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January 13, 2024

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Local actor Chen Long sees role in ‘Blossoms’ as a feather in his cap

“BLOSSOMS Shanghai,” Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-wai’s directorial debut on TV drama, has sparked intense debate and a frenzy, with people flocking to locations featured in the series.

Tao Tao, played by actor Chen Long, is one of the series’ most popular characters. The series is available in both Mandarin and the Shanghai dialect.

Chen, 48, has played a variety of characters in his career, but “Blossoms Shanghai” marks the first time he speaks in the local dialect.

As a Shanghai native, he considers it an honor. When he joined the crew, he discovered that most of the characters were played by Shanghai actors and actresses.

“If you decided to pick actors from the rest of the country instead of just in Shanghai, I would have no chance of getting the role, as there are so many excellent actors,” Chen recalled telling Wong.

Set in 1990s Shanghai, the 30-episode series is based on Jin Yucheng’s award-winning novel “Blossoms.”

Chen, who was born in 1976, is well-versed in the events depicted in the series. He grew up in the city’s Luwan District, which is now part of Huangpu District.

He used to frequent the eateries and snack bars on Jinxian Road, which has been entirely restored in the drama.

“When I saw the whole Jinxian Road built in the studio, I was amazed,” he said. “The real Jinxian Road has been renovated over the years, but director Wong has restored all the details of the road at that age.”

Wong also spoke in the Shanghai dialect throughout filming, which made Chen feel at ease.

“His dialect is very traditional,” Chen pointed out. “He was also born in Shanghai, and he really has a deep connection with Shanghai.”

Wong was born in the city in 1958 and moved to Hong Kong at the age of 5.

According to Chen, Wong places a high value on actors’ natural reactions. He always encouraged them to be natural on the set.

Chen and other Shanghai actors are familiar with a variety of local lingo, which they frequently incorporate into their portrayals.

Wong retained a lot of the lingo in the final cut, which gives the drama a distinct flavor.

“In one scene, I was beaten up by another character,” Chen said. “When I picked myself up, I used slang in the Shanghai dialect, which Wong retained. But it was dubbed in the Mandarin version, which I think takes away some of the flavor.”

So Chen is advising the audience to watch the Shanghai dialect version.

“It doesn’t matter whether you understand all that is said or not. But the Shanghai dialect allows you to experience the true ambiance of Shanghai,” Chen said.

The character Tao Tao does not have the same background as Chen.

In “Blossoms Shanghai,” Tao Tao grows up in xiazhijiao, which was one of Shanghai’s poorer areas, including Putuo and Zhabei districts.

People in xiazhijiao resided in dilapidated urban areas with deplorable living conditions.

Tao Tao is a seafood vendor who lives with his wife in a modest house. In contrast to the protagonist, A Bao, Tao Tao depicts a different way of life for Shanghai residents in the 1990s.

Chen’s favorite prop in the drama is a washboard. There is a scene: After he made a mistake, his wife punishes him by asking him to kneel on the washboard.

“Nowadays, this kind of washboard is rarely seen in our daily lives. My son doesn’t even know about it, but it’s in our memory,” he said.

“Later, I want to find one for him.”

There are also several local snacks in “Blossoms Shanghai.” Chen’s personal favorite is paigu niangao, or pork chop with rice cakes. He had it numerous times as a child, but he regrets that the flavor has changed since then.

“I also hope that my son will have the opportunity to try the original flavor, but for now, the one he has is sufficient,” he said.

“It’s just the difference between generations.”

Chen has many great memories as an accomplished actor, but “Blossoms Shanghai” is destined to be one of the most memorable since he sees himself and his city in the series.

Receiving positive feedback from the audience gets him even more excited.

“I think that for Shanghai people, ‘Blossoms Shanghai’ is like a booster, leading us to look back at our own history and memories,” Chen said.

“After watching the series, more locals are willing to speak Shanghai dialect, eat Shanghai snacks and promote Shanghai culture. I hope that we can all be proud of the city and introduce it to people from all around the country and the world.”


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