Travellers’ tales: Chang Chen
Asian superstar Chang Chen has a career that’s taken him all over the world, but for his latest film, Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi spectacular Dune, he discovered places he’d never set foot in before. From falling in love with Budapest to getting stuck in a car for 17 hours in the Gobi desert, the actor breaks down his most memorable travel experiences…
Where are you right now?
I’m currently in Venice, Italy, at the Venice Film Festival. This is my third time at the festival and yesterday I watched my new film, Dune, for the first time, which was very exciting.
Where did you shoot Dune?
My entire part was shot in Budapest. It was my first time there and I had such a good experience. There’s lots of delicious food (I loved the goulash and wiener schnitzel) and it’s such a beautiful city. I enjoyed the spas, ancient architecture and the fact everything is surrounded by nature and has the Danube river running through it. Margaret Island was also very pretty.
What was your first trip abroad?
My first trip abroad was to Japan for work – I went to the Tokyo Film Festival when I was 15 years old. Because Japan and Taiwan are very close geographically, my family and I would also go there quite often for holidays. It’s a country that’s always changing and evolving so there’s so much to see every time we go. We’ve travelled to all the big, popular cities but have also explored the lesser-known parts of the countryside over the years. The place that impressed me most was skiing in Hokkaido – the powdered snow there is very special.
When did you first visit Europe?
The first time I went to Europe was when I was 18 years old for the Berlin Film Festival. I was promoting one of my first films, Mahjong. I was left with a great impression by the amazing architecture, modern, eco-conscious design and the historic buildings that exist side by side. It’s a special city; truly breathtaking. One of my strongest memories is when I went to a department-store-like building that had been bombed and looked like an abandoned building. It turned out to be a workshop for artists and I could see them creating on site. It was pretty special.
Chang Chen as Doctor Wellington Yueh in Dune
Ziyi Zhang with Chang Chen in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Gong Li and Chang Chen in The Hand from Eros
In Red Cliff with Hou Yong and Tony Leung
What do you love most about your home and what do you miss about it?
I do get quite homesick and the thing I probably miss the most is the street food of Taiwan. Food is a very important part of our daily life. First, you take care of your needs by eating well, then you get the energy to explore the world. My favourite dish is braised pork and rice with soy sauce.
Have you ever taken a job because of where it was being filmed?
I have to think carefully about this one! I suppose the filming locations are always a bit of a motive… In the early days when I first started filming Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon I was very excited because we visited Xinjiang and I had a very special memory and experience there in the Gobi Desert. I didn’t know what the desert was like and being there, seeing a whole lot of sand for the first time with my own eyes, made me feel so small and humble. At one point, when we travelled from the southernmost to the northernmost part of northern Xinjiang, we got caught in unexpectedly heavy rain (which was unusual for the region) and had to spend 17 hours in the car. I couldn’t feel my bum at the end. The memory is still vivid to this day.
Where would you most like to revisit?
New York. I haven’t been there many times and, when I first visited, I was already an adult. That first trip I really felt a freedom in the air and understood why people come to New York to pursue their dreams and hopes. I really enjoyed the energy the city gave me.
Have you ever experienced a moment of true inspiration on a trip?
Different places inspire me in different ways. Travelling abroad is not only about pleasure but, to me, it’s about getting to know different people, food and cultures. As I get older I develop different curiosities and interests. When I was young, I liked to visit art galleries and museums, but now I also enjoy just walking along the street and absorbing the vibe in different places. It might not seem the grandest thing to do as a tourist, but it means a lot to me to be able to see and experience a location like a local.
What’s your favourite meal and where serves it best?
I would recommend Din Tai Fung, a restaurant that serves dim sum and noodle dishes that originated in Taipei, Taiwan. Its most famous dish is xiao long bao (soup dumplings), but it also makes a very hearty chicken soup. Nothing too fancy, but all very tasty. I guarantee that everyone who goes there will love this restaurant.
What destination has surprised you most?
I’d say India surprised. It’s a place that you have to visit for real to experience the whole package it has to offer. I first went there for work, to Jodhpur, which is an ancient place known as the ‘Blue City’ (most of the buildings are painted blue). If you go to the top of the Mehrangarh Fort you can enjoy a beautiful view overlooking the entire city below. It really blew my mind and exceeded my expectations.
Dune is released in the UK on 21 October, and in cinemas around the world now.
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