Charles Tu (birth name – Shan Tsun Tu) is a Taiwanese actor best known for his portrayal of Xiao Li Cheng in the 4th installment of the Taiwanese streaming drama anthology series HIStory. He was born on February 13, 1995 in Taiwan, China.
He graduated from the Department of Public Relations and Advertising at Shih Hsin University in Taiwan. An agile and skillful athlete, Charles was nicknamed as “Xiao Jin Cheng Wu” because of his bright and mature appearance.
A renowned basketball player in his high school circuit, he was the Captain of his High School Basketball team. Proficient and adept in his craft, it was expected that he would debut as a player in Taiwan’s P. League+ (Taiwanese Men’s professional basketball league founded in 2020), High School Basketball League (HBL) or Super Basketball League (SBL). However, due to a difference in opinion with his family, he decided to pursue academics instead; after which he diverged onto the acting path.
CHARLES’ TRACK-RECORD/ FILMOGRAPHY
His previous roles have been more or less generic in nature, until he forayed into the world of comedy for his role as Xiao Li Cheng in HIStory4:
1. Swimming Battle (2016) – Jia Chen Lang (support role)
2. Man From The Future (2017) – Xia Lei (main role)
3. Girl’s Power (2018) – Xu Sheng Jie (guest role)
4. The Fearless (2019) – Police Chen (guest tole)
5. Endless Love (2019) – Zhao Cheng Xin (support role)
● In 2021, he appeared in Andrew Tan’s Lost Soul MV, alongside his HIStory4 co-actor Anson. Charles reprised his role as Xiao Li Cheng in two of his own music videos – Be With You (Part 1) and Be With You (Part 2).
XIAO LI CHENG – CHARACTER PROFILE
Xiao Li Cheng is introduced as an energetic, manly yet childish alpha-male of the “Iron Triangle” (the trio consisting of Xiao Li Cheng and his two close friends – Ye Xing Si and Teng Mu Ren), who is also a friendly and generous boss to his employees at MUSE (the wedding consultant company). He is the type that brazenly spits out embarrassing and cheesy lines and follows a perseverant chaser attitude once he is sure of his goal, and as such can come off as quite the “overwhelming” character to the audience. He is not one to dwell on feelings for extended periods (for example – post–heartbreak scenes); nevertheless, he is protective in his own ways and is seen to unwaveringly hold onto grudges. This is reflected in the scene where he punches Xing Si’s step-brother Fu Yong Jie, in the exact same spot as the boy had punched Mu Ren during the street assault incident, among others.
Contrary to the image he depicts to the audience, Li Cheng is very rational and logical. During the pottery scene, Mu Ren is nervous and hesitant and remarks how “no one else (over there) is like them”, to which Li Cheng replies: “I’m the one and only Xiao Li Cheng, You’re the one and only Teng Mu Ren; We don’t need to copy anyone, we only need to follow our own path.” He is supportive and confident and this in turn helps Mu Ren to gain strength in moving forward with their relationship.
There are many more facets to Li Cheng’s character which will be discussed below. However, in a nutshell, it can be said that if the “Iron Triangle” were a party, then Li Cheng would be the lights, music and booze to it – in short, he would be the life of the party. Xing Si himself remarks – “if he (Li Cheng) is in a group, there will never be a dull moment”. As the series progresses and we get to see more of this fire-cracker of a character, Xing Si’s statement holds true down to every word.
LI CHENG – XING SI DYNAMICS
If one could compare the Iron Triangle to a classic three-member family, then, Mu Ren would be representative of the parent who provides the much-needed emotional support to the child; Li Cheng – the typical father who is generally laid-back, care-free and loves to pull pranks; and Xing Si their son. When Xing Si’s sexual orientation is revealed, Li Cheng accepts it without any qualms or hesitance. He even offers to beat up Yong Jie for what he had done to Xing Si. Li Cheng is not over-zealously protective of Xing Si, but he expresses his love and care for the latter through actions like getting him café to kick-start his day, providing him analytical and logical assistance when he goes through the crisis with Yong Jie and so on. He provides Xing Si the space he needs and maintains a safe boundary between them so that Xing Si’s decisions in life aren’t influenced by Li Cheng’s own vices or virtues.
