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WEB-ONLY EXCLUSIVE
Rebel Without a Cause
Teen hearthrob Nicholas Tse on movies, Faye Wong and Hong Kong's 'It-girl'
By STEPHEN SHORT


His romance with Faye Wong has kept local press busy

Nicholas Tse left school at the age of 16, according to his CV, to devote himself completely to music. Born into show business, Tse, now 19, is the hot young "It-boy" of the Hong Kong music and movie scene. Never far from publicity, his romance with Canto-pop diva Faye Wong has kept the local paparazzi working overtime. TIME Asia reporter Stephen Short caught up with the star of Tsui Hark's new movie Time and Tide while he was recording a new album. Excerpts from the interview:

TIME: You're Kurt Cobain over Chow Yun-fat...a music man through and through, yes?
Tse:
Always.

TIME: Are the movies a hobby?
Tse:
It's not a hobby. In Hong Kong you need to do everything possible to sustain your popularity. I always tell my company, 'you don't see Pavarotti going on some television game show and getting a cake thrown in his face,' but I have to.

TIME: Midway through your schooling you went off to Phoenix in the States. What was that all about?
Tse:
Well...a lot of reporters were chasing after me because of my family, so the principal got pissed off, the school got pissed off and my parents decided to send me to the most boring place in the universe. And I can tell you that Phoenix, Arizona is definitely the most boring place in the universe.

TIME: Have you been hounded all your life because of your parents?
Tse:
Yes, always. And I hated it. I always had to smile and look nice and I just used to get pissed off. The first two years were pretty hard as well because I performing at 16. I'd go up on stage and nobody took me seriously. I' d get bottles chucked at me, and people would say 'get the f*** off.' They thought I was just a kid screwing around. People were curious and not used to that. And I'd say, 'for God's sake, look at [the Australian band] Hanson. I mean, their drummer's touring and he's 13-years-old.'

TIME: You're a rebel without a cause? James Dean?
Tse:
Er...it's funny. The first time I ever smashed a guitar on stage, the papers and the people on the street said, 'Nicholas threw a spat, he smashed a guitar on stage and disrespected the audience by doing so...' And I'm like, 'come on, give me a break.'
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TIME: How do you cope with Hong Kong's candy-floss cuteness?
Tse:
It's contradictory. I do have to make a living and I try to do what I want to do. For example, in my latest album released in May, I liked some stuff...the stuff I wrote, but 50% or more of the songs were themes from commercials and movies. There was one from Bossini, one was Nissan Cup Noodles, one was from Panasonic, it's ridiculous.

TIME: Cecilia Cheung is the so-called 'It-girl' of Hong Kong cinema. You've just been working with her on the new Tsui Hark movie Time and Tide. Is she?
Tse:
I agree 100%. She's something else. She's got it in her blood, and I think she's the best actress in Hong Kong. She's one great young girl, particularly one that can survive in this environment and still be herself. She's awesome.

TIME: Have you heard her doing Madonna's American Pie?
Tse:
No. I was invited to her concert but I was busy in Taipei unfortunately.

TIME: Tsui Hark is meant to be hell to work with. What's your take on him?
Tse:
It's not easy. He has high standards and the weirdest perspective. You'll light a cigarette one way and he'll say 'that's wrong, do it this way.' He doesn't compromise and he doesn't give a damn. Some directors are like, 'O.K., that's two rolls today, that's enough,' but his attitude is more like 'screw you, let's do another ten.'

TIME: Do you ever watch your own movies?
Tse:
I couldn't watch Young and Dangerous: The Prequel because at the time I was under 18 and it was an X-rated movie for which I blasted the government. Two months ago, my girlfriend Faye Wong insisted on watching all my movies and I had to sit there with her and watch them...but I didn't really watch them.

TIME: Does she think they're any good?
Tse:
I think she liked Young and Dangerous most but I'm not sure about the rest. I look upon them as a journey to other things. It's like something you have to go through in this business.

TIME: Shu Qi was in that movie. There's a great scene in a restaurant, where she asks you to kiss her a couple of times, you look bashful, then you do. And it's a superb kiss. That was improvised wasn't it? You were blushing for real?
Tse:
Yes, and it was improvised. I was a bit embarrassed but Shu Qi's very down to earth. She doesn't have any of that big star mentality about her. She made it pretty easy.

TIME: Who would you pay to see in Hong Kong cinema?
Tse:
I really don't know. There are very few, almost too few Hong Kong films that I would still buy a ticket to go to the theatre for. In terms of acting, Shu Qi would be my first choice.

