TRANSLATION | Eugenia Yang
The closing credits continued to roll while the ending theme of “Little Big Women” started to play, and yet everyone remained in their seats, silent and unable to detach from the heartfelt emotions evoked by the film. I remembered turning to my side only to find my colleagues all grabbing napkins to wipe away the tears trickling down their faces. Regardless of the age, the audience was able to reflect upon the scenes by reimagining the deepest, most touching memories—that, is the meaning to Shu-Fang Chen’s sixty years of pursuing an acting career.
Taking on a Fashion Photo Shoot
Before the results of the Golden Horse Awards even came out, we had already decided on inviting Shu-Fang Chen to be the cover star for our January issue. Understanding that fashion for the elderly is gradually becoming a global trend, we realized that beauty and style are no longer symbols for the younger generation. During the early stages of preparation, we wondered—how can we turn “Taiwan’s favorite grandma,” Shu-Fang Chen, into a queen of fashion who breaks the stereotype of the eldery being perceived as plain and unadorned? It seemed like as long as one upheld a youthful heart, anything could be achieved. On the day of our cover shoot, her eyes beamed with energy as she greeted our team with an amicable smile—it was my first time meeting Auntie Shu-Fang (as everyone likes to call her). After her morning work, she grabbed a quick bite and took the bus to come meet us for the shoot. Standing next to her, it wasn’t hard to feel her exuberance and energetic spirit, but it was hard to believe that she is already 82 years old. Nodding, my colleague who was present couldn’t agree more, “She was just like my grandma, linking her arm with mine as we walked around Bellavita, preparing for different cuts. She had none of the cold, aloofness you’d expect to get from other celebrities.” First time doing a fashion cover shoot, Auntie Shu-Fang admitted that she was pretty anxious. “I was afraid that I couldn’t do a good job. I’m the tallest so I was worried that I won’t be able to pull it off. But I think I’m one of the lucky ones in 2020 to have a lot of firsts. First time doing a magazine cover shoot. First time walking the red carpet.” In the beginning of our shoot, she used a wide range of expressions as if she was acting out a scene. Perhaps because it was her first time, at first she was unable to find the best angle that felt right. But thanks to the encouragement and support from her agent (who is basically a second mom and personal advisor to her) on the side, Auntie Shu-Fang was able to adjust and find her most confident state to finish the rest of the shoot.
Receiving the Golden Awards
It took her awhile to complete the journey from playing a supporting role to becoming the leading actress. Speaking of winning both best actress and best supporting actress for the Golden Horse Awards this year, her eyes widened and clasped her hands. “Honestly, when I heard my name I was so nervous because I didn’t know what to say on stage. I’ve never realized the trophy is so heavy, it was kind of hard to handle. I held it with one hand, and then with both. Eventually, I brought both trophies home with my arms around them.” Finally “encountering” the Golden Horse at such a venerable age, she wanted to say her thanks to a lot of people—her teachers, directors she’d worked with, and so much more. “That night, after I got home from the ceremony, I took out the poster of the very first film I was in. I realized a lot of the people I’d worked with, then and now, are no longer with us anymore. So to the ones who left early, I want to send my gratitude to them too.” The dressing room fell silent as I continued to jot down my notes on my notepad; I realized my eyes were filled with tears. Seeing that I’d teared up, Auntie Shu-Fang looked at me, eyes radiating this warming tenderness and said, “Don’t be sad. Isn’t this the way life is? I’m an actress, not a celebrity. All these years, I saw this as my calling. I have to bring the best performance.” Perhaps all the happiness and wellbeing were relative, “To me, it’s a fortune that the audience remembers me.” After her first film, her father passed away, leaving her with her mom and her two younger brothers. Becoming the family’s main financial pillar, Auntie Shu-Fang emphasized as her eyes flickered with determination that supporting her family was not the only reason. Since it was her decision to choose this occupation, she should devote all her passion and effort to live up to her own choice and to do her best.
Reflecting Upon a Life of Performing
Passion and dedication are life’s best motto, so leave the rest of the hard work to time. Always devoted to bringing her characters to life with her acting, she took part in “Wild Sparrow” three years ago. Having grown up in Jiufen, she unraveled the sad reality of women working in quarries—with the long work hours of constantly bending over and collecting cinders at the quarry entrance, their backs were all aching and hunched. Although the director didn’t explicitly ask for a hunchbacked physical performance, she believed that in order to portray an elderly woman, a slouching posture was necessary. “As long as I can act, I will continue performing.” Even though “Wild Sparrow” had wrapped its production already, her back injuries were still not completely recovered. Speaking of “Little Big Women,” Auntie Shu-Fang smiled and said, “Every single scene still plays clearly in my head. It was a delightful experience. If we reach 300 million at the box office, then I’ll sing the theme song for everyone.” To her, acting is like an exercise, while memorizing lines is the best way to keep her mind sharp. Once, she even jokingly told the director that, “If one day, my legs give out on me, be sure to give me a character who sits in a wheelchair.” A joke that seemed light-hearted actually carried so much weight by expressing the true essence of life and touching the deepest of the heart—it felt like I had just witnessed a senior actress use her life story to manifest her enthusiasm for performance.
Live and Learn
Still able to maintain an inner peace and a healthy posture even after time’s tempering, she told us that it’s mostly because she had been taking the Suntory Glucosamine active supplements. I couldn’t help and teased her, “That was such a smooth product placement, Auntie Shu-Fang.” Radiating with a wise and yet childish temperament, she smiled broadly and replied, “I’m telling the truth! It works really well on me.” Recalling Hua Yu’s novel, “To Live,” and its true meaning of being alive, I looked at the actress sitting in front of me and realized she’s the best example of someone who never stopped learning. A naturally born performer, Shu-Fang Chen revealed at the end of our interview, “As long as the audience is happy with my work, that’s all I’m asking for. At this age, I’m not picky about what kind of role I want to play. As long as production companies know that there is still a Shu-Fang Chen who can act, I’ll take any opportunity. We’ve lost a lot of people in 2020, I’m just grateful that I’m healthy and happy.” The beauty of life manifested itself through the way Auntie Shu-Fang maintained a youthful heart despite her age. She went from being unsure about her poses and how to confidently present herself in front of camera, to successfully capturing the charm of a fashion icon through her determined dominance and elegant temperament. Perhaps a true, ravishing beauty should not be covered by the creases on the face, but defined by this graceful longevity that only becomes more captivating as time goes on.