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Artist, actor and restaurateur Mr. Chow on his driving creative force: 'To be true'

You might know this artist and actor better as Mr. Chow.
Dominik Bindl
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You might know this artist and actor better as Mr. Chow.

Michael Chow has worn many hats in his 84 years. A new documentary about his life, a.k.a. Mr Chow, paints the portrait of a man who has endured hardship, and found creative outlets to cope.

Who is he? You might know this artist and actor better as Mr. Chow, as in the Mr. Chow behind the restaurant empire. These days, he simply goes by M.

  • He's also known for his meticulous taste in all things visual, including clothes, decor and of course, his paintings. Don't believe us? Take a look for yourself:

What's the big deal? M's life story isn't just one of reaching success in the world of art and food. It's a tale of resilience.

  • After growing up in Shanghai with an opera star father and a doting mother, M was sent off to boarding school in London at age 13.
  • While abroad, Mao Zedong's cultural revolution took hold in China. His mother was killed and his father died in prison.
  • "At 13, I lost everything. Meaning, I lost my parents, my culture, my country, smell, everything in a split-second. I was in deep depth of fear — acute panic attack is beyond. So I have to crawl out of that to survive," he told NPR.

Michael Chow inside a London restaurant in July 1968.
Evening Standard / Getty Images
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Getty Images
Michael Chow inside a London restaurant in July 1968.

What's he saying? M spoke with All Things Considered host Ailsa Chang about finding the true nature of expression amongst struggle.

On whether success and pain are intertwined:


Want more on culture? Listen to Consider This on how Rotten Tomatoes changed the role of a film critic.


On the uniqueness that drew crowds to his restaurants:

On seeking praise at this point in his career:

So, what now?

  • M's closing remarks to Chang: "I'm a collector, basically — a collector and collagist. Collector, meaning I collect all the sayings — from religion leaders, can be from movies, can be from jokes. I'm collecting you right now. I want to see what I can learn from you. And I've had this exchange with you. And this is very rewarding. And our path in destiny, as it were ... We were supposed to meet. This is an important moment between you and I, as human to human as it were."
  • a.k.a. Mr. Chow is out now.


Read more:

The interview with Michael Chow was conducted by Ailsa Chang, produced by Jonaki Mehta and edited by Sarah Handel. contributed to this story

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Manuela López Restrepo
Manuela López Restrepo is a producer and writer at All Things Considered. She's been at NPR since graduating from The University of Maryland, and has worked at shows like Morning Edition and It's Been A Minute. She lives in Brooklyn with her cat Martin.
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