Sunday, January 09, 2005

Em's Note: I would not by any means consider myself a 'fan' of Gigi Lai, but I do hold some admiration for her determination and durability throughout her many years in HK showbiz. However, I am a firm believer in the adage of there are always two sides to every story. After reading some of the very critical and often personal comments made against her in recent months, I wanted to share this candid and thought-provoking article from last week's 'TVB Weekly' that, at the beginning of 2005 and the future, may help to inspire us to think before we criticise and make derogatory comments and realise there may be a side of the story or situation that we do not know and have not seen.

(If you must repost this article, then please remember to give credit for the translation... the eagle eyed among you may notice that this has taken THREE HOURS to do. Thanks!)

Too Many Misunderstandings... - Gigi Lai

[TVB Weekly Cover Story - Issue 395 - 28 Dec 2004]

Gigi Lai is very suited to being a cover girl.
Your line of sight is naturally drawn to her curvy figure and her attractive eyes. A familiar sexy image that has been sustained from the days of 'Goddess of Love' in "Young and Dangerous" to revealing her shoulders in "War and Beauty".
The topics are entertaining and seem always unending - hailing from a 'Movie Legend' family, her press-tainted sordid love affairs and most recently, her supposed conflict with Sheren Tang.
To hear of Gigi Lai's talent in the past was near enough zero. Nothing had ever been mentioned about her wonderful performances, but this year, she sprang from nowhere to take the award for "My Favourite Female Leading Role".
"I have proven myself for my family."
Said on the spur of the moment, those hearing it interpret it as a sign of malice and even arrogance. Just a phrase, but in return a thousand arrows are aimed towards her heart.
But who is to know that behind the words 'to prove her worth', this has been a burden for Gigi throughout her life.

Growing Up through Discrimination

Hailing from a 'Movie Legend Family' has not been of any advantage for Gigi Lai, in fact, it has been more of a hindrance for her. "As far as I am concerned, Lai Man Wai is just simply my grandfather, I have never even seen him before."

Grandpa Lai Man Wai was dubbed as 'The Father of Hong Kong Cinema', aunt Lai Suen is a female artiste, uncle Lai Shek is a famous cinematographer and Gigi's other relatives are either Chinese herbalist doctors or engineers, so of course it is assumed that for Gigi to become an artist herself, she would have the protection and aid of her family legacy to help her up.

"My immediate family were considered outcasts by the rest of my clan. When I was just a few years old I would hear them gossiping and saying nasty things about us and they would treat us quite harshly because my father was handicapped. Before I was born, he suffered meningitis and lost his hearing.

"For a disabled person to go and work in society at the time, you can imagine the difficulties he came across. My father always kept a diary and when I was young, I managed to take a look in it a few times and the thing he wrote about most was his frustration at being unemployed and his worry about there not being enough money to provide food for his family.

"Due to my father's disability, it was left to my mother to go out and work to keep the family. My mother is a very naive and innocent person and I often scolded her for being dumb, because when people said nasty things to her face, she didn't even understand them. At the time, my brother was still very young, so it was only me who took the brunt of all the unhappiness in the family."

Taking up the burden of the family

Gigi is the eldest child in her family, with a younger brother, so in her family of four, she describes herself as the 'protector'. "When I first started acting at the age of 14, my outlook was to have some fun because at the time I did not know about having to care for my family's welfare. Only when I was 18 or 19, my brother had begun studying in secondary school and it dawned on me that I had gradually become the main breadwinner for my family. When I stared at the figures in my bankbook and calculated the bills for water, electricity, gas and the other outgoings for the family, I would say to myself that no matter how hard it was, I had to keep going."

At first, Gigi's aunt Lai Suen did not agree to her niece entering the entertainment industry because she believed that Gigi's reserved nature was not suited to the entertainment circles where meeting people, building relationships and networking were paramount.

"I didn't like to say much when I was young, firstly because we were always being put down by our relatives and did not keep in close contact with them. Secondly, I had become used to not revealing any unhappiness to anyone because I did not want anyone to think poorly of us, to know how unhappy we were or how difficult life was. My personality is quite mischeivous and I am quite thick-skinned. If you pinch me and think it will hurt, I will not show you how much it does. Even when I fell over, I would immediately stand up again, seemingly unhurt and not in pain."