Xing Si on the other hand is habituated to Li Cheng’s eccentricities and is often spotted providing him with guidance or pointers regarding various topics – be it pursuing his initial love interest Mei Fang or his eventual partner in the series – Teng Mu Ren. When Li Cheng is conflicted about his newfound feelings for Mu Ren, Xing Si is the first person he approaches for advice. Being the ever considerate and benevolent friend he is, Xing Si responds in kind and helps the couple overcome their pre-conceived sexual and emotional predilections.
LI CHENG – YONG JIE DYNAMICS
Li Cheng and Yong Jie’s relationship gets off to a rocky start, when Li Cheng discovers that Yong Jie was the masked attacker in the Mu Ren street assault incident. He challenges the 20-year-old to a boxing match (which he definitively had an upper hand in) which he easily wins. Later on in the series, Li Cheng asks Yong Jie for suggestions on how to successfully pursue a man and Yong Jie shares his aggressive huntsman strategy with Li Cheng, which ultimately leads to a temporary fall-out between the ChengRen couple. In the finale episode of the series, however, Yong Jie comes through and provides the couple a window of opportunity to take their relationship to the next level. Overall, Li Cheng and Yong Jie seem to share a peripheral, platonic bond throughout the series.
LI CHENG – MU REN DYNAMICS
Li Cheng and Mu Ren’s journey commences on a love-hate relationship note; gradually evolving and transforming into one of the healthiest, most wholesome and least toxic relationships ever presented in BL history. The story of this lead couple is your typical trope of “I don’t like all guys, I just like him”. However, the exploration of this trope through the journey that is Li Cheng and Mu Ren’s love story is what makes it worth the watch!
Mu Ren and Li Cheng go way back. The former was Li Cheng’s senior at MUSE at the time he joined the company. Mu Ren made sure to teach his junior everything in his knowledge, which subsequently helped Li Cheng conquer greater heights in his career in the company. Mu Ren who was very much cognizant of Li Cheng’s competitive nature, always set him up for challenges which helped the young man learn about his profession in-depth and reach the post of Sales Manager he was in now.
Persistently annoying Mu Ren is engraved into the depths of Li Cheng’s soul. He is often seen clinging onto Mu Ren like an attention-seeking puppy, least bothered whatsoever about his friend’s personal space (even to the extent of biting his neck!) to the point where Mu Ren is frequently taken aback or caught off-guard! However, it is observable that Mu Ren has a soft spot for Li Cheng and although his physical display of affection ruffles Mu Ren’s feathers sometimes, he is accustomed to and comfortable with Li Cheng’s, and only Li Cheng’s touch. This fact comes to light during the rape scene. In fact, Li Cheng’s physical presence and warmth was the only thing with the potential to calm down a helpless Mu Ren during that unfortunate event.
ChengRen have something people would term as the “soulmate sync”. They have such an in-depth, tacit understanding of each other which even translates into knowing exactly what the other’s menu preferences would be while out dining at a restaurant. As cliché as it might sound, they complete each other’s sentences, are well-aware of the other’s scent proclivities, etc. Juxtaposing this “sync” aspect with the stark differences in their personalities attributes a complementary flavour to this couple’s relationship.
Once ignited, Li Cheng is also a passionate lover. He connects with his partner on physical, emotional as well as intellectual levels.
PRAISE-WORTHY MENTIONS OF CHARLES’ ACTING PROWESS
1. The Screaming Chicken Scene [EP 5]
Let’s be honest here. Nobody was expecting Charles to use this prop the way he did in this remarkable impromptu scene. From here on out, the screaming chicken became part of Li Cheng’s comedic repertoire, often serving as a call-back prop throughout the course of the series (even in the finale ep).
Prop – comedy can easily disparage into a boring and uninteresting puppet show if handled without the knack and precision it demands and requires. Charles’s stroke of genius however delivered exceptionally well and had us all in laughing fits.
2. The Rape Scene [EP 8]
Although Anson had the limelight in this scene, appreciating Charles’ contribution is germane.
Antithetical to what his quirky, nonchalant persona lets on, Li Cheng is highly intuitive. When Mei Fang informs him of the VP’s predatory past, he promptly sticks by Mu Ren even though he doesn’t have to and ensures that VP–MuRen interactions are minimal and take place at safe distances. Li Cheng’s body-guard mode irks Mu Ren into thinking that this sudden shift in attitude was a continuum of their previous fight on 1 and 0. This leads to a fierce verbal disagreement between the couple who are left at loggerheads, before Li Cheng storms off into the street. Li Cheng is exasperated by Mu Ren’s narrow-minded approach to the situation, when he achingly delivers that punchline– “Don’t make everything about tops and bottoms”. The monologue on the street after his fight with Mu Ren is also deeply impactful. Charles succeeded in conveying Li Cheng’s angst and worry for Mu Ren through this scene.
