National Traveler: Seeing the World While Filming Movies

Haoran sits down with weekly travel magazine, the National Traveler, to talk about one of his favorite subjects: travel, including his travels through work, his thoughts and impressions of the places he’s visited, and more. This was originally part of the media rounds he did for Detective Chinatown 3 promotions a couple of weeks ago.

Admin note: 2020 has started off on a somber note across the globe – no matter where you are in the world, wishing you health, happiness, and peace. Stay safe everyone; take necessary precautions.

Wanted to mention one more thing since it’s going to fly under the radar:

To help with the fight against the coronavirus outbreak, on Jan 25, Haoran donated to the China Siyuan Foundation for Poverty Alleviation, which is well known and established, along with many other celebs, but it’s since been noted in the days following that the money (whether it’s from celebs, fanclubs, citizens, etc.) hasn’t gone to the frontlines (the hospitals, medical workers, and people of Wuhan).

As Siyuan and the Wuhan Red Cross have received some of the most donations nationally, they’ve both been under fire from netizens for lack of transparency and not distributing supplies/donations to those who need it (Siyuan’s is going a little bit unnoticed though due to most of the rage being targeted at the Wuhan Red Cross).

There is a shortage of supplies currently in Wuhan hospitals, and with the amount of money that’s been raised across the country that absolutely should not be the case.

(Those who have followed news on charity organizations globally during disasters will know this is a common issue with charity, regardless of country, so adding a PSA to please double check when you donate for any cause – make sure your money is actually going to those affected; just because the organization is a big name doesn’t mean it’s the most helpful).

So yesterday, Haoran also quietly donated to Han Hong’s Love Charity Foundation (most celebs donated to either this or Siyuan, and majority of fanclubs donated to Siyuan/Wuhan Red Cross). Most likely, he’s also seen the receipts on Siyuan’s inaction from netizens, as he’s very plugged in online.

Han Hong (who is a very famous veteran singer in China and has a wide network of industry friends)’s organization has been earning praise for its transparency in how the donations are used and what is being sent (and received) by Wuhan hospitals.

I’m not in the camp that thinks celebrities, or anyone, is obligated to donate money (or that they’re obligated to donate a certain amount) so this isn’t about that – wanted to share this as we can see through his actions just how much Haoran wants to help Wuhan.

It’s not his fault that Siyuan ended up being a black hole (and here’s hoping they’ll eventually cave under pressure and release the money towards Wuhan), but as always, he’s just trying to do what he can personally without much fanfare. As he says in the final paragraph of this interview, he just hopes to encourage everyone to be a good person, a kind person.

(Edit: He’s also donated to his hometown of Pingdingshan, Henan, hours after a major hospital there posted on Weibo asking for donations as the cases have been increasing there and they’re lacking supplies. The organization that he donated to mentioned in their WeChat group that Haoran had specifically asked for the money to be used directly for those in the frontlines – once again signifying he’s aware of the Siyuan issue.)

(Original interview published 1.26.20)

Six years ago, in the movie Beijing Love Story, the youth with the clear gaze and gentle nature left a deep impression on me. Six years later, that youth sits across from me, his every movement still reminiscent of that lively, sunshiny boy that I remember. But as we talk, his maturity and steadiness also reminds me, “The former young man who combs up his hair has long headed off into the world, sword in hand.”

He is Liu Haoran.

As a young actor who has box office influence in the current film market, Liu Haoran is still as low profile and humble as ever.

When speaking, he maintains direct eye contact with the person he’s speaking to; when taking a photo, he is mindful of others and bows his back and bends his knees (T/N: because he’s tall – you can see he does this in many of his group photos); when we’re done, he takes the initiative to stand up and bow, giving his thanks.

These little gestures reveal that he is respectful and thinks of others.

When we interview Liu Haoran, he is currently promoting nationwide for his new film Detective Chinatown 3. Liu Haoran tells us that (in the film) he is continuing to “walk out”, and in a foreign city, solves complex cases and reveals surprising truths.

