Kenneth Tsang accepts lifetime achievement award

Kenneth Tsang Kong

Kenneth Tsang Kong

“As long as
I can stand up
and work,
I will try
to contribute.”

Kenneth Tsang Kong

Chicago’s Asian Pop-Up Cinema festival honored Chinese-born actor and director Kenneth Tsang Kong with a career achievement award before the premiere of The Attorney during the finale of its 2019 Fall Program on Thursday night at AMC River East.

Sophia Wong Boccio, Kwame Amoaku, 'Attorney' producer, and Kenneth Tsang Kong
Sophia Wong Boccio, Kwame Amoaku, HKETO NY Director Joanne Chu, and Kenneth Tsang Kong

Over the course of sixty-years in the business, Kong has worked on three continents and appeared in more than 250 films. He has shared the screen with the likes of Pierce Brosnan, Jackie Chan, Chris Tucker, Jon Woo and Chow Yun-fat. After accepting his award from Chicago Film Office Director Kwame Amoaku, he assured the crowd that, “as long as I can stand up and work, I will try to contribute.”

Kong brings that vow to life with a role in The Attorney, which screened moments after he spoke.

Asian Movie Pulse describes The Attorney as “an intense character study that juxtaposes a veteran disenchanted lawyer (and) an idealistic young lawyer on the background of a political conspiracy, highlighting the limits of the judicial system when dealing with the power of money.”

When asked if his character in the film represents a good guy or a bad guy, Kong took the question to another level and declared that, “everybody is great guy.” This is just a small pearl of wisdom that he shared with Reel Chicago before the show. Others included the value he places on learning, living, and sleeping.

Read the full interview below.

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How does your background in traditional film help you with the modern way of doing things? When we start, it’s a different way of everything — production-wise, acting-wise — everything is different. So to be able to survive sixty years in this industry, you have to go with the progress. In other words, you have to improve yourself. You have to work with the contemporary people … Six generations of different performers, directors: they require require different things. So you have to improve yourself. You have to be able to follow the trends. That’s why this thing is so interesting.

What do you like most about the changes and the current state of the industry? It’s not a matter of what I like. It’s a matter of how I follow closely. Even in Hollywood, right? I mean, no more, like, Casablanca. It’s different. No more Humphrey Bogart. (Now it’s) Tom Cruise. Yeah? You have to be more contemporary. Right? You have to go with the present trends. And in other words, you change. And change. Keep you going. You evolve. You evolve. And you try to work with the contemporary people.

What attracted you to tonight’s film, ‘The Attorney’? To be honest, I’ve been in this kind of thing for many, many times, this kind of characters. You always try to have little more … more … spark into it. It’s difficult because an actor … you’re not on your own all the time. People will ask you to do something, which you might not agree with, but you have to honor the decision of the directors.

How do you describe your character? Good guy? Bad guy? And how did you make him your own? It cannot be a bad guy or a good guy. Everybody is great guy. Yeah, they do this kind of things because of something, because of motivation. Yeah. But not every script can provide that. Right? So it’s up to you to do it.

What advice can you give to younger actors who want to have the same kind of success as you have? Learn as much as you can and live as much as you can. Because living is experience. (It) will enrich your performance … You have to know what is hungry. You have to know what is cold. In Hong Kong, in America, let’s say, you don’t feel that much. You’re not worry about your next meal. Yeah? But you have to experience that. You try. So you live.

What do you like about Chicago? Chicago is livable. It’s livable. OK? New York, Los Angeles, Bay Area … getting to be too expensive … Here, you can cope.

What’s next for you? Again, an actor cannot say, ‘oh I did this character very perfectly — I can do it.’ You don’t do that. People look for you. You don’t look for a job. That’s the thing. Isn’t it? In Hollywood, they have so many Oriental faces. Why this one? Why this one? They have, maybe, let’s say, start with 20, eliminate them down, and then dah-dah-dah, and then screen test and all that, and then finally they, ‘OK this is the guy.’ Yeah?

How did you like ‘Crazy Rich Asians?’ Very nice. Very down to earth. Very true. … There must be some truth in the thing so that people can feel together. That’s why they did that, so they have familiarization.

What was the highlight of your career? Actually, in everything that I do, it’s a highlight, because everything is a challenge. Isn’t it? The interesting thing about movies is, it should be different. Every one. Every one should be different. It’s not an office pencil-pushing job. Everything is different. So it’s here, isn’t it? Here. The highlight is here. You want this character, similar character, but you want people to look at it and see the difference. And that is a challenge. And that is the interesting part of it. That’s a highlight, isn’t it? So every single one is a highlight, actually.

If you were not here tonight, if you were back at home, what would you be doing? Sleeping. Because of the jet lag, all I think about is sleeping.

Asian Pop-Up Cinema, a semi-annual Asian Film Festival, is the brainchild of Sophia Wong Boccio, founder of Sophia’s Choice, a Chicago-based 501 C (3) not-for-profit incorporated in 2015 with the multi-pronged mission of cultivating an interest in and understanding of Asian cultures via a diverse offering of Asian films; connecting the Asian film industry with local Chicago film professionals, educators and students; and promoting Chicago as a destination for international visitors.

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