Alumni Linkage - Profile

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The TV series of the highly popular Japanese manga Slam Dunk became a big hit in Hong Kong in the 1990s. Its movie version was released here in January this year, and the former voice-acting cast of the TV series had been recruited to do the Cantonese dubbing, which became a major selling point. Leung Chi-tat, who played the protagonist Sakuragi Hanamichi, returned with a fervency and brought back fond memories for many anime fans. Chi-tat's passion for dubbing has remained strong for the last 30 years since joining the profession in 1993, trying his best to make the characters he played come alive.

'We must win!'

'We must win!' – Chi-tat uttered these words with dramatic expressions on his face as he transformed himself into Sakuragi in the dubbing studio. 'When I played the role of Sakuragi, I saw myself as Sakuragi, with his pompous antics, voice and laughter,' said Chi-tat as he recalled taking on the role for the first time in 1995. The vivid vocal rendition blended spellbindingly with the animation in the TV series. It started a craze and became the collective memory of a generation, still much talked about today. The movie had been much anticipated before it was shown in cinemas. 'I've never thought that the response would still be this huge after so many years! I'm glad that the audience appreciate my vocal interpretation of the character and await my work again,' Chi-tat rejoiced. He went with friends to see the movie in cinemas several times later and couldn't help evaluating his own performance. 'I feel that I can do much better,' he said. Although Chi-tat has not tagged it as his most satisfactory work, it's obvious that he is well-pleased with it. 'Sakuragi is a zealous and gripping character, one that left me with the deepest impression and brought me a bit of fame.'

Chi-tat had worked in the office of a building company before he became a professional voice actor. When he spoke with workers on a walkie-talkie at construction sites back then, he might imitate the sounds and tones of broadcast information occasionally, which seemed authentic. As his potential and interest in voice-related work began to develop, Chi-tat enrolled in a dubbing training class. After completing the course, he got recommended by a tutor to join ATV's dubbing team and entered the industry. Chi-tat said jokingly that he was like a piece of wood in the beginning, but the amount of work was overwhelming. 'Intense and repetitive practice quickly improved my voice-acting skills,' he added. Sometimes he had to move in and out of studios on the same day to dub for all types of characters, in stories in China or elsewhere in modern or ancient times. Once he inadvertently dubbed an ancient Chinese warrior with a foreign accent and was teased by a co-worker: 'Oh, you still haven't changed your ''channel''!'.

Capture the minute details and reveal emotions in characters

When Chi-tat gets a new role, he would try to figure out the personality of the character through a process of watching the film and reading the dialogue. 'I first saw the emotions of the character in the film and imitated his movements and tone of voice. With my voice-acting craft and some preparation to internalise the feelings, I can basically master the interpretation.' The original voice of the character in the film cannot be followed too closely or over-interpreted, and an appropriate amount of fine-tuning is needed. 'For example, phrasal structures of different language systems vary. When dubbing a foreign language drama, you can’t follow its phrasal structure rigidly. You have to know where to stop and breathe. Make the dialogue conversational or else it would sound unnatural,' he explained. Such professional skills can only be crafted through hard work and repeated practice. Sharing the experience of a veteran in the industry, Chi-tat said, 'A very important step is to capture the minute gestures and tone of voice of the character. Taking the role of a eunuch as an example, the voice-over must be adjusted to tone in well with the sissy image of the character.'

Talking about the necessary requirements for voice actors, Chi-tat candidly said that a 'good voice' is very abstract and people's opinions vary. Instead, avoiding lazy articulation in Cantonese is more important. In addition, dubbing calls for teamwork and efficiency. 'We don't have time to build up our emotions slowly, and we must be perceptive and quick-witted.' With a sharp mind and a powerful voice, Chi-tat has played mostly heroic and boisterous roles in the past. But he longs for taking up roles of calmer and stately characters such as Dr Sun Yat-sen. He also wants to challenge himself by playing an effeminate character like Dongfang Bubai. Dubbing actors work in a wide range of fields. Chi-tat has also been serving as narrator for informational programmes in recent years, accompanying the audience to receive information with his nice voice.

1+1 is greater than 2

Chi-tat enrolled in a Putonghua certificate programme at HKMU in 1999 by chance, kicking-off his study journey. He has since taken various courses offered by other institutions. 'My goal was to obtain a degree from a local university.' Chi-tat finally got his wish fulfilled and was awarded a Bachelor of Business Administration degree at HKMU. Learning has enriched his life, helping him to think over things and find the truth. The knowledge gained has gradually become a part of his life. He mentioned that before he accepted the invitation from the film distribution company to dub Slam Dunk, he needed the prior approval of his employer – a TV station. This involved some commercial considerations. 'I've learnt in my studies a business management theory – ''1+1 is greater than 2''. If the two companies can reach an agreement, it'd be beneficial for their respective developments.' He proposed this to the film distribution company for negotiation with his employer and the outcome was positive. 'Fortunately, my point of view was correct, and I'm very grateful for my employer's support.' With a smug smile, he added that if his advice had not been taken, the audience would not have been able to hear the voices of the 'original' members of the Shohoku team again.

The voice of 'Sakuragi' has been easily recognized by many time and again. 'You sounded familiar…. ''We must win!''' – this is the driving force for Chi-tat to continue to do dubbing for years. 'It's very satisfying to be able to play different roles with my voice, to show my acting skills and to get positive word-of-mouth feedback.'