The duo composed of a highly intelligent little fresh meat (genius detective Qin Feng, who Liu Haoran plays), and the noisy and colorful “greasy uncle” (detective Tang Ren, played by Wang Baoqiang) continue to solve puzzles for the audience.

As an actor, Liu Haoran says honestly that he has a hard time finding the lines between life and work,

“Many times, I’ve learned to enjoy life through work. For example, because of work, I need to go to places that I would otherwise have little opportunity to visit. So I will usually stay there for an extra three to five days after seriously completing my work. To travel, experience the local customs and culture, and enjoy my life.”

Liu Haoran says with the rapid development of the Internet age, people have become more used to seeing the world through their phones, computers, videos, photos, and social media platforms. However, this doesn’t allow people to wholly gain the local experience.

To really learn about a place, you can’t just see it, but you have to hear it, smell it, feel it, etc. – the unification of your senses. That’s the experience you gain through traveling, “Only when you have stepped foot on the land can you really appreciate the chirping of birds and the fragrance of the flowers.”

When asked about the country that’s left the deepest impression on him among the ones he’s visited, Liu Haoran answers “Iceland” (Kiehl’s shoot, 2018) without hesitation.

I think Iceland is a place where you can really think quietly. Most of Iceland is endless plains, so when we were driving on a straight road, I discovered there were vast ice fields on both sides of the road. It was very open and solitary.”

In Iceland, the main method of transportation is by car, because the country doesn’t have a large population. Two places that have more residents may be two or three hours apart by car. So as you’re driving, you hear the wind blowing outside the windows, the view in front of you is pure. You’ll feel that you have removed yourself from the complexity of reality, and your busy mind also finds peace.”

In Iceland, Liu Haoran interacted with locals the most at convenience stores of gas stations, “Most of the shoot was completed in the ice plains, where there weren’t many people around. The hotel we stayed in also had no one around within a radius of a few kilometers, only the occasional car that drove by.”

“So it was only when we went to the convenience stores to replenish our stocks that we encountered locals. And I discovered the people of Iceland aren’t ‘icy’ at all; they were very warm, and full of curiosity about us who traveled far from a different country. They’d try to converse with us in English.”

“Although we ran into the ‘winds of the ice plains’, which felt like knives cutting deep into your skin, the people of Iceland’s enthusiasm made us feel this country’s warmth.”

The Detective Chinatown films haven’t just allowed audiences to remember the intelligent and resourceful young detective, but also gave Liu Haoran an opportunity to leave his footprints in Bangkok, New York, and Tokyo.

When discussing the impressions that the three cities and countries have left on him, Liu Haoran says New York is like a “jungle of steel”, as skyscrapers seem to grow from the ground, each taller than the next.

“We were staying on Wall Street, and the roads there were quite narrow. Every day, we would pass under dense scaffolding, like we were playing Temple Escape. These scaffolding were like branches of trees, so thick that they formed a reinforced concrete jungle.”

Liu Haoran laughs, “Thailand, to me, is like a big market full of fireworks. As you walk the streets and alleys of Bangkok, or other cities in Thailand, you’ll see that the colors are vibrant and rich, whether it’s the decor of the stores or what people are wearing. It makes things feel very lively and cheerful.”

“Tokyo is a city of many elements – it has both modern high-rises as well as the classic and elegant temples. It’s a perfect integration of both the new and old cultural elements. There might be a small simple bungalow next to a luxury hotel, which may sound strange, but when you see it, you’ll feel that it actually looks quite harmonious.”

When filming Detective Chinatown 3, Liu Haoran and the team went to the “busiest crossing in the world” in Shibuya, the famous shopping district of Shinjuku, anime/manga paradise Akihabara, and many other Japanese landmarks. Liu Haoran says, these uniquely Japanese landmarks show the dynamic side of Japan, and is deeply appealing to “post-90ers” like himself (and even 00’ers).

