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Yemeni actor dreams of star role in the city

chinadaily.com.cn| Updated: May 10, 2024 L M S


Hamza al-Sal during his interview with China Daily. [Photo by Gao Erqiang/China Daily]

Hamza al-Sal is grateful to Shanghai for the opportunities and experiences it has provided him, as well as the hope of realizing his dream of becoming a professional actor.

The 24-year-old Yemeni student at the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, shot to fame for his portrayal of Alexander, a foreign tenant in the hit film B for Busy (2021), in which his remarkable performance, toned physique, and fluent Shanghai dialect captivated audiences.

"I have a passion for acting. I want to continue doing what I like," he tells China Daily. "I hope to create my own opportunities in Shanghai, and shoot my own movie."

Al-Sal moved to China in 2000 as a toddler when his father, Mudhar al-Sal, seeking to take advantage of reform and opening-up, moved his family to the bustling, globalized commercial hub of Yiwu in Zhejiang province, where he gradually developed a trade in daily necessities. In fact, Mudhar al-Sal's connection to China dates back to 1990 when he studied Chinese at the Beijing Language and Culture University before pursuing a degree in civil engineering at Shanghai's Tongji University.

"My father suggested that I study finance and economics in Shanghai so I might continue to develop the family business," he says. Hamza al-Sal moved to Shanghai when he was 19 and started a course in Investment Studies.

Thanks to his father's stories of Shanghai, he found the city familiar and the time he has spent there is very important to him, as he finds it a source of inspiration and endless possibility.

"I have made many friends, and most of them are from Shanghai. Much of my experience, including meeting people in the film industry, is right here in Shanghai."

Hamza al-Sal had his first taste of the spotlight at 14 when he landed a role in the Jackie Chan film Dragon Blade, which ignited his passion for acting and led to a number of small roles in TV dramas and commercials. While studying at the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, he uses his spare time to audition, taking on minor roles as an extra or an assistant whenever given the opportunity, simply out of a desire to learn.

In 2021, his dedication finally won him the coveted role of Alexander in B for Busy, a Shanghai-flavored film that features a talented cast of local stars all speaking in the Shanghai dialect.

Faced with the formidable task of mastering the dialect quickly and delivering a nuanced performance that humorously comments on the intricate romantic lives of the main characters, he doubled down on his efforts, seeking guidance from veteran actors and fellow students, tirelessly rehearsing and memorizing his lines.

The release of B for Busy at the end of 2021 propelled the young Yemeni to stardom. The hit movie pulled in over 250 million yuan ($34.5 million) at the box office in just one month, and made a stir on social platforms.

Now a familiar face, he is often recognized in coffee shops and on city streets with the query, "Aren't you Alexander?" Riding the wave of his character's popularity, he subsequently starred in plays including Baoxing Alley, as well as a theatrical adaptation of B for Busy. Meanwhile, new film and stage opportunities continue to present themselves.

In terms of his future, he says he will definitely finish university and get a degree before forging his own path in the performance industry.

"As a stage actor in Shanghai, there are a lot of opportunities, because theater here is developing very well," he says.

"But as a foreign actor, it is also difficult. I hope the film and acting industry will offer more opportunities for foreign actors because if China really wants to make it big in films, it has to think that way."

Hamza Al-Sal knows that his father hopes the sons will help him with the family business, but the father has never forced him to give up his desire to act. "Young people need to struggle for their dreams even if they end up in failure," he says. "I believe I will succeed. If I haven't made it by the time I'm 35, I might go back home and help my father with the family business."

Looking ahead, he envisions directing a film that explores the experiences of foreigners living in China, while continuing to pursue his acting dreams.

"Shanghai is an international city. I want to incorporate international elements into my film that represent the life of a foreigner in China. I want to be the first to make that kind of movie here."

Wang Biye contributed to this story.