Taiwanese actor Ethan Ruan is a model turned Chinese-language superstar. In this fast paced cinematic story, Hong Kong based photographer and film director Wing Shya lures Ethan into an action packed adventure through the back streets of Betong, Thailand.
On a busy Shanghai street, a young Taiwanese actor casts a louche, smouldering glance over his shoulder. At 29, the charismatic Ethan Ruan is the star of 2010’s Monga, a coming-of-age tale about Taipei gangsters that became a massive Chinese-language hit and Taiwan’s submission for Best Foreign Language Film to this year’s Academy Awards. In its first week of release, Monga outstripped Avatar across Chinese markets; this tale of renegade upstarts in a changing urban environment resonated from Beijing to Hong Kong and back again. Glowering in Gucci in a rain-slicked Shanghai alleyway, Ethan is a decade into a career that started at 19, when he was signed to a modelling agency on the basis of Japanese-tinged good looks, which are a hallmark of Taiwanese people, denizens of an island controlled and populated by both Chinese and Japanese throughout its history.
After a few years as a successful catwalk model, walking for clients like Calvin Klein, Marc Jacobs and Y-3, Ethan began training for a new career: acting. For the Chinese performer, a foundation in martial arts and wires training is just as important as acting lessons and Ethan worked relentlessly on all aspects until he began to win acting roles on Taiwanese television dramas – often as an antihero or outsider. Cast as the lead in the 2008 ‘idol-drama’ Fated To Love You, his portrayal of a wealthy ne’er-do-well caught between lovers served as his breakthrough role and played to over a hundred million viewers across the Chinese-language world.
i-D online tracked down Ethan to talk about success and the year ahead.
How did you find working with Wing Shya on the shoot for i-D? Shooting with Wing Shya wasn’t like a regular photo shoot; it was more like we were shooting a scene from a movie and so a fixed pose was neither asked nor required. The aim was to tell a convincing story. I felt very comfortable “living and acting” throughout the entire shoot.
How did the transition from modelling to acting come about? Do you miss modelling? Well there are lots of connections and similarities between dramatic performances and modelling. As much as I still enjoy the photo shoots, I don’t really miss it at all to be honest!
Last year you won The Golden Horse (Chinese equivalent of an Academy Award) for Best Leading Actor following your performance in 2010’s Monga. Was this the highlight of your career so far? At the time I received the award I was still a newbie to the movie industry so I felt it was only a starting point for me as an actor. I think that now I understand myself much more and I’m able to relax whilst filming.
Can you tell us a little about the role that you played in the film? Monk is an extremely intelligent young adult and member of “The Gang of Princes”. He can be hot-tempered yet subtle. Monk is always on top of situations. These qualities together allow him to act as an unofficial leader. The movie took place in Taiwan during the early 80s. Back then, society was extremely conservative and there was basically no word or definition to describe a homosexual relationship. Monk was only a teenager and too young to really understand whether his love for the other princes was that of lovers or merely of brotherhood. The only thing that Monk knows is that he cares for his friends so much that he would die for them.
How do you feel contemporary Chinese cinema is portrayed outside of Asia? For the most part, it is rarely discovered, but it is indeed very charming, attractive and fast becoming the reason why more and more people wish to visit Asia for inspiration.
Do you have a favourite director with whom you would like to work with in the future? My favourite director so far is Andrew Lau, who directed the 2002 film Infernal Affairs. I’d like to work more with Wing Shya if any interesting opportunities arise in the future. He’s a funny man!
Would you ever consider acting in more western films? Which western actors/films do you admire? I have definitely been thinking about acting in western films. I would love to travel around the world. I like Johnny Depp in Blow. I admire the movie Cidade de Deus (City of God) and I love Scarlett Johansson because she’s so freakin’ hot!
What are you working on now? I’m going to fulfill the compulsory military service for a year in Taiwan.
Actor: Ethan Ruan
Tatoo girl: Vicky Hue
Hair and make up Artist: Yooyo (Andy creation)
Photography assistant: Chuan Looi, Kiu Lau, Hean
Lighting assistant: Chai
Production House: Yipieyaya Studio
Producer: Alice Tse
Location: Betong (Thailand)