When we bring up Japan, Liu Haoran tells me that aside from filming, he’s also visited the country many times for vacation and study. In college, Liu Haoran and his classmates took part in a 20 day exchange program in Kanazawa to study at the acting school that Tadashi Suzuki established in the middle of a forest (T/N: he took a month off work, completely off grid, after NIF2 in 2017 for this trip).

During that time, Liu Haoran understood why Tadashi Suzuki built the school in the mountains – it’s because he believed acting was a pure learning process. Deep in the forest and with the flowing river (surrounding), it was an elegant environment, suitable for everyone to settle down and seriously study acting without outside influences.

Additionally, cell phones and other electronics had no signal at all there, so everyone could pour their hearts and souls into studying acting. Tadashi Suzuki believed that acting, as an art, should be well respected.

He built his school in the isolated mountain wilderness, in the hopes that everyone could gain an appreciation in the process of finding the true meaning of art. This careful arrangement allowed Liu Haoran to gain a deeper understanding of acting and performance.

“Our days there were very simple. After finishing class for the day, we would drink beer and chat on the school lawn. In the evening, we would go stargazing, or into the mountains to soak in the hot springs. Every day was simple and fulfilling, like we were leading a monastic life.”

“I think everyone should spend some time like that, to really reflect and summarize on what you may have recently gained or lost. This way, you’ll have a clear direction and goal to work towards going forward.”

To Liu Haoran, Chinatown is a medium for cultural exchange. It’s not just a place where Chinese people reside, but is a place where Chinese culture is densely concentrated and represented. Even more special is that every nation’s Chinatown has its own characteristics, where it has retained the essence of Chinese civilization while also integrating with the local culture.

“In Tokyo’s Chinatown, there is a restaurant that serves very authentic Dongbei (northern) stewed fish in an iron pot. They also gave us baked millet pies, and it was delicious,” Liu Haoran shares with us.

But the Chinatown that’s left the deepest impression on Liu Haoran is Bangkok’s, “Thailand is our neighboring country, so in terms of culture, life, and customs, there are many similarities. When you take a stroll in Bangkok’s Chinatown, you really will kind of feel like you’re in China.”

“I think Chinatown is a platform for China and Western cultural exchange. It’s utilized to allow the world to understand China more, and simultaneously letting us appreciate the culture and characteristics of other countries as well.”

The Liu Haoran who made his debut in the film Beijing Love Story was born in Pingdingshan, Henan province. As he recalls his years studying at boarding school in Beijing, Liu Haoran says that when he was little, Beijing felt like a city that was very far away.

After making the journey to Beijing for school, and after working, Liu Haoran has discovered Beijing is more like a stage where people can bravely pursue their dreams.

“While attending school, most of my classmates and friends came from all over the country. Everyone had different family backgrounds and stories, but came here to follow their dreams. Because of that, to me, Beijing is a place where dreams come to fruition.”

When talking about why he originally became an actor, Liu Haoran honestly says, “I wanted to film good projects. The ‘good’ word used here has two meanings. One is as an actor, I must approach every role and movie seriously. An actor’s job is to serve the role; we’re like water, and the role is like the container. So an actor, we must learn how to fill that container accordingly, and how to portray the complex sides of human nature.”

“The second meaning (of ‘good’) refers to using movies or other projects to spread positive energy, to inspire people. For example, the projects I took part in, My People My Country and The Founding of An Army – these projects brought everyone together to look back at the past, to remember historical events.”

“I like to read books, and will read books of all genres. And reading can help add depth into my acting. Before I started acting in the Detective Chinatown series, I loved reading detective novels. Now, I love them even more – not just stories about deduction, but tv series, animations, etc. I love watching them,” Liu Haoran says.

The Liu Haoran who also participates in a lot of charity work has been nicknamed by some fans as the “student in charge of general affairs (T/N: like a student council member)”. He will remind fans to not skip classes to attend his events.

And when he was asked to deliver a message to fans for the new year, he laughed, saying, “What I really want to say is to tell everyone to be a good person, a kind person. Someone who helps the people around them. This is the real message I want to deliver through my (charity) activities.”

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