Eugenia Yuan Interview – 2006 Tribeca Film Festival

She is the daughter of veteran Hong Kong actress Cheng Pei-pei (Jade Fox in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” among many other roles), but Eugenia Yuan is quickly carving out a stellar career of her own. Yuan’s latest film, “Choking Man” co-starring Mandy Patinkin, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. She also snatched the “Best Newcomer Award” at the 2003 Hong Kong Film Awards for her role in Peter Chan’s “Three: Going Home.” In this interview with Meniscus, Yuan talks about her career, her mother and her past life as a competitive gymnast.

Meniscus: Tell me a little bit about the script for the “Choking Man” and the role.

Yuan: I felt like the script was a really beautiful, just a very sweet story. Steve [Barron, the director] called me, and he talked to me about how he came up with the story of a group of immigrants all at this diner and this character – it’s all based on the characters – and I thought that was really sweet. And the fact that there was going to be some animation involved, I liked that whole idea of combining the two. It’s a very subtle movie and it’s not like, you know, them fighting and things like that. It’s just one guy’s struggle with his shyness and me trying to bring him out of it. That always seems to be the person I like, trying to bring out happiness from people, so I thought that was fun.

Now, I read that it was actually your mother’s influence that made you decide to go into acting.

Oh, no.

No? Not at all?

No. Well, I think of my mom as my idol, you know, just as a person in general. It’s not her influence; she probably tried to talk me out of it. But she’s been very supportive. Both of my parents have been since I’ve decided to.

Why do you think she tried to talk you out of it?

It’s a tough job. It’s a tough business. She knows.

And you’ve acted with her before?

We did a martial arts thing [the Hong Kong movie “Flying Dragon, Leaping Tiger”]. I was just playing; I wasn’t really acting at that time. She just said, ‘Do you want to just come and be in this movie?’ and I did it then. But we really hope to do something substantial together now.

In Hong Kong?

Both [the U.S. and Hong Kong] – I think we want to do both places.

What kind of advice did she give you as you were starting out and even now?

If I really love it, to keep doing it, and to just make sure that I’m happy while I’m doing it. And if I’m doing it, that I continue to be happy while I’m doing it, or else there is no fun, and then why should I stay in something that I’m not having fun with?

Now your career trajectory has been really interesting because it seems like you started out in the U.S. and now you’re starting to do things in Hong Kong, and going back and forth. What has been your decision process?

I just think that it’s wise to do both places. Why not? I would love to do movies in Europe also. You know, I can speak Chinese, I am Chinese, so why not do movies everywhere, you know?

Now you were raised in the States?

Yes, I was born and raised in Los Angeles.

How much time do you spend in Hong Kong, would you say?

Well, I was only spending time when I was shooting movies there. Recently I moved to Hong Kong to kind of try and do more in all of Asia. Whenever I have projects here, like in New York – I love doing movies in New York – then I come back here and do them.

I thought it was interesting that you were a rhythmic gymnast. How long did you compete?

I was dancing ever since I was 4, and then I did regular gymnastics…and then I started to do rhythmic gymnastics and that’s what I was on the national team for. I did it for what seems like forever. It was my whole identity. It was my everything. I think it was good training for this and for life in general…you work, work, work, and then you have one and a half minutes to show what you can. There’s disappointment, and you have to persevere, and that’s just how everything in life is and I think that was good training for this.

When did you stop competing and then how much lag time was there between that and the acting? Did it kind of cross over?

Yeah, there was a bit of a crossover, like when I started doing choreography…I was doing it professionally like doing shows and stuff.

What do you think it’s going to take to raise the profile of rhythmic gymnastics in the U.S., like close to artistic?

Rhythmic gymnastics is more like an art – an art form like dance. I think that rhythmic gymnasts are too skinny…the sport is so gorgeous to look at. If they didn’t look so sick, then maybe I think that it would be more popular. That’s my honest opinion.

Yeah, sometimes it amazes me how flexible [they are].

And it’s wrong. It’s just abnormal. I mean, that doesn’t look attractive. You don’t really want to see contortions…it just gets gross, I think.

video by Yuan-Kwan Chan / Meniscus Magazine