For his part, Chinese painting has always been Chan’s first priority. Being an actor is a way for him to make enough money to have time to paint. Chan says if he can generate enough income from the sale of his paintings and get enough students, he might quit show business one day.
In fact, Chan knows that if he were willing to paint more commercial works of lower quality, he could make more money. But it is a compromise he is not willing to make. The perfectionist once stopped working for a year and lived without an income in order to carefully analyse the style of his previous paintings so that he could improve and reach a breakthrough in his art.
For all the ups and downs of work as a jobbing actor, Chan considers himself to be lucky. His acting identity has helped him to be better known as a painter.
“I kind of believe in luck. Everybody has their own destiny. There is something that we cannot insist on, but people should first try their best and fulfill their responsibilities,’’ Chan says. He believes fate has been kind to him, both in his painting career and in his marriage.
“Marrying my wife was the luckiest thing in my life.’’ Chan says. Chan met his wife when they were both involved in amateur theatre. For their honeymoon, they went to Zhangjiajie in Hunan province at a time when tourism was still undeveloped in the region. They went there for the spectacular scenery, to find inspiration for Chan’s paintings.
Chan says that 10 years ago, his wife retired and put all the money from her pension into paying off the mortgage on their apartment, even though he urged her to put away some of it for herself. She passed away four years ago but Chan is still moved when he talks about her contribution to their family.
Today, the apartment they shared in Mong Kok is crammed with Chan’s belongings. Books, papers and art materials are stacked on tables and piled high on chairs; an unopened bag of rice sits next to the front door. The loss of his soul mate has been a blow but Chan still has painting.
The walls are covered with his works; there are lush landscapes, vibrant flowers and authoritative pieces of calligraphy. Chan shows them excitedly and explains the techniques and ideas behind each one. As he does so, it is clear he is not playing any character but just being Chan Min-leung.