The challenges of Tharlo

Yangshik Tso on identity, greed and working with Shide Nyima.

by Amber Wilkinson

Yangshik Tso: 'The character at the beginning was created to shock the audience, but as a matter of fact, it's a very realistic portrait of some of the young generation right now in China'
Yangshik Tso: 'The character at the beginning was created to shock the audience, but as a matter of fact, it's a very realistic portrait of some of the young generation right now in China'
Pema Tseden's Tharlo - which had its premiere at Venice Film Festival - is the slow-build tale of a Tibetan shepherd who finds his existence and his sense of self drawn into question after he comes to town to have an ID card made and meets a younger woman. The film stars Shide Nyima as the eponymous hero, an actor who has previously made his name in Tibet for his comic and stage work but who here mutes his performance to portray his character's inner struggle. Acting alongside him is Yangshik Tso - as the woman whom he thinks offers hope but has her own agenda - and we caught up with her on the Lido to talk about her role.

AW: How did you feel about the idea of identities in the film?

YT: The character at the beginning was created to shock the audience, but as a matter of fact, it's a very realistic portrait of some of the young generation right now in China. Alhough it's not the main kind of people, there a quite a few young girls who look for money and a materialistic lifestyle, like the character in the movie. I took inspiration from real people who I met in real life.

AW: Was playing the character difficult because your character is a hairdresser? Did you have to learn those specific skills for the role?

YT: I had three main problems to solve. The first was the age gap between my character and the main character. The second was the study of these kind of girls who go after money, and the third was more practical - studying to be a beauty salon owner, so how to do hair washing and massage. I also had to gain some weight. I spent a month gaining 7kg of weight and using a sun lamp to darken my skin. I went to a beauty salon to study how to cut and wash hair and massage. I also spent time with people older than me to find out the connection I might have with the main character and read novels about these young materialistic girls. And I hung out with, let's call them friends, who are a bit like the character, who want to get rich quick.

AW: How does you feel about the type of person? Do you has any sympathy with that attitude or position?

Tharlo star Yangshik Tso on the red carpet in Venice
Tharlo star Yangshik Tso on the red carpet in Venice Photo: Anne-Sophie Lehec
YT: I know many of these kinds of people. But I thought about it, while I was shooting the movie. Personally, I couldn't do that, using someone's feelings for money. But generally speaking, these kinds of young materialistic girls have a problem that's more linked to education and family relationships, something deeper than the surface. It's not that they wake up in the morning and suddenly think, let's do this for quick money.

AW: In the film your character takes Tharlo to a karaoke bar and she has a dreadful voice. Does you like karoake and can you actually sing in real life - if so, was singing badly a challenge?

YT: I'm actually a professional singer. I had to practise how to sing badly - it was very difficult. I used to like karaoke very much up to four or five years ago but because of my busy schedule and studying acting in Beijing I do a lot less - so no more karaoke for me!

AW: How was acting with Shide Nyima, because he's known more as a comedian and stage actor?

YT: Yes, he's a very famous stage actor in Tibet. The main problem that both I and the director had was to control him because he was moving too much - he was using a lot of body language. We had to get him to focus on the dialogue and the facial expression.

AW: And when the main actor has his head shaved, is it true that he had the ponytail for years but got it shaved for the part?

YT: I took him 17 years to grow his hair and he did have some regrets. I remember very well that as I was shaving his head, he closed his eyes and was really sad about it. After the shooting, he told me, "I tried my best not to, but I was almost crying". But he said, "For my age, having such long hair is maybe not very suitable", so with a little bit of regret he said, "Okay, that's life".

Read our interview with Pema Tseden.

Tharlo is out in the UK now.

Watch the trailer:

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