It was this power of endurance that kept her going and when she could not bear it any more, she would run home and cry a while. In order to protect herself, she had learned not to reveal her true emotions in front of anyone.

Today's Gigi has finally proven her worth and established recognition in the circles of her performing career and her brother has not let her down, entering university to study medicine and heading to England to continue his studies after graduation, finally establishing himself as a dermatologist in Hong Kong upon his return.

"We have not allowed ourselves to be looked down upon. With my career now and my brother's success as a doctor, we have become the top achievers in the family and I can finally choose to do the things that I want to do."

A heart yearning for marriage

The walk onto the path of performance was an accidental one and when Gigi was 14, she was spotted by a talent scout and invited to take part in filming "Happy Ghost II" as an extra. Due to a convincing crying scene, she was spotted by producer Raymond Wong and invited to sign with CinemaCity Productions as an actor. At the time she just thought it would be fun to try her hand at acting because her greatest ambition at the time was to become a housewife.

"I am actually a very typical little woman and I really want to get married. When I was in my teens, fortune teller Tung Mo Chit read my fortune for me and said that I would only get married after I was 30 years old. When I heard this, I was very upset and cried for two days. This yearning for marriage affected the way I got to know men, because I did not particularly go out to meet someone who was suited to me and that is how I ended up in the press all the time, with things being written about me. In the past, society was rather uptight about these things and as I was only young then, it caused a rather heated response."

With her love affairs in chaos and her career at a bottleneck with little breakthrough, Gigi experienced plenty of criticism and harsh words.

"At that time, someone did say to me to hurry up, find a man to marry and be done with it. They looked down on me and felt that if I carried on in this industry, there would be no meaning to it. I was very unhappy then and had thought about just getting married to someone. That was the time when I went through the greatest pressure because I had to support my family and I was not earning very much. I also had to pay a lot of money towards my brother's university education, so I really did want to find a release by getting married."

The hard days are passed now and now she has found success in her career and a direction in life, so she no longer bears this reliance on a man.
"I don't think any female artiste wants to work on her own at TVB until she is 80 or to be in the studio acting until she enters the grave. I still want to get married, but my attitude has changed. I don't mind telling people I want to date and will not deny that there is someone in pursuit at the moment. However, I will not be smitten like I used to be and depend so much on them or be as accepting to their advances. Now I am in no hurry, so I will take it slowly to make my choice. For a woman to date and get married is very normal."

Three Steps to Transformation

Gigi will no longer dwell on her past and she faces the future boldly, bravely bearing responsibility and admitting her wrongs. She has sectioned her career off into three stages and through recounting her naivity and all the opportunities she has missed in the past, she has learned how to treasure what she has and fight for her own achievements.

The beginning: Meeting Andy Lau and not grasping the opportunity

"When I entered the industry, I was just in my teens and at the time I did not know how to think. All I wanted was to get married, so I did not set myself any ambitions. When I was filming "Dragon in Jail", I already had the chance to work with Andy Lau, but I did not understand why working had to be so hard and thought that it was all just acting, why did he have to learn boxing and keep fit? Whenever he had time, he would be reading his script and running through his lines.

"I would just be daydreaming, not knowing what I wanted to do and I wasn't very clever, so I couldn't even manage a simple dying scene. This industry is all about luck and opportunity, but even when I had the chance to learn from someone as great as Andy, I didn't know how to.

"Now my outlook has changed and see Andy as my role model, because I really admire his drive and his devotion to his beliefs, whether it is in singing or acting. Even when he was encountering difficulties with his business, he was quickly able to overcome everything. I would like to be like him and have this unbreakable spirit."

The intermediate: Beauty if it kills me

"I was 25 when I filmed 'Young and Dangerous', but I still did not know what I was doing! A lot of people felt that the character of 'Sai Sai Lup' had a great impact, but I had little expectation from this role. As for the 'Goddess of Beauty Missile' image with the pushed up breasts, I did have conflicts within myself about it. The image was sexy but very beautiful and when I wore the costume, it looked great. I was vain, but did not want to use sexiness as a selling point because I felt very useless, with roles that revolved around rape or bed scenes. I really wanted to get away from this genre.

