Huang Lei and Isaac

In 2002 I was recruited to play Isaac, the elderly husband of the young female lead, in a TV play called “Library” (天一生水). The play was written by a young actor / director called Huang Lei (黄磊). The play was set in a library called Tian Yi Ge (天一阁) which is an actually existing collection pf priceless antique books in Ningbo (near Shanghai). The trustees at Tian Yi Ge very sensibly refused to have a film troupe galumphing around in their library so Huang built a replica of the library in a vast studio on the outskirts of Beijing.

The atmosphere of the play is very romantic. Earlier Huang Lei had played a role in a film called “Eighteen Springs” based on a novel by Eileen Chang (who wrote “Lust, Caution”). The film is the story of a doomed love affair set in early 20th century Shanghai, and “Library” is quite similar in mood and setting.

We filmed the various hotel room scenes in an old hotel in Shanghai known as the actor’s hotel because it has been unchanged for decades and is often used for filming. Both Bertrand Russell and Einstein stayed there and there are pictures of them in the hall. Russell later wrote a book called “The Problem of China” which is still worth reading today.

The woman I am acting with is Ma Yili (马伊琍). At one point I was supposed to be lying in bed with her and the script said 搂 – I looked it up in my Chinese dictionary and it was translated as “hug”. So when we got to that bit I naturally, like any red-blooded Englishman, rolled over on top of her which caused her to have a severe panic attack which required us both to return to make-up for a thorough refurbishing. I wrote some more about this experience in an essay called Immaculate Mandarins.