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Actor Donald Heng’s Dramatic Cross-Cultural Success

The actor’s creative life is necessarily one of turmoil—he must constantly evolve and adapt with each role, and must strive not only to manifest a believable reality, but create a characterization that actually takes on a legitimate life of its own. This ceaseless pursuit informs and invigorates every portrayal and for Canadian actor Donald Heng, it recently assumed even more arduous, exotic contours, crossing over into an entirely separate, distinct and different language and culture for the forthcoming Chinese dramatic feature film Fatal Visit.

The Vancouver BC-born Heng, a television veteran currently seen in his recurring role as Deputy Larry Foon on SyFy fantasy/horror series Ghost Wars, began acting as a teenager, and after graduating Simon Fraser University with a Bachelor of Arts Degree for Political Science and History, he realized that acting was his true career path.

Heng devoted the next five years to an intensive course of dramatic training with esteemed acting coach Jeb Beach, with additional study under Matthew Harrison, Robin Nielsen and Andrew McIlroy. Heng’s dedication and focus enabled him to begin a successful television career, with appearances in Disney TV movie Girl Vs. Monster, and on such series as Supernatural, Ransom, Arrow and, now, Ghost Wars.

But being cast in Fatal Visit, a suspenseful tale of dark secrets and lethal peril, represented a significant departure, personally and professionally, for Heng.

Helmed some of the best talent in contemporary Chinese cinema—director Yuen-Leung Poon (pictured below, with Heng) and writer Candace Chong—and boasting a stellar cast including renowned actor Tong Dawei, Canadian-born, Hong Kong based actor-pop star Charlene Choi and the famed Hong Kong auteur Sammi Cheng (a multi-talented pop culture force known throughout Asia for her dramatic roles, modeling, music, art and magazine essays), the feature length thriller was both a departure from his previous experience and, in a way, a spiritual return to family form.

“My dad wanted to be an actor when he was younger,” Heng said. “He absolutely idolized Bruce Lee and in turn, so did I. He has always wanted me to go to Hong Kong, and while I wouldn’t rule that out, I am enjoying where I am in my career.”

Either way, Fatal Visit was an exciting prospect. “I have watched Sammi's films since I was a kid,” Heng said. “And I also remember being 11 years old and having all the girls in my class freak out when Twins—Charlene Choi's former pop group—put out a new album, and appearing with Tong Dawei, who is probably one of the best male actors in China right now, was a fantastic experience. Being able to work with these three giants in the Asian industry was one of the highlights of my career.”

For Heng, the Vancouver-shoot did present a unique set of challenges. “My character had to speak 3 different dialects of Chinese,” Heng said. “I grew up speaking Chinese but I hadn't spoken conversationally in many years and since I've started acting I haven't spoken Chinese. So although a lot of it came naturally, there was also some dialogue I had no emotional connection to while speaking it. I was using words to illustrate emotions that I've never done in real life so that was a challenge.”

The ambitious, driven Heng was eager to confront and master the dialog’s intricacies. “Chinese is a very complicated language,” Heng said. “Mandarin and Cantonese are the two most well-known dialects but there are countless others. While it’s possible for a Cantonese-speaking individual to communicate with a predominately mandarin-speaking individual, there are many other dialects that I wouldn't have a chance of communicating with. To further complicate things, English-speaking people are familiar with homonyms but Chinese takes it to a whole different level. For example, the word ‘ma,’ depending on the inflection of your tone, can mean any of the following : mom, horse, numb, yell, or the word can be added to the end of a sentence to imply a question.”

Characteristically, the energetic Heng met both the dialog’s complexities and demanding shooting schedule head-on. “Apart from speaking dialogue that I wasn't familiar with, it was a very smooth,” he said. “We did find ourselves shooting 12. and half pages of dialogue in one day which is a significant amount, especially for a feature film, In comparison, a show like Arrow or The Flash typically aims for half that amount in a day.”

With an already impressive resume of North American credits, Heng’s fast-moving career is one of limitless potential, and Fatal Vision, set for release in 2018, showcases the actor’s depth of natural talent and fluid, instinctual versatility. Don’t expect Heng to re-locate to Hong Kong, though, as the actor’s steadily growing professional reputation has made him in an-demand force much closer to home.

“This was a star studded independent film and I was so grateful to be a part of it,” Heng said. “I have auditioned for a couple of other Chinese projects recently and it has given me the confidence to tackle other Chinese projects in the future. But there are a couple projects that are in the pipes right now—Hollywood is a definite possibility in the near future “

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