TIME: You just released a Cantonese album in May, and this afternoon you're putting finishing touches to a Mandarin album and then working on another Cantonese album, yes?
Tse:
I'm about to start writing songs for my next Cantonese album. And that brings up something that I'm really pissed off about with Hong Kong; an artist releases an album every two months. So, what point is there? The audience haven't got any time to digest anything before they're asked to spend another HK$100 ($12).

TIME: I agree. Your girlfriend practically has a 'greatest hits' album at the end of every year.
Tse:
Right. I'm doing four albums this year, then you can bet that by the time I do a big concert at the end of the year, they'll bring out a live EP.

TIME: Why doesn't Hong Kong have a band culture?
Tse:
There are several reasons. Firstly, there are not enough live shows here. Secondly, let's say the biggest local media in Hong Kong is TVB. To me, that is the most disgraceful media in Hong Kong. They are delivering the worst message to the audience in terms of music. You get 3 minutes at most, no rehearsals. I 've done a couple of screwed up shows for them and it's really pissed me off. Third, there's only really four or five guitarists in Hong Kong. There aren't many musicians.

TIME: Can you change that?
Tse:
I'm trying and I will. Last night when I was with my friends I said one of my wishes, within three years, was to have my own band. Every artist in it would also be a solo artist, so it would be a weird arrangement...like Phil Collins and Genesis. Changes have to be made in Hong Kong.

TIME: Is the audience ready for that?
Tse:
Not yet. Otherwise our companies wouldn't be releasing the same crap all of the time.

TIME: Do you enjoy performing in Hong Kong or don't the audience let you?
Tse:
It depends. In Hong Kong you can't stand up, you can't do this, you can't do that...so there's no real ambience. The place makes the audience really boring. Feedback gives you drive in a performance and that's hard to get from audiences here. It's weird. I must admit though, it has been improving, there's a long way to go.

TIME: Do you worry about getting overexposed and tackily packaged here?
Tse:
Every artist in Hong Kong is an entertainer. There are real actors, but no real musicians or singers. I'd rather not be an entertainer. I don't know how to entertain people.

TIME: You seem to be doing a reasonable job of it.
Tse:
It's good to know a lot of stuff. But it's not good to be all spread out with no specialty. You don't act the best, sing the best, do anything the best.

TIME: You obviously want to rock-up your music?
Tse:
Oh yeah, definitely. I would want more alternative stuff, maybe even include ambient/instrumental stuff. I'd love to do something in the style of Lenny Kravitz. I like that feel.

TIME: Can't you rock it up with Faye Wong. She's funky.
Tse:
Oh yeah, very. But I don't think I would do that yet. Especially with the media frenzy around us. If things work out between us then there's time. We'll see.

TIME: You two are really getting hounded, aren't you?
Tse:
Well, it's not the first time. What can I do? In Hong Kong it's a right for journalists [to hound] it seems. Now, if I walk away from a camera, it means [in their eyes that] there's someone wrong with me, not them and that really pisses me off. It's like, I'm the one who's guilty.

TIME: What's the worst and craziest story you've read about yourself?
Tse:
Well, there's been so many, from Faye having my baby, to me going back to Canada because I'd quit drugs...

TIME: How long will you stay in Hong Kong?
Tse:
My contract dictates quite a few years. I can't change that so I've just got to make the best of it. I still have hopes for the Hong Kong music industry. That such a small spot can make such a lot of noise is quite a miracle in terms of movies. I don't want to give up. I've seen a lot of great stuff from the U.S. so I say let's input some of that stuff into Hong Kong's music. I love doing experimental stuff. I talked to Tsui Hark at a party the other day and he's going to help me shoot my next video.

TIME: How much say do you have in the way Nicholas Tse gets packaged to the Hong Kong market.
Tse:
I've had a bit more say with the past three albums, but still it really pisses me off, all this smiling to the camera and s*** like that. It reflects on how superficial the audience are. They're just interested in the poster they can put on their bedroom wall. After I do my concerts this year, the next Cantonese album I put out will not have my face on it. If the sales drop, then sorry, I tried, but that's it.

TIME: Is recording a big drag?
Tse:
A complete drag. There's not enough time, no thought is put into it, there's not enough preparation. It's crazy; the market controls me.

TIME: Do you drink like a rock star?
Tse:
I don't drink alcohol. I got asthma when I was about 8 and alcohol affects me.

TIME: I shouldn't think the Marlboro Lights do much for it either.
Tse:
They seem to work. Good for the singing voice, too. I mean...it's all part of life, isn't it? After all, rock and roll is sex and drugs.

TIME: What do you need right now? What would make your kind of sense?
Tse:
More time to do my music and less time being a star.

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