One of Fish Liew's goals is to return and contribute to the Chinese film industry. Actors lead glamorous, privileged lives — or so we think. The tiny flats, a general lack of space and the common practice of sharing tables with strangers at restaurants contributed to the culture shock Liew felt as a fresh graduate from Malaysia when she arrived in Hong Kong in , clutching a plush toy in one hand and her luggage in the other.
We catch up with Liew as she gets ready to appear at an event. Posing for the camera, she seems poised and assured, well-trained from years of modelling between acting gigs. In conversation Liew, although a little jittery, speaks with refreshing candour.
With her fluent Cantonese and encyclopedic knowledge of Hong Kong cinema, it is easy to forget that Liew is not from the city. Born in Johor Baru, she grew up in Kuala Lumpur in a strict household and hardly ever went out. Her father, a chef who worked abroad, was largely absent during her childhood. Whenever he returned, however, he brought with him an endless supply of pirated VCDs, which Liew, confined to her home, spent most of her time watching. Films took the Malaysian girl beyond the walls of her home, constructing a world she did not have a chance to see.
She did some modelling and took on some bit-part acting roles while a student. An internship as a videographer convinced her she did not want to spend the rest of her life stuck in front of a computer screen, so once she graduated, she implored her parents to let her venture out. Though job opportunities, such as beauty and fashion features in magazines came rushing in, she soon realised they only paid enough to cover her rent. The city was also not what she had imagined from seeing Ann Hui and Johnnie To movies. Photo: AP.
The turning point came when she was cast in her first film, Doomsday Party , which came with one condition — a nude scene. Before making the decision, she informed her parents, who urged her to think it through. They never insisted that I have to be a lawyer or doctor.
She also had to overcome her own mental barrier. Starring in a Hong Kong film was a distant dream and I needed the first step. No matter how unwilling and uncomfortable I was, I wanted the opportunity. To her surprise, and later dismay, despite the success of the film it would be another three years before she was cast again. Liew endured emotional turmoil when the film came out. Conservative elements in Malaysia condemned her, putting Liew and her family at odds.
Fortunately, and in spite of the controversy, she caught the eye of filmmakers and soon established herself as an emerging actress. Then she proved her mettle as the lead actress in No. In Doomsday Party , Fish Liew was required to do a nude scene. Photo: Filepic. With several films under her belt and a few more in the making, you would think the pressure has lessened, but no.
For one thing, Liew, who has played mostly schoolgirls and young adults in coming-of-age films, is turning 29 at the end of this month. Even if I do, I want to be one with a story and not the mother of the lead actress. As a Malaysian, another goal is to return and contribute to the Chinese film industry in her home country, giving opportunities to local peers who are often passed over by an industry that favours foreign actors. But for now, Liew is focusing on acting, and remembers well what Pang Ho Cheung, producer of Lazy Hazy Crazy, told her about the realities of the film industry and the strong competition for roles: There may be only one Fish Liew this year, but there can easily be three others like her next year.
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