Tuesday, January 01, 2013
When you call Benz Hui (許紹雄), he answers the phone with: “This is Benz.” Yet, in reality, he stopped driving Mercedes Benz cars decades ago – in fact, he currently owns a Toyota and Lexus, but no Mercedes. For him, the name ‘Benz’ is “simply just a greeting”.
At this year’s TVB Anniversary Awards ceremony, he was ‘suddenly’ presented with the Outstanding Artist Award alongside Sunny Chan (陳錦鴻), Dodo Cheng (鄭裕玲), etc., however for Benz, what the award is about and what it represents doesn’t matter to him – in fact, he doesn’t even want to bother thinking more deeply about it: “To be honest, I wasn’t even a little bit moved [by the award] – most important thing is that I still get my salary!”
Instead of being ‘moved to tears’, Benz’s reaction [upon accepting the award on stage] was in-line with his ‘funny man’ personality: “Oh, I didn’t know that men get ‘ging kei’ [menopause] too!” [TN: pun on the Chinese characters ‘驚奇’ (surprise/amazement) which sounds exactly like the characters for ‘menopause’ (經期)] Once a comedian, always a comedian! With a face that has ‘honest’ and ‘simple-minded’ written all over it, Benz also possesses the ‘honest luck’ to go along with it.
Even though an unsightly scar on his face due to a freak accident in his childhood adds to Benz’s ‘already non-handsome’ features, it doesn’t bother him one bit, especially since a fortune teller once told him that only by having a ‘disfigured face’ will he ‘grow up’ into adulthood. Despite his lack of good looks, Benz has still been able to ‘stand strong’ in the TV industry for 40 years. He was the first artist to drive a Mercedes Benz to work back in the 70s – however driving a nice car doesn’t necessarily equate to being flocked by pretty girls. Benz revealed that back then, he ‘didn’t dare’ to court pretty girls – as a result, he remained single for 42 years; by the time he finally married and had a daughter, he was already well past middle age. And even with his age, he still continues to get endless job offers, thereby becoming one of the TV industry’s ‘green leaf’ kings.
An ‘honest’ guy has ‘honest’ luck? That’s all because he is content and happy with his life.
Fondly remembers the ‘loyal’ days of old
Benz Hui graduated from TVB’s first year Acting Class (1971-72) and so can be considered one of TVB’s ‘elders’ who has been with the company from the start – yet, he rarely ever attends the Anniversary Galas each year: “Why go for no reason? With or without me, it’s still the same.”
While others may be extremely moved to the point of tears, Benz takes the opposite approach: “Never thought about it! Award or no award, doesn’t matter – first and foremost is to do your job well.”
Amidst the poaching crises and upcoming TV battle, some people questions whether TVB’s action of giving out awards to veteran artists at this point in time is a move to ‘steady the troops’ – we probably all know the ‘answer’ to this in our hearts: “With a new boss, perhaps he’s trying to do more for the employees – it’s a good thing, since pretty much nothing was done the past 10 years or so. I remember a long time ago, back in the olden days, there used to be a sense of ‘loyalty’ (belonging) and ‘unity’ [at TVB] that brought everyone together – but that feeling was lost years ago. Back when TVB City was still at Broadcast Drive and later Clearwater Bay, we would always arrive an hour or so early to work and sit in the canteen chit-chatting, then when the time to get off work came along, we would linger behind and wait for each other to go eat dinner or midnight snack. That was all in the past though – nowadays, as soon as the time comes to get off work, everyone is gone already.”
Indeed, Benz is not the only one to express such sentiments. Earlier, we had interviewed veteran actor Law Lok Lam (羅樂林) and he said the exact same thing: “It’s not just one person’s feelings -- this is actually how everyone feels. In a sense, I guess you could say that the company [TVB] did do a ‘good job’ – after all, they were able to make all their employees feel the same way. [TN: Obviously Benz is being sarcastic here.] If you think about it, these sentiments didn’t occur overnight – it was brewing for a long time already. Strictly speaking, for a company to get to this point [where all the employees lack a sense of belonging], they’ve truly failed!”
Back during the days when Benz filmed Police Cadet ’84 (新紮師兄), he recounts how his ‘nephew’ in the series, Tony Leung (梁朝偉) would invite him to dinner at the Shangri-La Hotel after work: “Back then, going out to eat at a fancy restaurant was very expensive; for 2 guys like us to just go there and eat dinner after work, there was no particular reason or occasion – it’s merely because he [Tony] knows how to enjoy life. Back when Johnny To (杜琪峯) was still a director working at TVB, he also had the habit of treating a bunch of us to dinner or midnight snack after work – he is also the type who understands how to enjoy life.”
With the passing of time, the ‘color’ of life has faded as well – over the years, going to work went from being a delightful, joyful experience to a meaningless day to day task.
Supports Ricky Wong
The primary reason why TVB feels the need to ‘steady the troops’ at this point in time is because of the arrival of their biggest enemy: CTI/HKTV chairman Ricky Wong (王維基). With his experience and talent, it goes without saying that Benz was also a ‘target’ of poaching by CTI.
