Amber’s Adventures in Wonderland

Sensitive and translucent, Amber KUO Tsai Chieh started her adventures in wonderland as a freshman, when she received the championship in a singing competition.

Warner Music released her first album INVISIBLE SUPERMAN in 2007.

Amber earned her first acting award with the leading role in TV series WOODY SAMBO in 2008. She launched the second album I AMBER one year later.

For a sweet empathetic bookshop clerk role in AU REVOIR TAIPEI directed by Arvin Chen, Amber Kuo won the Best New Actress Award at the 12th Taipei Film Festival in 2010. Two years later, Amber came back to claim the Best Supporting Actress Award for her cool but explosive role in LOVE directed by Doze Niu. Both films were in the Berlinale Panorama selection.

Amber has become a superstar after playing the leading role of a wealthy, proud and stylish Gu Li in China’s teen pop film series TINY TIMES. On the big screen, she is Queen of the world. Fans born after 1990s and 2000s in China crown her the new silver screen goddess.

Before the shooting of the third film in this series, she spent four months in a very different, if not opposite, role in Director Wang Weiming’s (SEX) APPEAL.

In APPEAL, Amber plays Baibai, a timid Taipei girl going to a regional music academy to escape her wounded and manipulative mother. Almost in day one, Baibai falls for a charming Professor Li (Leon Dai, CANNOT LIVE WITHOUT YOU). She goes to a TA interview, but finds herself having lunch with him instead and then gets raped in his office. In the following months, Li is a figure like father, like lover, until Baibai’s suicide attempt aroused suspicion of the student councilor. This campus rape is soon known by all and the professor is faced with a lawsuit. Things become even more complicated when Baibai’s legal consultant Professor Lin is actually Li’s wife. Questioned by Lin at the court, Baibai is not sure whether it is because of love or the so-called “Stockholm Syndrome” that she does not sue Li once the rape happens. The case is left unresolved when Li dies of a sudden heart attack while for Baibai, nowhere to find justice and reclaim peace.

Amber shows her serene and vulnerable side in APPEAL. Small but potent, she can be Asia’s answer to Natalie Portman within time.

I had an interview with Amber at the 19th Busan International Film Festival, where APPEAL was in the NEW CURRENTS section.

Ninja Tsui: You are already a superstar after TINY TIMES, but what made you to go back to such a small budget film?
Amber Kuo: I almost missed this film. It was the time TINY TIMES 3.0 was about to shoot, but postponed somehow so I could have time to act in APPEAL. It is based on a real story and the script read very literary, so I went to see the director, whose story-telling moved me.

I like the films that make you overwhelmed and want to stay in the cinema a little longer. I feel this is a film with such a power.
Moreover, after reading the script, I felt I have a connection with her and just could not put her story behind me. I felt an obligation to bring it onto the big screen.

NT: In the current dazzling China film market, it seems a luxury for a big star like you to spend three or four months in one art house film?
AK: It’s been a rewarding self-discovery. I learned to play clarinet and enveloped myself with classical music. I had no idea how much I could deliver as Baibai, but director Wang Weiming had many ways to inspire me. You know, he once acted in a number of Edward Yang films and I think that helped the creative synergy between us.
I am not sure whether APPEAL will become a box office hit or can collect awards at film festivals, but for me, as an actress, it is a very important revelation. And I took what I have learned from this film to act in TINY TIMES 3.0 and 4.0. APPEAL has been quite a fruitful adventure for me.

NT: We have seen you being sweet, being cool, being tough and being vulnerable on the big screen. Which kind of image is closer to your nature?
AK: I can feel a part of me in almost every character I have played. The girl in AU REVOIR TAIPEI might be what I am like in real life the most. And in a relationship, I am like what Xiaomin is in LOVE, direct and demanding. However, I am really very different from my role Gu Li in TINY TIMES so it takes me lots of efforts to be her. She seems to be devastating to everybody around her, but in the end, she turns out everyone’s support. This is what resembles my role to my family and friends.

As to Baibai in APPEAL, fragile is not her regular face. I guess what I am delivering is that girls can quite easily have the sense of guilt when things happen. Baibai does not understand why it just happened. She is scared as well as confused.

NT: How do you define Baibai and deliver her story?
AK: She is a city girl going to a less developed region studying. She is trying to find new experiences and to build a new life. She is hungry for love because she grows up without paternal love and her mother is rather strict with her.
To play a music student, in a way, is a dream-come-true. You know, a portrait of supple lips, fair skin and pleasant elegance.

NT: You sing and you act, but now you spend most of your time acting. What drives the transition?
AB: To join the entertainment industry has been the biggest surprise in my life so to speak. I have always liked singing. Whenever I was singing, I was happy and confident. When I had won the championship in a university competition, I had a choice to become a singer, so I sang.
However, I felt the music I made and the music I wished to deliver were two different things.
I then find roles in TV series, and then was cast in a film. Everything was like pre-arranged. I felt lucky, but back then, I had to release albums, one after another. At the same time, I could not stop acting.
To work with different directors, investors, producers, cinematographers and teams at different locations with different actors meant a new challenge every day, but I learned so much and grow more open-minded on a project basis. To stay in the comfort zone would not be a wise choice in the long run.
I have a fair amount of sense of security hiding behind the varied characters.

NT: What is film to you?
AK: Film is like a dream to me. With so many different roles to play, it is like a dream.

NT: You mentioned you would watch films. Could you pick some of your favorite ones?
AK: I like CHEF. Recently, I also watch films for my upcoming films, like LOVE ME IF YOU DARE and MEMORIES OF MATSUKO. I thought black and white films difficult to chew. But after watching AN AUTUMN AFTERNOON, I am now a fan of Yasujiro Ozu.

NT: So who is your favorite director?
AK: Wes Anderson. Although some would say his films bring visual fatigue, I especially enjoy FANTASTIC MR. FOX, such a touching movie. I think some animation films are made not for children, but for adults. Adults sometimes need consolation and encouragement as well.
Recently, I read children’s books like THE GIFT OF NOTHING. Quite a tonic for the soul. I also like films made by Spike Jones.
BLUE VALENTINE is a film that touched me. I cried in the cinema for over 10 minutes after the screening and just could not move my feet. It was a moment when I realized that maybe love is like that, a fairy tale without a happy ending. I felt really sad.
CAFÉ DE FLORE is another favorite of mine.

NT: Which director do you want to work with the most?
AK: I think that would be Ang Lee.

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