17 Mar 2016
PHOTOS: Channel 8, Toggle, various
When Qi Yuwu attended his very first Star Awards ceremony in the early 2000s, the thought of even winning an accolade felt like a faraway fantasy because of his status as a newcomer and a foreigner. “I was even told by my fellow countrymen that it would be difficult for a mainland Chinese to make it big in Singapore,” he shared with Toggle in a phone interview from Beijing, where he is currently filming a new sci-fi movie called Tian Huo Xing Dong.
Fast forward fifteen years, and the Guangzhou native will be attending this year’s show – if his packed schedule allows for it – as one of the latest inductees (and the only Chinese national) into the coveted All-Time Favourite Artistes hall of fame, a feat that was achieved by racking up 10 Top 10 Favourite Male Artistes trophies. Rui En, who has made the Top 10 Most Popular Female Artistes list every single year since 2005, is also “graduating” this year.
“Of course I’m happy about ‘graduating’,” he said. “To me, it represents how Singapore has been very accepting of me – even when I’m someone from a completely different country and when I started out not knowing how to act, I was still given many opportunities and I am very grateful for that.”
Becoming one of the latest additions to the All-Time Favourites club also brought back memories of his first Top 10 triumph all the way back at the 2004 Star Awards, as well as the dark period before that. “Every year I didn’t win, I felt a bit discouraged and thought, ‘Aiyah, when is it my turn?’, and when I finally got it, it felt like a dream come true and the first sign of my affirmation here in Singapore,” he recalled.
But as the years went by and his collection of trophies started growing, his attitude began to shift. “Everyone wants to win awards, but after a while you get pulled in and winning becomes a means to keep ‘face’,” he explained. “I began to realise that an actor’s responsibility is to improve his craft – there’s no use in winning awards when you have no substance! If your goal is to only win awards, it yields a completely different feel in your acting compared to when you think about what’s best for your character.”
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17 Mar 2016
Joanne Peh and Qi Yuwu at the Star Awards 2013 (left) and 2015 (right)
While Yuwu’s fans can finally take a breather after tirelessly voting for him for the past decade, supporters of his wife Joanne Peh still have a battle ahead of them if they want to see her have her turn to “graduate” next year. When asked what he and Joanne think of the whole situation, he said with a chuckle, “We’ve never discussed this.”
He continued, “I think we have the same attitude: there was one year she said on stage that she just wants to be a good actor, and I am very proud of her because she dared to proclaim such a thing and that she’s choosing to do what she wants with her life. Right now, she’s a mother and she wants to make sure she’s there to watch our daughter grow up, so she does what’s important to her, and when she finds a role she really wants, she will put all her heart into it.”
However, Yuwu also understands that not everyone has the luxury of such a decision. “When I started out, I had to take every role that was given to me whether I liked it or not. I know you can’t always have things your way, but I believe that actors need to have a mind of their own and go for roles they feel strongly about,” he said, adding, “It’s a risk – if you don’t take a project, that doesn’t mean there won’t be someone else to take your place and you could become less in demand, but it’s the right thing to do.”
So what’s on Yuwu’s to-do list, career-wise? “I want to make pictures that allow me more creative freedom instead of making me feel like I have to do something for the sake of finishing it. This is a creative industry, and if you have that kind of mind-set, it’s very hard to be creative.”
“This is why I decided to go back to China, to prolong my career and improve myself – when you’ve been in the same place for too long, you get too comfortable, so I wanted to challenge myself,” he said. “It’s not fun to start all over again as a newbie when you’ve already established yourself for over 10 years, but it’s the right thing to do, and I’m very thankful to my wife and company for supporting me in this.”
Congratulations on finally “graduating”, Ah Wu! Read on as we revisit some of the milestones in his illustrious 17-year career:
17 Mar 2016
1999: He is crowned Star Search’s China Male Champion
Previously, Star Search only focused on discovering talents on local shores, but in 1999, they decided to expand their horizons to scout for showbiz hopefuls in Malaysia, Hong Kong, Taiwan and China (specifically Guangzhou, where Yuwu is from). Yuwu, who was just 23 years old at that time, went on to become China’s Male Champion and Mr Personality, and soon signed a contract with the then-Television Corporation of Singapore.