“Last year (2011), I went back to Mainland China for 6 months – during that time, I filmed a Mainland series and 2 movies. When I was filming in Shanghai, someone from Mr. Wong’s company contacted me and when I returned in to HK in November, we actually did meet up. Mr. Wong offered to pay me twice the salary I was currently getting, but I very honestly told him that I still had 2 years left on my contract with TVB and with jobs lined up in the Mainland, that means I would have to request time off from TVB, which could delay things even more – so in the best interests of all parties, I suggested waiting until my contract is up to discuss further. In all honesty, everything that Mr. Wong offered during our discussion was way better than TVB!”
Even though TVB gave an award to Benz, he does not hide the fact that he supports Ricky Wong: “I hope that he will do a good job! In reality, he has already helped a lot of people, yet he continues to have the spirit of ‘sacrificing himself for the greater good’ – this alone is worth respecting. Regardless of what kind of person he is, just looking at from the perspective of what he’s done so far and what he hopes to achieve, it’s worth supporting.”
Benz didn’t film any TVB series in 2011 – it wasn’t until after he returned from Mainland earlier in the year, that he filmed the currently airing series Friendly Fire (法網狙擊). Benz admits that the pay in Mainland is very attractive, which is one of the reasons why he spends more time filming there than in HK. In addition to the pay, another advantage of filming in the Mainland is the feeling of being ‘respected’: “In between filming a scene, I was standing for only a few minutes when a worker would quickly bring over a chair for me to sit, as they [production team] didn’t want me to get too tired from standing -- actually, at the time, I chose to stand on purpose because I was afraid that if I sat down, I would get too comfortable and fall asleep. The production team over there is always very nice about making sure things are not too grueling and exhausting – I guess this is what we can call ‘respect’!”
Benz’s old buddy, veteran comedic actor Ng Man Tat (吳孟達) shifted his career to Mainland long time ago and has endless job offers over there, but since HK audiences rarely ever see Tat Gor, they don’t know his current situation and mistakenly think that he has financial hardship. Upon hearing this, Benz could not help but laugh at HK audiences’ ignorance: “The amount of money that he [Tat Gor] makes in 1 year over there is equivalent to several years worth of pay here in HK! In fact, he always asks me why I don’t just shift my career completely to Mainland too, since there are so many opportunities!”
Opens a tutoring school for his daughter
The main reason why Benz chooses to keep his roots in HK – his wife and teenage daughter. At the end of the day, Benz prefers to be a ‘family man’.
Benz’s daughter is 15 years old and attends a Singaporean international school. His wife grew up in Singapore and their daughter was born there as well. Back when his daughter was in Kindergarten, he would fly over to Singapore a few times a year to see his wife and daughter, but then later on, his wife told him that if he doesn’t take them to HK soon, his daughter may not recognize him soon. So with that, their family was finally reunited.
Under the Singaporean education system, mathematics courses are especially difficult – seeing that their daughter was having a hard time with the subject, Benz and his wife decided to open a tutoring school for her. From the time that his daughter was in elementary school all the way up to high school, they would tutor her as well as her schoolmates in various subjects.
“My wife was the one who ran the tutoring school. We actually didn’t consider it a ‘business’, so we didn’t run it as such– we basically hired 2 teachers to come over from Singapore to teach the kids. The first 3-4 years, we actually lost money – it’s only now that we’re just starting to break even.”
In reality, running a tutoring school doesn’t earn much money at all, so Benz and his wife look at it as making a small contribution to the field of education. Close to finishing high school, Benz’s daughter will start taking college preparatory courses next year – they thought about sending her to Australia, but she went there to test things out and didn’t like it, so she will continue going to school in HK instead: “Boarding school only costs about 200,000 to 300,000 HKD per year – it won’t kill me!”
When it comes to his daughter’s education, Benz constantly tells people: “I don’t contribute much at all! Luckily, her mother takes care of everything and I don’t have to worry one bit. All I do is pay the tuition!” With the said though, Benz still has a very close relationship with his daughter – she loves sitting on his lap and every time she does, he has a sweet happy feeling inside.
“My daughter has a lot of suitors and her mom is very much familiar with each one – luckily she hasn’t started dating yet, as she feels that her education is more important. I’m a very relaxed dad!” Since his daughter’s school is a bit far from their home in Sai Kung, Benz used to drive his daughter to school every day: “Back then, I’d have to be at work by 6am and on days when I didn’t have to work, I’d still have to get up at 6am to take her to school! Too exhausting – no thanks! My wife takes care of driving her to school now.” Benz is happy to have such a competent wife!
Actually, Benz has to take care of 2 households – in addition to his home in HK, there’s also the house in Singapore where his mother-in-law currently lives. 20 years ago when he first got married, he had actually considered living permanently in Singapore: “Unfortunately, the TV stations in Singapore couldn’t pay enough money, as the salary they offered was half of what I made at TVB. Also, at that time, there were endless job offers in HK, so I didn’t really have the time to think much about changing our living environment.”
