My fond memory of Tsai Chin was picking her up from her West Hollywood condo to rehearse the reading of Simon Sun’s winning screenplay that I directed for CAPE several years back. On the way to West Los Angeles, Tsai and I would talk about everything from her experience in the film industry to her early life in China and London. Deliciously memorable as the sext girl who gunned down James Bond after saying, “I give you very best duck,” Tsai is a living legend of her own.
And she is a star.
“Quentin, you must have some fuck-off money in this industry, you know,” she told me. “By fuck-off money I mean you need to save up enough money so that you don’t have to work when you get offered bad jobs.”
Recently, I went to a small dinner at her fabulous condo where I got reacquainted with Tsai years after the CAPE reading. At her golden age, Tsai is a bolt of energy. Most recently, she starred as Dowager Jia in the Chinese fifth generation director Li Shaohong’s Chinese TV series “A Dream in Red Mansions.”
A variety of Chinese dishes were prepared at Tsai’s from the Taiwanese delight Lion’s head casserole to the chilled Hand-teared Chicken. Tsai had carefully prepared each guest’s setting from the dinner fork to the dessert spoon. I poured wine for Tsai and the other two dinner guests.
“In London, I didn’t really mix with Asians. But in Los Angeles, I mix with more Asians,” said Tsai as she put down a large bowl of steaming rice.
“Why?” I asked.
“I guess it’s because I work with Asians here. American society is so much more… racial. In England, it’s more about class. When you open your mouth, people know exactly where you’re from.”
“It’s like My Fair Lady,” I said, sipping my glass of red wine.
“A few weeks ago, there was this young Filipino man, around nineteen, who came up to me and offered me help when I walked home carrying some grocery. He said, ‘You’re Aunty Linda!’” recalled Tsai.
“Joy Luck Club was an incredibly influential film,” said a dinner guest, “And people still remember you as Aunty Linda. It was such a memorable role.”
“You know how much the gays love powerful women!” exclaimed Tsai.
Two of us nodded in agreement while polishing off the remains of the Chinese dishes.
“Come! Let me show you the trailer of the Chinese TV series I starred in.” Tsai led us into her bedroom with a gigantic television screen.
“That has got to be a 56 inch TV,” I said.
“I’m impressed you have such a big flat screen, Tsai,” said another dinner guest.
“Why? You young people think I’m not into technology?” Immediately, Tsai pulled out more of her gadgets and spread them on her pristine bed. “Here’s my iPod and iPad. Mind you, I bought an iPad 1 because I really couldn’t stand in line outside the Apple store for the iPad 2.”
And I noticed the Chinese letter “Chow” inked on her iPad cover.
“Tsai, so your last name is Chow?” I asked.
“You didn’t know, Quentin?” She looked at me with her intimidating and spirited eyes.
“No… so Tsai Chin was your name and stage name?”
“Yes, you know Chinese, Quentin. You’re from Hong Kong, aren’t you?”
I nodded. But our actress Tsai Chin is not to be confused with the singer Tsai Chin whose last name was Tsai and first name was Chin. Tsai Chin the singer was previously married to the late Taiwanese director Edward Yang.
According to my friend, Tsai is the sister of Michael Chow, the famed restaurateur Mr. Chow. In fact, they both appeared in You Only Live Twice.
Toward the end of the evening, Tsai busted out slices of chocolate cake and white wine and I had to say I was beginning to get tipsy. The next thing I remember was driving home and crawling to bed dreaming about a wild night in London.
When I woke up from my exotic dreams, the first image I remember was hugging Tsai goodbye last night. I finally realized then the difference between actors and stars, or between actors and “acKtors” as Tsai would put it.
Stars make you dream.