In the new HBO Asia original series The Teenage Psychic, Taiwanese actress Kuo Shu Yau plays a 16-year-old student Xiao Zhen who has the ability to see and communicate with spirits.
While Kuo herself doesn’t have the ability, she is very much a believer when it comes to the supernatural. “I believe that humans are not the only ones in this world. And I believe that there are a lot more beings in this world that we still have not been able to see or understand,” she said during a press conference in Kuala Lumpur recently.
According to Kuo, 26, the show had a consultant, a medium named Sophia who was on set to deal with anything supernatural that might happen during shooting. In fact, some of the stories in the show were also based on Sophia’s own experiences as well.
One day, while Kuo was chatting with Sophia, the director came running up and said that they had a strange situation: the camera feed somehow kept getting cut off at the exact same timecode.
So, Sophia went and “communicated” with what ever that was causing it and fixed the problem. She later told Kuo that the spirits in the temple (where they were shooting) were upset with the film crew.
“She said the spirits told her that the crew has been at the temple for too long and were disrupting their rest. But most of the time, they were watching us shooting!” she recalled.
HBO Asia’s first Mandarin original series, The Teenage Psychic’s six hour-long episodes were shot entirely on location in Taipei, with an all-Taiwanese cast that also includes Kent Tsai, Chen Mu Yi, Alina Cheng, Nana Lee, Michael Huang and Sylvia Hsieh.
Kuo sees similarities with Xiao Zhen in the way they’ve had to grow up before they were ready to. “Xiao Zhen is 16 in the show, but in terms of her mentality, she is quite mature.
“It’s the same with me – when I was 16, I was considered quite mature for a 16-year-old. Because of some family issues, I had to start working early to make something of myself, and I had to be more mature as well,” she said.
Kuo was 16 when her father died in 2007, and she had to start working part-time at a restaurant to help support her family. Two years later, she began her showbiz career, first as a model, and then later signing on to a record label and releasing her first EP album in 2009.
After appearing in several TV series and movies, Kuo won the Best New Actress award at the 2013 Golden Horse Awards for her role as a member of a high school girl’s tug of war team in Step Back To Glory.
Kuo also relates to Xiao Zhen in other ways, especially when it comes to the character’s insecurity. “We both share the same inferior complex in terms of our background and our fear of doing certain things. I never thought I would be in this line – I didn’t think I had the skills in singing, acting or hosting. I was hesitant at first. Even now, I still feel that way!” she said.
“It’s the same for Xiao Zhen. She comes from a temple background, and she always mixes with boys, and is considered a boyish girl. But deep down in her heart she wants to fall in love and do all the things her peers are doing, but she can’t because her ability means she has a responsibility to help the people who need her help.”
The contrast of a young girl who is also a temple medium was what drew Kuo to the role.
“The script and the subjects she deals with had a lot of elements that touched me,” she said, adding that shooting the series also helped to change her perspective on many things in life.
“I’ve always heard others say that I have to seize the moment and cherish the present. After filming this show, I finally understood what they meant.
“The series deals a lot with relationships between friends, family and lovers, and I learnt that we should not let our ego or temper get in the way of our relationship with our loved ones.
“We can’t change the past and we can’t predict the future, so we have to cherish what we have right now.”
The Teenage Psychic premieres on April 2 at 10pm on HBO (Astro Ch 411). New episodes air every Sunday and a two-episode finale on April 30.