The whole sequence leading up to the rape scene and the confrontation with the VP are exemplarily played out by Charles – he unravels to the audience, a side to Li Cheng never witnessed before in the series. He has aptly captured and put on display the beastly, feral shade of Li Cheng, when irate. This shift from a cheerful, carefree attitude to one of pensiveness, frustration and disorientation is especially challenging for an actor whose primary focus is comedy. Charles deserves all the praise he can get for portraying this shift as smooth as butter itself.
3. Li Cheng Confronts Mu Ren About Gill [EP 11]
Li Cheng’s intuitive antenna was pinging hard in this confrontation scene with Mu Ren, where despite clear signs suggestive of the contrary, Mu Ren continued to vehemently convince himself as well as Li Cheng, of the fact that he was devoid of any feelings towards the latter. Mu Ren’s denial of his own feelings take an ugly, insensitive turn when Li Cheng calls him out for masking his true emotions behind a pathetic dating agenda with Gill. Mu Ren tries to evade the situation by giving lame excuses, but Li Cheng wouldn’t buy it. He pins Mu Ren to the wall and bellows, “Hit me”. This improvised line that Charles “could not help but throw out there”, is the highlight of this entire sequence. The pain of betrayal resounded in his voice when Charles delivered that line. If that’s not the mark of a true actor, I don’t know what is.
4. Slippers + Heartbreak Scene [EP 11]
Yet another admirable improvisation from the King of Impromptus himself! The day after the confrontation with Li Cheng, an unbothered Mu Ren casually informs Li Cheng and Xing Si that he has a date with Gill and wouldn’t come home until late that night. As he exits the house, he leaves his slippers haphazardly on the floor. Li Cheng, even in his emotionally devastated state, hurries towards the slippers and organizes them, together with his own.
The next scene shows a dejected and remorseful Li Cheng silently shedding tears of heartbreak. At this moment, Charles unlocks for the audience yet another facet to Li Cheng’s persona – his weak and vulnerable side and how he deals with it. Everyone in this scene wished they could strap Mu Ren to a chair and give him a good lecture on how to reject people kindly and politely. Charles’ acting brilliance in conveying his pain and suffering is the reason that such an emotion could be brought forth from the audience.
5. The Hotel-Room Confrontation Scene [Ep 19-20]
In the finale episode of the series, Li Cheng is framed by the VP in his campaign for vengeance. In order to exonerate the charges leveled against his partner, Mu Ren with the help of Fu Yong Jie, plots to entice the VP into a hotel room and blackmail him for evidences that could work in Li Cheng’s favour. “Little Devil” Yong Jie (as he is rightly named) decides to improvise a little and informs Li Cheng that Mu Ren was about to sleep with the VP for his sake.
Aghast and infuriated, Li Cheng charges into the hotel room to find Mu Ren in a compromising situation with the VP. Charles brought to life a multitude of emotions in this scene – rage, grief, anguish, dismay – through his dialogues as well as expressions.
Other notable improvisations by Charles –
● Interrupting Gill scene
● Slapping the plushie scene
CHARSON OFF-SCREEN CHEMISTRY
CharSon off-screen relationship is undoubtedly swoon-worthy. They have a strong bond, even referring to each other as their respective “other halves”. Charles has always been unapologetically vocal about Anson’s beauty. He confessed in an interview that Anson was probably more beautiful than his exes.
In yet another interview, addressing the question whether there was a chance of developing feelings for each other, Charles stated that there would definitely be feelings involved – but there were many aspects to “love” or “feelings” and sometimes one just cares a lot about another; and that could be considered “love” as well.
Charles is dubbed as Anson’s translator, for the latter often has trouble with public speaking. Owing to the same, occasionally, Anson’s ideas are not conveyed effectively to the audience. Charles picks up on these instances and ensures that Anson’s original thoughts reach the crowd properly and in the manner as he had intended them to be.
