Bottega Veneta Wool sweater.
Serendipity helped Yuan Teng spring to fame as a teenage battling with drug addiction in The Paradise. Like many of us, Yuan grew up with more than just one ambition. He tells us he wanted to be a movie star, a cinematographer, an athlete, a sports teacher, a writer and a businessman. And like many of us, our innate traits would – most often than not – guide us forward on our ultimate calling.
It was in college when a performing arts tutor encouraged him to pursue a career in acting. “I think my bold personality gave it away,” he says, laughing. “I loved acting and I also loved creating, especially filming. I was working as an extra while studying because I wanted to see how the industry works and look for audition opportunities.”
Though the journey was not without a gloomy cloud of self-doubt. The mounting uncertainties convinced Yuan that he wasn’t the kind of person who would get a serious role — and just when he thought he’d be better off behind the camera — he received a call from movie casting director Teddy Chin Shu Jia. Yuan turned her down at first but her unwavering persistence on meeting him made him said yes. He recalls showing up to the audition for In My Heart without shaving because he was almost sure that he wouldn’t get selected.
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“I didn’t follow the script that was given to me during the casting session and pretty much just did my own thing,” he admits. “But the director was very open-minded and felt that what I did showed my versatility. I was immediately signed to join the company More Entertainment Sdn Bhd. Everything about it really seem fated.”
When asked how it felt to be nominated the Best New Performer at the Golden Horse Awards and winning Best Actor at the Shanghai International Film Festival last year for his feature debut role in The Paradise, Yuan replies, “They still feel like they are just a dream. I won’t say they have nothing to do with luck, whether it was getting an amazing script or working with an awesome team.”
“So, for me, it’s strange to say that you’re ‘the best’ even if you do win. In any event, it was already very much an honour to attend the two prestigious awards ceremonies — but I often have to remind myself not to keep looking back at the past so that I can journey on to the next achievement.” In the film, Yuan played a highly complex character struggling with drug addiction.
Gucci Wool coat, multifabric T-shirt, denim pants.
Awards ceremonies aside, Yuan confesses that movie premieres are more daunting and nerve-wracking. “I kept worrying that Shuzai wouldn’t resonate with the audience – or that they wouldn’t like the way I portrayed him. I was fully focused on my performance instead of watching the movie during the screenings. There were many scenes that I felt I should have done differently – it literally made me sweat from the beginning until the end,” he says.
“You can imagine my relief from the positive audience responses toward the movie and my character. Sometimes I can to be too hard on myself.” [Laughs]
So what type of actor does Yuan strive to become? “An all-rounder!” he exclaims.
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How difficult is it for an actor like yourself to get a big break outside of Malaysia?
To begin with, it’s very difficult even to get noticed. As a Malaysian Chinese actor, our accent and the way we phrase our sentences are very different, making it hard for us to penetrate into the foreign Chinese entertainment markets. With so many excellent actors in China and Taiwan, why would they give you a significant role – unless you’re already a popular actor worldwide or you, as a foreigner, fit the character of the script? I was casted to play Shuzai because they wanted a foreign Chinese actor, but even so, there were people who questioned the decision of giving such a big role to a newcomer like me.
What do you think is holding the industry back at the moment?
Although I have only been in the industry for two years, I notice that there is definitely a shortage of platforms and a shortage of skilled experts. We’re trapped in this vicious cycle where talents leave the industry or country due to the lack of job opportunities, and when that happens, we start seeing inexperience part-timers taking over the important roles. Another issue is the censorship system which either limits creativity, or worse, prevents the release of a good production.
Dior Men Multi-fabric shirt.
What have you been busy with recently?
I’ve been hitting the gym a lot these days. I want to join a Muay Thai competition so I am preparing myself for that. That sounds quite intense. Have you always been into sports? I was actually in the track and field team back in high school, competing in 110 metres hurdles and triple jump.
When you’re not on set filming, you will be…
I love watching films, so I’ll most probably be spending time doing that – or working out at the gym.
Words & Fashion Direction: John Ng
Styling Assistant: Syazil Abd Rahim
Hair: Cody Chua
Grooming: Ash Chong
Location: JW Marriot KL
This story first appeared in the March ’20 issue of Men’s Folio Malaysia.