17 Mar 2016
2000: He makes his acting debut (Master Swordsman Lu Xiaofeng)
The year after Star Search, Yuwu found himself in the same production as a host of big names from Singapore and beyond, including Jimmy Lin, Christopher Lee, Thomas Ong, Kristy Yang and Jacelyn Tay, in Chinese period drama Master Swordsman Lu Xiaofeng, which is adapted from Gu Long’s classic wuxia novels.
Although he used to find watching his earlier works unbearable (“I didn’t know how to act and just blindly followed the director’s instructions without understanding them fully”), Yuwu told us that he’s adopted a brand new attitude. “I was watching myself in 2001’s In Pursuit of Peace and for some reason, that day I thought, ‘There’s something very genuine about this actor’s greenness’,” he said. “Now, I see that not being able to act is also special in itself because you feel that the person is delivering a very pure performance – he cannot act, but he’s trying.”
17 Mar 2016
2002: He pairs up with Joanne Peh for the first time
Over a decade before he became her beau, Yuwu had the honour of playing Joanne’s first onscreen love interest – at least, after his character Rui Sheng grew tired of former flame Ke Ke’s (played by Jeanette Aw) arrogant and overbearing ways – in her TV debut in Channel 8’s Beautiful Connection. Joanne has also credits Yuwu as the one who taught her how to act, as she had absolutely no experience when she took on the role.
The twosome went on to co-star in many more productions such as 2008’s The Little Nyonya and 2011’s A Song to Remember, but it wasn’t until filming 2013’s C.L.I.F. 2 when Yuwu confessed his feelings for Joanne, who had just broken up with Bobby Tonelli. She obviously reciprocated his affections and they made their first appearance as a couple at the Star Awards that year. Since then, they’ve only acted in 2014’s C.L.I.F. 3 as reel-to-real-to-reel-again lovers.
17 Mar 2016
2004: His popularity begins to rise with The Champion
Although Yuwu was not part of The Champion’s iconic Orchard Road bikini run scene (which, as its name suggests, had female leads Fiona Xie, Jeanette Aw, Felicia Chin and Joyce Chao jogging down a busy street in skimpy swimwear), he certainly drew his fair share of attention with loads of topless or unbuttoned-shirt scenes of his own (we’re even willing to forgive that unfortunate spiky hair).
To prepare for his role as a hunky diving instructor, Yuwu, who graduated from the Guangzhou Physical Education Institute, exercised more and went tanning in order to achieve a character-appropriate sun-kissed glow. Unsurprisingly, the fit and fab transformation sat very well with fans, and Yuwu saw his popularity skyrocket, which manifested itself into his very first accolade that same year…
17 Mar 2016
2004: He wins his first Top 10 Most Popular Male Artistes award
This was finally the year that, as he described to us, his dream came true. Even the usually stoic-faced then-up-and-comer couldn’t help but grin from ear-to-ear as he accepted his trophy from special guest presenters Vivian Hsu and Ryu Shi Won (who called Yuwu by his nickname “Seven One Five” in English), before proceeding to deliver a flustered speech as his fans’ ear-piercing screams of delight rocked the hall. “I think I still have a lot of room to improve and hope that I will be given more chances to do even better,” he said.
Yuwu went on to make the Top 10 rankings every year after that – except in 2013. When we asked him how he felt about that one loss, he said, “That year I actually wanted to test myself: if I win, then I win, but if not, I wanted to see how I would react to not winning, and in the end when I didn’t, I was still very relaxed! I did not disappoint myself.”
17 Mar 2016
2007: He stars in his first major movie role
Yuwu didn’t get any lines in Royston Tan’s 881, his silver screen debut, because he was portraying a mute (of all things to be playing in a musical comedy, we know) but he did get to flash his chiselled frame again (and carry around a chicken). The film was well-received, raking in millions of dollars in the local box office and inspiring loads of positive reviews from folks who probably appreciated the nostalgic, uniquely Singapore feel (it was, after all, all about the inimitable getai scene).
In addition, 881 was also screened at film festivals in South Korea and Thailand, and was Singapore’s selection for the 2007 Academy Awards’ Best Foreign Language Film (although it did not make the shortlist). It did, however, manage to garner a nod for Best Makeup & Costume Design at Taiwan’s Golden Horse Awards.