Li Cheng’s protectiveness for Mu Ren can be seen in CharSon interactions as well. In many instances during filming, Anson would be too immersed in character and would often cry off-script. Throughout those times, Charles would be there to console and cheer him up. Anson has mentioned that Charles is the “Psychological Mentor” of the group as he would always take the initiative to help him out and give him pointers when the newbie actor was faced with road-blocks.
In the finale episode, Charles sang to Anson the song (Be With You) he had written for him. This was a prized moment on-screen as well as off-screen, for Anson was moved to tears and his reaction was organic and genuine. On another instance, he gifted Anson a painting, the theme of which held a close connection to their friendship.
EARLY LIFE AND FAMILY
In an interview by E!Studio, Charles stated that he was raised by his mother and that she was always enthusiastic about his works. She would diligently watch the episodes and provide constructive criticism afterwards.
CHARLES TU – GET TO KNOW THE PERSON
As opposed to his character, Charles is an introvert who basically grew up in a basketball team. He considers his “brothers” as family and has stated on multiple occasions that if he had to choose between his real family and his brothers, he would probably choose the latter. The bond that he shares with his brothers runs deep and strong that even if he were to date someone, he would not compromise on the bonding time with his brothers even for that special someone.
When questioned about his views on romance he stated that he “wouldn’t put a label on anyone” and that two persons can like each other regardless of their gender.
His ideal type is someone older, talented, with beautiful eyes, interested in music or drawing and loves to laugh a lot.
When asked to choose between being an actor and a basketball player Charles answered that it was “too late for basketball”, so he’d rather go with acting.
If he had the choice to play another character from the series he chose Teng Mu Ren; but because Anson had tailored and embodied that character to perfection, he couldn’t imagine anyone else doing it. Another character he picked was that of Fu Yong Jie.
CHARLES TALKS ABOUT HIS CHARACTER LI CHENG
The role of Li Cheng marked Charles’ debut in the realm of comedy. Speaking on similarities between his character and himself, Charles stated how initially, he was of the idea that he was very different from this character; but after playing the role he realized that there has always been a part of Xiao Li Cheng within him. On multiple occasions, he further emphasized that Li Cheng had influenced him so much in real life, due to which he had trouble getting out of character even after filming.
When asked about the three hashtags he would attribute to Xiao Li Cheng, Charles picked – #brat, #crazy and #insane.
Charles stated that he probably would not have had the courage to play this character if not for a series of unfortunate events. Due to the pandemic, many of his works were either postponed or cancelled. Coupled with this was the pain of losing some of his friends to the pandemic. Overall, he was going through a period of uncertainty and low ebb until he decided to turn his life around and embrace the principle of “Carpe Diem”. He took up guitar lessons and started creating songs. He also took a plunge into the fields of photography and art. The mid-life epiphany triggered by these events was what prompted him to step out of his comfort zone and venture into unfamiliar acting territories.
● Preparing for the role of Li Cheng
In the words of Charles, the role of Li Cheng has been a “breakthrough” in his acting career and it required a completely different approach from his past roles. He further states that for his previous roles he would start preparing from the lines in the script, but for Li Cheng’s role he had to proceed with a broader view of “what goal was to be achieved in the scene” instead. He would dwell on what was the emotion to be elicited from his co-stars under the given circumstances and calibrate his dialogue delivery, actions and body language to achieve the perceived outcome. In his interview for C-Book, he stated that this role had helped him “lose a lot of baggage” and shaped him into a more daring and confident actor.
He added that he drew inspiration from the actors/actresses who played in comedy roles in his earlier works.
THOUGHTS ON CHARLES’ PORTRAYAL OF LI CHENG
The challenge in presenting a comedic character convincingly lies in bringing the following elements in perfect sync – rhythm, timing and nature of delivery, and pacing. HIStory 4 actor and Charles’s co-star Wico Lin, who plays the role of Fu Yong Jie in the series has also made a statement to this effect – to bring about the desired comical effect, “the comedic rhythm has to be quick and accurate, else it won’t work”.
Li Cheng’s character falls under the silly and lighthearted, shameless and quirky comedic archetype. The thing with comedy is, it has to be simple enough for people to understand because if the audience have to take a considerable amount of time to dissect and understand a joke or a funny scene, that takes away its luster and purpose and becomes counter-productive to what is sought to be originally achieved. Hence, while undertaking the role of a comedic character, the target is to nail those comedic pressure-points with just the right amount of force – not too little, not too much. And it is safe to say that Charles Tu understood his assignment.
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