Lee Kang-sheng has walked the Venice red carpet three times as the leading man of Taiwanese director Tsai Ming-liang's Vive L'Amour (1994), Goodbye Dragon Inn (2003) and most recently, I Don't Want To Sleep Alone (2006). This year, however, will see him there as not just an actor but as the writer-director of competition title Help Me Eros.
The darkly comic love story follows a young man, played by Lee, who wants to kill himself when he faces financial ruin after an unlucky run at the stock market. When he phones a suicide hotline, he develops a fantasy crush on the woman who takes the call (Liao Hui-chen, who won best supporting actress for Love Go Go at Taiwan's 1997 Golden Horse Awards).
Lee says the film is partly autobiographical. "For a long time, I've had the idea of a suicidal person who calls a crisis hotline - even before The Missing," he explains. "The idea came about when I suffered a severe neck injury after shooting Rebels Of The Neon God (his first film with Tsai) and couldn't find a cure for months. I thought of killing myself at that time."
Having appeared in all of Tsai's feature films, Lee started directing four years ago. His debut, The Missing, won the New Currents award at the Pusan film festival in 2003 and the Vpro Tiger Award for new director at Rotterdam in 2004. It was also one of that year's highest grossing local films in Taiwan.
As well as executive producing Help Me Eros, Tsai worked as production designer, his first excursion into the arena. He created the sexy outfits worn by the betel-nut girls, played by Taiwanese actress Yin Shin and local girl band Female F4. They feature strongly in the film, most memorably in a musical sequence.
Most of Tsai's regular crew, including DoP Liao Pen-jung - who won a Golden Horse for The Missing - and veteran soundman Tu Duu-chih, worked on the film.
Fortissimo Film Sales has international rights to the $700,000 project. Lee is confident that, despite scenes of drug use and explicit sex, Help Me Eros will be approved at script stage by Taiwan's Government Information Office.
As an actor-turned-director, Lee is now keen to stay behind the camera although life for an actor seems to be much easier. "Every day there are so many things a director needs to take care of on the set," he says.
- See Venice Buzz, p16-22
LEE KANG-SHENG'S CULTURAL LIFE
Favourite newspapers and magazines: Taiwanese papers such as China Times and Liberty Times.
Inspirations: From daily life and TV news. Taiwan has more than 100 cable channels.