17 Mar 2016
2008: He makes his English acting debut
Although Yuwu studied English in China, he didn’t have much of a chance to practise speaking it until coming to the Lion City, hence his lack of confidence in it at first. However, his less-than-perfect grasp of the language proved to be an asset for his role in Mediacorp Raintree Pictures film The Leap Years, in which he took on the role of Wong Lilin’s character’s best friend who does not speak good English.
Three years later, Yuwu challenged himself again with Australian-Singaporean marine thriller Bait 3D (which also starred Adrian Pang), in which he spoke a few English lines. Unfortunately, neither the film nor his performance floated viewers’ or reviewers’ boats, but hey, at least he tried something new, right?
17 Mar 2016
2009: He is named first runner-up for Best Actor at Asian Television Awards
To say that 2008’s The Little Nyonya was a success would be a bit of an understatement: not only did it win multiple awards at the 2009 Star Awards and was Singapore’s highest-viewed show in 14 years, it was also broadcast in many overseas countries such as Cambodia, Vietnam, China, Thailand and even France and the United States.
Yuwu’s role as the liberal, UK-educated Chen Xi also won him rave reviews and award nominations at the Star Awards and Asian Television Awards in 2009. While he lost the former honour to Chen Han Wei, he was conferred a Highly Commended title at the latter ceremony, behind winner Adrian Pang.
17 Mar 2016
2011: He wins his first Best Actor award
The fifth time was the charm for Yuwu when, after four previous Best Actor nominations, he finally emerged the victor for his role as a lawyer in The Family Court, beating fellow onscreen heavyweights such as Christopher Lee, Elvin Ng and Tay Ping Hui for the honour.
“When I first came to Singapore from Guangzhou, I never expected acting to become such an important part of my life,” he said on stage, right before humbly thanking the company, colleagues and his supportive fans (who were, of course, cheering their heads off). He also got to say something he intended for previous acceptance speeches, but never got to until now: “Someone once told me that you have to use your true feelings and act, and now, thank you, I’ve finally felt it.”
This year, Yuwu is up for Best Actor for the ninth time, this time for his role in The Dream Makers 2. As expected, he maintains a “whatever will be, will be” outlook. “I don’t know how likely I am to win because I did not watch the other nominees’ shows, but I believe they are all just as deserving,” he said. “I do hope I get it, but if I don’t then it’s not an issue either. It’s not within my control.”
17 Mar 2016
2014: He wins Favourite Onscreen Couple with Jeanette Aw
Although Yuwu has never won Favourite Male Character at the Star Awards (in fact, he has only been nominated once), his chemistry with Jeanette Aw in 2013’s The Dream Makers was clearly enough to win votes from viewers, and they took home the prize for Favourite Onscreen Couple in 2014. The pair returned for The Dream Makers 2 and are once again up for the same award.
However, he named retired actress Ivy Lee as the co-star who left the deepest impression on him, despite only working with her once in 2006’s C.I.D. “She played my wife and it was very comfortable filming with her, but after that we never worked together again.”
17 Mar 2016
2015: He becomes a father
Okay, so it’s not a career milestone per se, but we definitely couldn’t leave this gem out of his list of achievements. On August 7 last year, Yuwu and Joanne welcomed their SG50 baby daughter into the world – and they’ve remained tight-lipped about the details of their little girl ever since. While they don’t completely shy away from offering titbits about their bundle of joy, the public has still yet to learn “Baby Qi’s” real name or gotten a full-on view of her face (the most we’ve gotten so far are half-glimpses here and there from her parents’ social media accounts).
We also feel that fatherhood has changed Yuwu (in a good way). Once notoriously withdrawn and soft-spoken during interviews, we discovered a whole new man during our chat – one who was extremely talkative, opinionated and prone to cracking jokes that made both us and him laugh out loud. Whatever you’re doing to your daddy, Baby Qi, we hope you keep on doing it.
Photos: Joanne Peh's Instagram
17 Mar 2016
2010: His “hair-raising” experience on Precious Babes
Again, this isn’t a particularly notable notch in his belt, but we couldn’t bear the thought of doing a rundown of Yuwu’s onscreen history and not include the mass of curls he bravely donned for Precious Babes, his drama comeback after The Little Nyonya. While it may not be the best styling choice out there, at least it went well with Yuwu’s cheeky and utterly hilarious character, who was also a nice deviation from his usual uptight and more serious roles in the past.