. It’s more like if I have the chance to come across the right project with a good package at the right timing, then that’s more like what I hope for.

Director Peter Chan, whom you worked with in Wu Xia (Swordsmen, 2011), says that you often put others before yourself. Where do you think this selflessness comes from? 

Haha… I don’t know… that so? I am just not very used to getting a lot of attention. I like to keep things low profile and work quietly. I am not sure if this is your so-called ‘selflessness’.

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Kaneshiro’s Cop 223 became an icon of the nineties man, at a time when masculinity grappled with a severe identity crisis brought on by the collapse of traditional masculine roles, and the increasing ranks of women who were breaking mythical glass ceilings.

Is there any other profession you wish to attempt in future? For example, producing or directing films?

I did think about being a director, but that was a long long time ago…And after all these years, I’ve seen directors having to lead the whole team, controlling so many departments on set at the same time – it could be as many as thousands of people – and no matter how bad the shooting conditions and surroundings are, the director has to carry it through while focusing on directing. This is a huge responsibility and you really need super strong leadership skills and patience to handle all these. It is like a mission impossible, so I’d rather remain an actor for now!

If you had the chance to write a film script, what would the subject matter be about?

I’ve not thought about a subject yet, but I like comedy. I think it would be fun to create a comedy.

How much attention do you pay to what’s being said about you on Twitter and blogs?

I don’t really use those social networks. I don’t have a Facebook account, nor a Twitter account.

Spring/Summer 2012 was your seventh and last campaign for Emporio Armani. Looking back, do you have any thoughts on the collaboration?

It’s been an honour working with Armani all through these years. I really admire the spirit of Mr Armani, his hard work and his devotion to his career.

Which was your favourite season, and favourite item from that season?

It is difficult to remember which season… but there are some items like leather jackets, casual pants and simple tops… I like to wear things that are simple and comfortable.

What are your plans for the future? I hear you’re considering film scripts from the US, Japan and China.

Like I said before – there are some scripts that my agent and I are reading, projects from different places. But none of them are confirmed nor is there anything I can disclose in the meantime.

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