It can be said that Benz Hui has encountered luck all his life. When he was a child, a fortune teller told his parents that he needed to be ‘disfigured on the face’ in order to live to adulthood; sure enough, when Benz was 4 years old, he accidentally ran into a glass partition – the glass shards caused a cut in his face underneath one eye, which left a deep scar after it healed. Indeed, the ‘disfigured face’ prediction came true!
Benz came from a prominent family in Guangzhou, China – his ancestors have a literary reputation dating back many generations. If we really want to get technical, he’s actually a ‘distant relative’ of Julian Hsu’s (許晉亨) family. Benz’s father used to own a jade and jewelry shop in Central, HK – after graduating from school, Benz helped out at his father’s shop for a few years, but he became so bored with the work that he decided to try applying for TVB’s Acting Class instead.
“My father closed down the business a long time ago! Later on, I bumped into a few of the apprentices who used to work at the shop and seeing that all of them became rich business owners, I couldn’t help thinking that if I had known better, my path probably would have been different.”
After graduating from Acting Class, Benz spent a few years doing the variety show E.Y.T. (歡樂今宵), but then when some of his classmates decided to ‘jump ship’ to a rival station because they offered better pay, he decided to follow suit, primarily because of the money, but then eventually returned to TVB a few years later. In 1977, Benz earned enough money to buy a Mercedes and would drive it to work every day – from that day on, he was known as ‘Benz 雄’. Back then, a Mercedes Benz 230 cost 70,000 HKD, which was enough to buy a house back in those days -- Benz’s good friend Stanley Fung (馮淬帆) constantly scolded him for being so ‘excessive’: “Actually, back in those days, a Mercedes was a very practical car – it was expensive to buy, but very cheap to maintain. I had that car for 11 years and ended up selling it for more than 60,000 HKD.”
After returning to TVB, Benz experienced his first career peak with his ‘Uncle Tung’ character in Police Cadet ’84 (新紮師兄). Unfortunately though, with his passive personality, Benz didn’t take advantage of the ‘peak’ and soon, other comical actors such as Liu Wai Hung (廖偉雄), Kent Cheng (鄭則士), etc. surpassed him, moving to the first-line level while he remained where he was. One thing that he did get out of this first ‘peak’ was more opportunity to travel and perform on stage.
Unexpectedly, the opportunity to perform on stage ended up changing his life forever – during a performance in Singapore, Benz met his wife (who was part of the production team at the time) and they started dating; a few years later, at the age of 42, Benz and his wife married. Interestingly, his wife actually has a famous ‘god-sister’: actress Connie Chan (陳寶珠) – so without really expecting it, he suddenly became Connie’s ‘god-brother-in-law!’
This was actually the second marriage for Benz’s wife – at the time she married Benz, she already had a 12 year old son with her ex-husband. Benz and his step-son have a very close relationship – when he was little, he already started calling Benz ‘Daddy’ from very early on. 5 years later, his wife unexpectedly became pregnant and gave birth to a daughter. At 47 years old, Benz’s family was complete with a son as well as a daughter.
Benz often mocks himself: “I’m a very useless dad, as I never really taught them [my kids] anything – my wife was the one who taught them everything. My level of education is very low, but my kids are very smart, so I just make myself useful by paying their tuition!”
Benz expressed that his kids are growing up right before his eyes. After his [step] son earned a mechanical engineering degree in England, he returned to HK and worked as an engineering apprentice at the HK airport for awhile, but due to his asthma, he couldn’t continue. Currently, he lives and studies in Australia and has already earned a Masters Degree over there. Now, Benz is just waiting for his daughter to go off to college, and his ‘job’ will officially be done.
The ‘usefulness of uselessness’
Daoist author and philosopher Zhuangzi (莊子) once talked about the concept of ‘usefulness in uselessness’ – an ugly-looking tree generally won’t get chopped down, so it will usually remain the longest.
Benz Hui constantly jokes that he is a ‘useless’ person – out of the all those who graduated from TVB’s first year Acting Class, he is the only one who chose to ‘stay behind’ and remain at TVB. Years ago, he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the HK Film Awards for his performance in Johnny To’s Running out of Time (暗戰), but didn’t win – therefore, his ‘first’ award ever is the Outstanding Artist award that TVB gave him during this year’s Anniversary Awards. When he accepted the award, the applause and cheers that he received was the loudest – indeed, he accepts the award with a clear conscience, much deserved for his years of hard work. During his acceptance speech, he didn’t feel the need to ‘thank’ any executives – instead, he chose only to ‘thank’ TVB. And with this interview, he feels free to speak his mind, as there is no need for him to ‘shine’ TVB’s shoes. Benz is truly able to ‘enjoy’ his ‘honest fortune’ happily and peacefully.
Source: Mingpao Weekly, Issue 2303
Translated by: llwy12 @ AsianFanatics
Labels: Benz Hui 許紹雄