"During this time my thoughts went numb as I made film after film, just sleeping an hour every day. After filming "Wong Fei Hung Returns", I was very tired and did not want to work so hard any more because I did not know why I was working so hard! The days passed by in bewilderment and I lacked confidence, wanting to hide myself away all the time. I was even reprimanded by Catherine Tsang for not being able to act, always worrying about my appearance, even for the death scenes, when my mascara had to be perfect and I had to look my best.

"At the time, I only knew how to protect myself and did not want people to think that Gigi Lai was only capable of doing some third grade roles and to give up the great opportunity that Catherine had presented to me. Catherine once asked me to play a 'Beauty of the Night' character that had a lot of chances to shine in my acting, but I turned her down.

"At the time I had still not come out of my shell and I only thought that I did not want to play a flirtatious woman, afraid that people would criticise me for doing these roles again. I wanted to be a pretty, innocent girl. When Catherine found out, she was not happy and felt that I had wasted a great opportunity, saying to me: 'Do you want me to give you wings so you can play an angel?' I was so childish then."

The present: Confirmation of being 30

It was "War and Beauty" that has exploded Gigi's buried confidence and finally turned her from being a peacock into a phoenix. "I do not mind telling people that I am 33 years old now. Before I was thirty, I was very afraid because I was still not married and I had not yet grasped my career. However, when I reached thirty, I totally understood what Maggie Cheung Man Yuk meant when she announced that the greatest time of her life was when she was 40. Looking back on myself, after so many years in the business and experiencing so much, I have become more mature now and it can be said that beauty is found from within. Now I have regained my confidence, my figure and appearance are at their best ever and I have found my peak.

"Workwise, I have finally found my direction and confirmation. At first, I never realised that 'War' would have such an explosive effect. When I received the script, I did not think about whether Yuk Ying would bring such a turnaround for me. I just thought to myself that I would truly treasure this chance to shine.

"Whilst filming for 'War', I gave 100% and did my best and my all to bring out the role. When the show was first aired, I was quite worried and never imagined that the show would be such a big hit and I could expand my fanbase so much by making TV series. When I made films, most of my fans were men, but now even little girls who meet me will call out to me 'Yuk Ying' and for someone so young to support me makes me very happy.

"Through 'War', I was presented with the opportunity to be nominated for the 'My Favourite Female Lead' award. To be able to take part in this game was a good thing for me because the process has speeded up my maturity. I never would have imagined that I could get into the headlines through filming television series with the media getting into a frenzy about the supposed conflict between Sheren and me over the award.

"In fact, we did not want to hurt each other or for the press to write this nonsense, so we intentionally avoided seeing each other too much. However this led to a guessing game about what the other person was thinking and in the end our hesitation gave the press even more ammunition for their reports.

"Only after the awards ceremony was the pressure truly lifted and on the surface, I had won and Sheren had lost, but it was all just a matter of process, tied in with the time and the place. For her not to take the award does not indicate that she has not improved or has failed, this is just a game of fate and the reward is just a sentimental souvenir. I still need to work even harder and let people know that I will continue to improve.
"I hope that Sheren and I can become good friends as we have not been affected at all by the negative press and she has even invited me to join her in attending church."

Playing Herself Again

Recently, Gigi has another groundbreaking performance in new series "Shades of Truth", where her 'Goddess of Beauty' image re-emerges, showing off her figure and starting off the topic of conversation again. In the series, Gigi's character Man Fung Lin an independent modern woman, who owns a bar alone and can hold an articulate conversation. Beautiful and social, she captivates the opposite sex and is often accused of having affairs with married men. Because of this, Lin is labelled as being flirtatious by Ha Tsung Yam (Julian Cheung) and possibly the reincarnation of legendary unfaithful wife Pan Jinlian.

Man Fung Lin celebrates love and is afraid of being hurt, so even though she has accepted the advances of Lam Tze Chung (Wong He), they are both selfish and will not give the other their love for fear of being hurt. Through this, the relationship develops into fantasy where they will only seek happiness, but all they find is bottomless loneliness.

