The Taiwanese actor who’s nabbed for marijuana use plays a drug user in The Road to Mandalay

 

The life of Taiwanese actor Kai Ko Chen-tung reads like a drama script.

The 25-year-old became a pin-up idol after his 2011 film debut in You’re The Apple of My Eye, a wildly popular romance dramedy. But his fast-rising career almost came to a crashing end 3 years later, when the Chinese authorities caught him and Jaycee Chan, the son of Hong Kong action star Jackie Chan, for marijuana use.

The scandal forced him into a 2-year hiatus. But he’s since returned to the big screen with The Road to Mandalay, a film which centers on 2 illegal Burmese migrants’ bid to secure a better future in Thailand. Not only that, he also boldly pulls off a drug taking scene.

“The script is very well-written, and the [drug use] scene flows well with the original story, so I did not want to change it in any way,” Kai Ko explained in Mandarin during his recent appearance at the Singapore International Film Festival.

Cast members Kai Ko, Wu Ke-Xi, director Midi Z and producer Patrick Huang at the media session in Singapore, ahead of the film’s special presentation at the Singapore International Film Festival on Dec 1

Cast members Kai Ko, Wu Ke-Xi, director Midi Z and producer Patrick Huang at the media session in Singapore, ahead of the film’s special presentation at the Singapore International Film Festival on Dec 1

The actor went on to share that when he was working incognito in Thailand as a factory worker to prepare for his role, he learned that it’s extremely common for illegal workers to rely on drugs to cope with hardships in life.

Helmed by Myanmar-born, Taiwan-based director Midi Z, The Road to Mandalay opened at the Venice Film Festival earlier this year and bagged the Fedeora Award for Best Film. It also won Midi Z the Outstanding Taiwanese Filmmaker of the Year honor at the recent Golden Horse Awards.

Kai Ko did not win in the Best Actor category but his standout performance was generally well-recognized.

Kai Ko and his co-star Wu Ke-Xi both had to pick up a new language and worked on Thailand’s factory lines for close to half a year before filming began.

When asked about the hardest part of the filming process, Kai said:

“The physical aspects [like losing weight and doing manual labor] were okay, as I was able to get used to it slowly.

“However, the mental aspect was tougher. For 3 to 4 months, I had to become just like my character. I had to stay emotionless and bottle all my feelings up. At that point of time, I really felt something akin to depression.”

Kai Ko recounting his experience immersing into the life of a construction worker. Photo By: Toh Ziyi

Kai Ko recounting his experience immersing into the life of a factory worker. Photo By: Toh Ziyi

But the film gave him new hope in winning the audience to his side again. He’s not worried that fans would turn their backs on him after seeing his un-glamorous side in the film.

“If the audience think that I don’t look attractive after seeing the movie, then I feel that I’ve succeeded [as an actor].”