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Chen Kun:An Ascetic Heart

王烨昇 Johnny Wang 2016-03-20 13:58

It took Chen Kun a long time to grow to like his job as an actor. Coming from a broken family in Chongqing, Chen began taking menial jobs as a teen to support his mother. He set out on his career path with modest goals in mind, but showed talent even from an early age as a singer. His destiny became entwined with acting after he left Chongqing to join the China National Song and Dance Ensemble at the recommendation of his vocal trainer. During his second year in Beijing, he accompanied a friend in applying for the Beijing Film Academy when a classic case of ‘unintentional positive outcomes’ paved his way into the glamorous world of acting. Conversly, this ‘accidental luck’ initially left Chen feeling confused and overwhelmed as he hadn’t planned on becoming an actor. 


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Audiences familiar with Chen probably know he appeared in the TV series National Anthem. Playing the character Nie Er, Chen started to gain a sizeable following despite his relative newcomer status. Meanwhile, another TV series, Love Story in Shanghai, that he starred in was even more well received and catapulted Chen to star status. Once, Chen, Zhou Xun and Ye Liu were in the same film/TV series and went shopping together; Chen and Zhou would run into their fans from time to time. It became apparent then that Liu wasn’t as well known and had to just wait by their side. 


However, if you are not enthusiastic about something, you will trade off in the process for something else. Since Chen became an actor by accident, he lacked a clear sense of direction. After the stunning success of Love Story in Shanghai, he used part of his earnings from the show to attend the Stockholm School of Design with plans to realize his ‘real dream’. But Stockholm in Sweden is a often a cold and dreary place, and it left Chen cold too: with high tuition fees and high cost of living, Chen soon left behind his plans for Sweden and returned to China. 


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Chen felt he had learnt an important lesson in the face of this reality - fighting against your destiny is not unlike throwing eggs against a rock, it was a futile endeavor. After he returned to Beijing he shared his European experiences with his friends, but not once did he mention his abandoned dream of studying design. 


After facing this kind of setback, the only way was forward. Chen appeared in the TV series Story of A Noble Family. It may have started out as a sort of compromise for Chen, but once the wheel of destiny starts turning it is hard to stop. Story of A Noble Family turned out to be a hit and once again the limelight shone on the reluctant actor, garnering him a CCTV award for most popular actor. While many would envy Chen for getting on a boat headed for success, he himself felt adrift and uncomfortable in his place. When director Zhao Baogang went to the Beijing Film Academy to cast actors for his upcoming feature Never Close Eyes, Chen completely avoided it. Despite a trajectory set for stardom, Chen was still looking for a way to jump ship. 


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The inner torment finally resulted in him suffering from a depressive disorder. It’s said that by 2008 he had serious insomnia. He never stopped to search for the meaning of life, so he found nothing. Life was still realistic; for Chen at that time, he could give up what he had achieved - quit his job and go for another kind of life - or try his best to love being an actor - make it to the top in this world and hopefully the luck he had before would feel more meaningful. Chen chose the latter: in 2008, the 32-year-old actor Chen was already outpacing his peers. However, inner confusion is normally so subtle that you won’t notice it when everything is calm, and it can suddenly show up only when you make it to the top. At that time, the movie Painted Skin was very popular, but its success left Chen more acutely insecure about his own acting skills. After about eight months of soul searching, he realized he didn’t love this job before, he chose to love the job later; he just loved everything that came with the job. 


Having made the decision to take the plunge, he decided to concentrate on ‘falling in love’ with the job, and subsequently picked up several supporting roles in succession. For example, Jiang Jingguo in The Founding of a Republic, Zhou Enlai in The Beginning of the Great Revival, and more, but it was the sequel to Painted Skin that thrust Chen back into the spotlight. Meanwhile, he started to enjoy the perks of the job. Luckily, Chen had the ability for self-reflection, and after he noticed his inner condition was contrary to what he wanted at the beginning, he stopped again for almost two years. 


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People need a spark to motivate themselves, but what they need more is something everlasting to give them forward momentum. Chen chose to experience the little things in this job and hoped that he could get what he expected. Movie director Chen Guofu made a comment about him: “He wasn’t a talented actor, but he got all of this through his hard work.” Chen spent a lot of time practising the basic actors’ lines. In Flying Swords of Dragon Gate, he played two roles, which were two extremely different personalities: one was sophisticated; the other was cold. His role in Zhongkui was both good and evil. He needed to spend lots of time practising basic skills to play both well. In his recent movie, The Ghouls, Chen started to put more energy in the skills and methods of shooting. In the movie, when he fell into the third layer of hallucination, facing DingSitian, it was planned that they just talk in one place in this scene. But Chen suggested using the method of overhang to create the condition and image of ‘crazy disorder’. This scene was shot one day before the whole shooting finished, and on the same day, Chen experienced the crazy inner feeling of this condition. 


The confusion and exploration in his life and career related to and helped form the journey of his heart. After he left his company in 2010, he came to a fork in the road of his life. To make his own team? Or change to a better company? It’s said there were some friends willing to invite him to join in their company and offered him stock. At that time, Chen hesitated. He asked himself if he wanted the money - how much he wanted and why he wanted it. 


The answer was yes, he wanted more to buy more houses to make himself feel safe. What can a sense of safety bring? Inner calmness. Then what can calmness bring? Calmness can help you know what you really want. 


But at last, he gave himself an answer: “I need an ascetic heart.” 



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