Reflecting on this, there is some resemblance to Gigi's own experiences. "I feel that Man Fung Lin is a reflection of myself. I am always giving people the impression of flirting with them and wearing sexy clothes. Our personalities are also very similar and we can protect ourselves, but in the end, we just end up hurting ourselves."

Quitting Lies

"In the past, I would lie to protect myself and I would strenuously deny any links with men. Even if I was just dining with friends, I was afraid of what the media would write and deny it, not giving any further explanation. Now I do not want to tell any more pointless lies, rather facing them with a peaceful heart and have learned how to express myself better.

"Man Fung Lin is very similar to me in that she always gets herself onto the cover of the press, getting linked to famous names and married men and this is what causes Ha Tsung Yam to think she is the next life of Pan Jinlian."

Women show hatred towards Man Fung Lin, believing that she is using her sexiness to entice their men and win financial support. Men are captivated and perplexed by her beauty, but in fact they have no further contact.

"Man Fung Lin and I are both misunderstood, but I am dumber than she is. She is a great negotiator and as well as being a DJ, she is also a writer and a genius. I am a 'Crocodile head, sucker bottom' - on the surface you think I am smart and able to use tricks to avoid working hard, but in fact I am always getting into trouble and have even been sworn at by a director, who said that I cannot act.

"However, I have changed a lot now and much of this is down to the intelligence of Uncle Chan because when he was still alive, he taught me a lot of philosophies of life. He taught me not to think of myself so highly and to be an intelligent person because even a stupid person can possess intelligence: 'Great Intelligence is as to Great Stupidity'."

Grade A White Shirt

Thinking back to Gigi's song "White Shirt", the lyrics went: 'White Shirt - because of you it becomes stunning...'. Seeing Gigi wearing her Christian Dior white chiffon shirt for this interview, there was an air of elegance shrouding her sexiness and compared to the white shirt of yesteryear, the standards have raised greatly.

For this shoot, Gigi scrunched up her usually flawless short hair and even changed her make up after the test shots, toning down her lipstick and finally taking off the original red and replacing it with something else.

A natural and muted make up, a simple outfit of black and white mix and match, an unusually reserved smile. Today's Gigi is definitely released herself.

Keeping so well at 33 and not intentionally dieting in any way as she polished off some greasy fried curry samosas during the interview. Seeing this element of true emotion and despite talking about the discrimination, the confusion of her career and her past, she still responded with her usual smile as she admitted her past and bravely faces her future. This is because she deeply believes that without the past, there would not be the Gigi of today.

"If I did not have a childhood like this, then I would not have trained myself to have such a tough personality. Uncle Chan said to me that you can change your life, but you cannot change your destiny. However, destiny is made from your personality. As a result I am very grateful for my past. Thank you!"

A Timeline of Gigi Lai's life so far...(and a selection of some of her productions)

1971 - Born on 1st October
1985 - Entered showbiz with a small role in "Happy Ghost II"
1986 - Signed with CinemaCity: first lead role in "Flying Lamb"
1990 - Signed to TVB, filming for TV and Film in parallel - Film: "Dragon in Jail"
1991 - TV: "Drifters"; Film: "The Queen of Gamble"
1992 - TV: "The Stake", "The Change of Time", "Wong Fei Hung Returns"
1993 - Entered the music scene, signing with WEA and releasing her first album "If I Truly Love" - Award: Jade Solid Gold Most Popular Newcomer Bronze Award
1994 - TV: "Heartstrings" - Film: "To Live and Die in Tsimshatsiu" - Albums: "A Love Story Like This", "Not a Doll"
1996 - TV: "The Criminal Investigator" - Film: "Young and Dangerous" - Albums: "Holiday", "Between Knowing and Not Knowing"
1997 - Film: "All's Well Ends Well 97", "Young and Dangerous II" - Album: "For You"
1998 - Film: "Ninth Happiness", "Haunted Mansion"
1999 - Film: "The Accident", "A Wicked Ghost"
2000 - TV: "Heavenly Sword Dragon Sabre 2000"
2001 - Film: "The Legend of the Flying Swordsman"
2002 - TV: "Fate Twisters" - Film: "Devil Face, Angel Heart"
2004 - TV: "War and Beauty", "Shades of Truth" - Awarded "My Favourite Female Lead Role 2004"


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