Saturday, March 06, 2004

[Sing Pao Special Report]

Joe Ma - Seven Years is just a beginning...

The reason for changing jobs is only known to the person involved, don't think that the only reason for changing jobs is down to the poor economy and high unemployment. For Joe who left his life as a police officer and even with his modelling experience, taking on the life of television and film work, speaking lines, walking on the stage and catwalk, posing for photographs - this was a completely different life. Tall, dashing and handsome, Joe has been in the industry for seven years now, but only today are people truly calling out his name.

Signing as an artiste for TVB was in his eyes a successful career change, but in fact this was just the first step of his life in showbiz. His first series was "Heroes of Shaolin", his first shoot was with household names such as Deric Wan and Gigi Lai. When he arrived for duty at the airport, he had to introduce himself clearly to the crew: "I am Joe Ma, I am part of the cast." To introduce himself in this way required some courage. The other cast members such as Deric, Gigi and Eddie Cheung were already well known, but still treated the newcomer with a courteous smile. He still remembers: "Eddie Cheung also helped me with the checking in procedure. All the others were very friendly towards me, just at the time I wasn't sure how I should carry myself."

Before he started on the road to stardom, Joe was a police officer. For a crime fighter where the difference between right and wrong was clear to have to delve into each character and play some evil roles required some development within himself: "I was not a child entering the industry, but an adult going through a career change. I had to put away some of the experiences and prejudices and when I played some cruel and nasty characters, there was a paradox in my mind." Looking back, the Joe of today says: "There was a thought of life is like a stage, many things seem to have a plan. As this is the path I have chosen, then I should walk forward boldly."

As a newcomer starting out, no matter if he had many or no lines, he would not worry about whether he was the centre of attention or not (and in truth I have met with many newcomers who are fake, overly self-confident and thinking they are famous before their time. They are hard to handle and I feel sorry for their naivity and stupidity.) He focussed on his performances and who can say that NG's have never happened to them, but even when he met with NG's he never uttered a word of complaint: "I just bore it silently, the only thing I could do was to stay quiet, smile and then do it again." It is not hard to imagine his helplessness and embarrassment.

Remembering about seven years ago in "The Criminal Investigator", his tall figure stood out a little. Talking of old times: "A lot of my expressions were very wooden, not natural at all..." I ask: "Your experiences as a police officer should have helped?" Joe explains that it is difficult to link police duties with those of being an actor and the more he wanted to do better, the harder it became. There was a short show where he had to work with Ada Choi and he played a playboy character, he says: "When I watched it later, I felt that my performance was so wooden, exaggerated and superficial. I couldn't grasp my character and was simply acting." In his heart there is a ruler measuring the extent of his success and even if the people around him offer him a few words of praise, he is still reserved. When people feedback his shortcomings, he is on the brink of noting it down on paper. Maybe this practicality and emotion is always conflicting in his heart. He says: "After reading the 'bible' and understanding my own and other people's characters, when I receive the script then I will say to myself: Joe Ma, this is your character in the drama, the experiences of this character is not Joe Ma. Then I will gradually understand how to enter the role of the character and not put my own feelings into the role." After an artite has "entered" the role, then they will have to put their heart into become "absorbed". After seven years as an artiste, it is not that he has not grasped the importance of this, just that the opportunity has only recently been offered to him.

When "Triumph in the Skies" reached high ratings, the character of "Vincent" was firmly etched into the viewers hearts and this left him with a lot of encouragement and motivation to succeed and so he says: "In the early days (around seven years ago) I still worked hard, but it was like someone else was controlling the switch or maybe that the camera was never rolling for me." Hearing this, I feel that only when an artiste finds fame does he gain a market value, during these happy times, then as long as the archives are complete, then there will still be a chance to see the small parts and heartfelt performances that were presented in those days.

"Actually, there were many many people who were working just as hard as me in those days, everyone did their part and they just keep working silently, putting their all into their performances. I am a lucky one as the opportunity has befallen me this time." Joe sincerely mentions a few names that appear on the cast list at the end of the episodes and although they do not conjure up great popularity, Joe still offers them the utmost in respect and admiration.

"When I come into contact with newcomers to the industry, to a certain extent I feel that I am looking into a mirror that has gone back in time and I see myself. If I can, I will offer some extracts from my own experiences." Joe himself has received help from many veterans and he has experienced the benefits of teamwork and helping each other. Although he says it with a smile, I feel that his willingness to help others is a virtue and this comes straight from the heart.

Joe Ma's popularity is gaining by the day, but this has not affected the pace of life for him. In the past when he goes out with friends, he would not say much and he only sees them once in a while, but recently he has accepted any invitation he receives: "I am usually the last to leave because the opportunity to spend time with friends is rare, especially when I am working." When friends call him 'Master Ma', 'Big Brother Chung', he knows that they are just joking. "I prefer people to call me Ma Tak Chung, or Joe. When I am filming, then the best is to call my character name. For an artiste, it is a good thing for people to know you and take you out and hearing people say: 'That show has brought fame upon him." The truth is this, the show is a result of teamwork and co-operation, no artiste can become famous on their own." The success of changing careers is not needed to be said, more work and a greater income means that the success can be felt in the heart. As for future targets, he says: "Working hard and saving hard. I want to build a nest egg for the future."

When Joe Ma's grandmother died, he was working and when he found out the sad news, he kept his pain in his heart. Even when saying goodbye to her at the funeral parlour, he held back the tears, until one night when he returned home... He tells: "When I saw the lights on the family shrine and thought about the time when my grandmother was in the living room and walking around in the kitchen, asking me whether I wanted to eat and pulling the covers over me. When I thought that I would never see her again, I cried a lot. If my grandmother could know that I am doing okay, she will be very happy. My father and mother are also my greatest supporters and even in the days when I had just one or two lines, they would still say it was good. My wife will support me smilingly. " This man who returns home after work says once again: "My family have given me the greatest support."


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