How do we start this story about Allan Wu and his penchant for exercise and his dislike for shirts? While some male celebs worry about being viewed as airheaded meatheads if they aren’t fully-clothed, Allan appears to be more secure. It’s true that he is topless in a lot of his shoots and shows, but it doesn’t seem to bother him much, and certainly isn’t gonna make him stop working out so he can be taken seriously as an angsty, pale and lumpy thespian. Here’s why he bothers to maintain his abs all the time.
Some say sports is the answer to all your problems. What do you think?
Allan Wu: I totally, absolutely, unequivocally agree. A lot of times, people’s perception of me is that I’m a guy who must really, really love myself, ’cos I’m always working out and wanting to look good, but in reality, I’ve just always enjoyed being active. I feel most alive when I’m exercising and just being physical. And what really got me through the trials and tribulations of life and all of my personal stuff was sports. When you have a lot of mental stress or angst, it’s cathartic to go out and exercise and displace some of that pressure and sadness and negativity — to literally burn it off.
Is it the endorphins, or is it a distraction from the bad stuff?
It does take your mind off stuff and the adrenaline and endorphins make you feel good, but for me, it’s also a way to break up the day. You work so hard at your desk all day, so why not go out there and take a commercial break from life? It’s important to go out and be active a few times a week, so you can strike that balance in your life.
Any examples of how exercising ‘saved’ you?
When I did my very first Chinese drama, Bukit Ho Swee, in 2001, I couldn’t really read Chinese. I had a huge headache all the time ’cos I was trying to get through all these lines and I was so stressed out. What kept me going was going for a run and clearing my head for a while. And I wouldn’t say it was a lifesaver, but exercise was a huge help when I was going through my separation from Li-lin [in 2013]. It was really tough, trying to grasp the concept of uncoupling and not being together. For a time, she was away, so I’d get up early in the morning, get the kids ready for school, get their breakfast and uniforms, and then go running on the track. It was freezing cold, I was trying to figure out what was going on in my life, and I’d be going 15 to 30 laps. I wouldn’t say I was running my sorrows away, but the exercise gave me a natural high, kept my head up, helped me stay focused and made me realise that even though one facet of my life wasn’t working out, at least the kids and I are still healthy. It’s like, it was time to move on. Literally, to just keep on moving.
Why didn’t you become a professional athlete?
For a while in high school, I was running cross-country and doing a lot of competitive cycling. I would have loved to get into cycling more seriously. But my parents, who are first-generation Chinese immigrants in the States, were like, “No, you’re gonna go get your college degree.” But I’m kinda thankful I didn’t go down that route, ’cos when you’re a professional athlete, I think your whole life would just be about cycling or swimming or whatever. But I got to see a lot more things in the life I’ve had.
Would you encourage your kids to go down the sporting route?
I’d like a more well-rounded environment for my children. If you want to be a tiger or lion mum and be super kiasu and have your kids go for enrichment classes all the time, that’s great. For me, it’s not just about having the grades, but also that exposure to athletics. I want to help them develop their self-esteem not just academically, but also from an athletic standpoint. My daughter [Sage, who’s 10] is a good swimmer. She’s within the top 15 in her age group, but I don’t know if she will be a professional. I’m letting her follow her own path. She’s a really good sprinter too.
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"For me, it’s not just about having the grades, but also that exposure to athletics. I want to help them develop their self-esteem not just academically, but also from an athletic standpoint."
Your daughter’s got your sporty genes
Yeah, but a lot of it is also me encouraging her to go out there. Everyone in her school thinks I’m like this tiger dad, rooting her on at sports. At a recent race she was in, which she won, I was like running beside her, shouting, “Faster! Faster! Go Sage! Faster!” The other parents must have been like, “Oh shit, this guy’s really hardcore.” [Laughs]
So whenever you’re with your kids, you are doing sporty stuff? Any down time?
[Laughs]We do quite a lot of sports together — we play basketball and we run and swim, but it’s not hardcore training all the time. We do homework together, and we do drawing, and I’d have them read books and write reports. I like to introduce more high-concept movies like The Matrix and Inception to them, and try to explain to them what’s going on. We do all the normal stuff too. [Laughs]
Why push yourself?
It’s definitely not easy, but I’d say that it’s not that hard for me. If it were as hard for me as it is for a lot of people, then maybe I wouldn’t do it. The sporty life and that foundation I have is now engrained in my DNA. I’ve achieved a certain plateau, and it’s now really about maintenance. People ask me what I do to look this way. I’m been lucky in that metabolically, I’m efficient. In half an hour of working out, a normal person may burn 200 to 300 calories, but for me, I can probably burn 800 calories, ’cos I’m pushing myself so much harder. Some people go to slimming centres or take short cuts, but the best way to look and feel good is to respect your body. It’s important to exercise regularly and be active — I think that helps you keep a positive mindset and is the true fountain of youth.
Speaking of which, while it’s easy for a twentysomething to get a ripped bod, it gets harder as you get older.
I’m 43 this year. I’m not 25 or 30, but people may still guess that was my age, based on my physiology. Secondly, to look like this while being a father [isn’t the easiest], too. I’ve gone through periods where I’ve taken time off [from maintaining the body]. When work requires a lot of flying and travelling, like when I was doing The Amazing Race Asia, I would be like, forget it, let’s just write it off and make up for it later. When I don’t work out, I tend to shrink and lose weight, not get fat. As I get older, I also have to watch what I eat. I try not to eat supper or drink as much alcohol. As you get older, your basal metabolic rate slows down. In your 30s and 40s, it does take work to keep things up. Things are starting to fall apart for me. [Laughs]I have knee and joint problems. But I do the best I can. So far the results are okay. [Laughs]
Does looking ripped help you with the ladies?
I think it definitely doesn’t hurt. [Laughs] Men are definitely more superficial and visual than women are, but women can have an appreciation of the male specimen too. Being fit helps not just in the sense of being healthy, but that you have a certain vitality and aura. I think people are attracted to people who are healthy and active. Maybe on a subconscious level, it makes them want to be fit and healthy too.
How’s it going in the dating field?
With my body, it’s going well. [Guffaws] It’s much better than when I last spoke to you a year ago. Things [with the divorce] are pretty much done and dusted, which is good. People always say I’m seeing this or that person. I would say I’m kinda seeing people, but not really seriously, I guess. My priority has always been the kids and right now, it’s about them, and also trying to get work. If someone does fit in, then great. I’m not ruling out the possibility of getting married or having children again, but right now, I’m just having fun and enjoying the sights and sounds of being single, while still having a chunk of time for my children, so I can continue to scream at them when they’re racing. [Laughs]
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