Light­ing the Way

Ca­rina Lau IS PAS­SION­ATE ABOUT HER ROLE AS MEN­TOR FOR THE FIRST INI­TIA­TIVE FOUN­DA­TION. LEARN MORE IN OUR 20-PAGE GUIDE TO THIS WORTH­WHILE CAUSE

Hong Kong Tatler - - Features -

I BE­LIEVE THERE HAS BEEN A LUCKY STAR LOOK­ING DOWN ON ME THROUGH­OUT MY LIFE,” SAYS CA­RINA LAU. “THIS STAR HAS SHAPED MY CA­REER AND GUIDED ME TO THE PEO­PLE WHO TOOK A CHANCE ON ME—THE PEO­PLE WHO MADE ME WHO I AM TO­DAY. IF YOU HAVE ABIL­ITY AND YOU HAVE PAS­SION, ALL YOU NEED IS SOME­ONE TO NO­TICE YOU AND HELP YOU ALONG THE PATH TO SUC­CESS. NOW THAT I’VE RE­ALISED MY DREAMS, I FEEL IT’S MY DUTY TO TAKE ON THAT ROLE, WHICH IS WHY I WAS IM­ME­DI­ATELY DRAWN TO FIF AND THE IN­CRED­I­BLE WORK BE­ING DONE BY MICHELLE ONG.”

Lau has been work­ing with Michelle Ong and the First Ini­tia­tive Foun­da­tion (FIF) since 2013, when she joined the char­ity as an “artist in sup­port.” Ong’s cen­tral aim for the FIF is to sup­port ed­u­ca­tion and nur­ture cre­ativ­ity in the art, de­sign and mu­sic worlds. And in or­der to help young Hongkongers ful­fil their po­ten­tial and gain a deeper un­der­stand­ing of their cho­sen ca­reers, she has re­cruited a va­ri­ety of suc­cess­ful peo­ple work­ing in the arts to act as their men­tors.

“I think it’s a won­der­ful idea of Michelle’s,” says Lau. “We’re liv­ing in an age of in­stant grat­i­fi­ca­tion and this makes young peo­ple too im­pa­tient— they will of­ten find some sort of ex­cuse to quit if things get hard. But in our gen­er­a­tion, ev­ery­one was very hard-work­ing. I was cer­tainly not born into wealth or star­dom, and it took me a lot of time and ex­tremely hard work to get where I am to­day. And I’m in no way un­usual—i could name nu­mer­ous peo­ple from my gen­er­a­tion like me, such as Tony Le­ung Chiu-wai, Andy Lau Tak­wah and Jacky Cheung Hok-yau. None of us are from par­tic­u­larly im­pres­sive back­grounds, and we’ve all ex­pe­ri­enced fail­ures and chal­lenges along the way, but our de­ter­mi­na­tion and can-do spirit al­lowed us to suc­ceed. So I hope that through FIF, Michelle will pro­vide some proper role mod­els for young peo­ple to look up to. They need to re­alise that if they don’t work hard, they won’t be able to get the re­sults they dream of.”

Watch­ing Lau on the set of our cover shoot, I can see why Ong wanted her to act as a men­tor for her FIF stu­dents. I am struck by Lau’s pro­fes­sional at­ti­tude and her ad­mirable skill set— she ar­rives early, in­tro­duces her­self to the en­tire crew and, un­like most stars I have met, is happy to do her own hair and make-up, both of which she com­pletes in record time. And although she is some­what shy and re­served in per­son, the mo­ment she steps in front of the cam­era, she lights up and moves for the pho­tog­ra­pher with the ease of a woman who rel­ishes be­ing in the spotlight.

“In our gen­er­a­tion, ev­ery­one was very hard-work­ing. I was cer­tainly not born into wealth or star­dom, and it took me a lot of time and ex­tremely hard work to get where I am to­day”

De­spite her ob­vi­ous tal­ent, Lau’s path to suc­cess was a cir­cuitous one. She was born in Suzhou, Main­land China, in 1965. At the age of 15 she per­suaded her mother to move with her to Hong Kong so she could en­rol in TVB’S act­ing classes. At the time, she could barely speak Can­tonese and was mocked by her peers for her main­land ac­cent. De­ter­mined to suc­ceed and be ac­cepted by her class, she spent her nights study­ing the lan­guage and was flu­ent by the time she grad­u­ated in 1983. Later that year, Lau won a con­tract to work as an in-house ac­tress for TVB. Her ini­tial roles were mainly or­na­men­tal, but she even­tu­ally won a lead­ing part in the hit se­ries

LOOK­ING BACK IN ANGER. She si­mul­ta­ne­ously started dat­ing Tony Le­ung, now her hus­band, and the pair soon be­came the It cou­ple of Hong Kong.

“I fell into my cho­sen ca­reer path—it’s that lucky star again,” she says with a grin. “Be­fore I moved to Hong Kong, I knew I was not good at study­ing. My older brother was a theatre ac­tor and I’d seen a lot of his per­for­mances, and act­ing was the only thing that I felt con­fi­dent do­ing. Join­ing TVB’S artist train­ing class was a cru­cial turn­ing point in my life as it gave me ground­ing and taught me all the skills I would later need for join­ing the film in­dus­try. Good train­ing is some­thing I would ad­vise all young peo­ple to have. I’m also grate­ful that I learned my craft in Hong Kong. Although it’s my home, I think I can say with a lack of bias that Hong Kong is a great place to work in—it’s very pro­fes­sional, and is a won­der­ful melt­ing pot of Western and Chi­nese cul­tures. Hong Kong is the Hol­ly­wood of the East, the place where tal­ent from around the con­ti­nent con­gre­gates.”

It was a mu­tual love of Hong Kong and all it has to of­fer that even­tu­ally brought Lau and Ong to­gether. “I like Michelle’s di­rect per­son­al­ity,” says Lau. “In fact, I’ve known her for quite some time, just not closely—we’d been to a lot of the same events but had never got the chance to re­ally talk to one another. So one day we fi­nally sat down and shared all our sto­ries about Hong Kong, and this was when she told me about her mis­sion and her vi­sion for FIF. I think it’s a re­ally mean­ing­ful char­ity. Hong Kong’s youth is kind of lost nowa­days, and I worry that they don’t have a di­rec­tion or dream to fol­low. As soon as Michelle told me about her work, I said, ‘If there is some­thing I can do to help, please let me know as I would love to con­trib­ute.’”

Ong joins Lau and me for cof­fee, and I can tell that the two are firm friends. “I’m thrilled to have Ca­rina on board as I know she will make a won­der­ful men­tor,” says Ong. “I think the most pow­er­ful con­tri­bu­tion she can make is to tell the young­sters all about what she has learned through her il­lus­tri­ous ca­reer. It’s such a priv­i­lege for them to be able to learn from some­one so ex­pe­ri­enced. I was de­lighted when she agreed to be­come one of our artists as she is one of the most well-re­spected ac­tors in Hong Kong. I’m such a fan of her films—i was even a bit star-struck when we first

started work­ing to­gether, and that doesn’t hap­pen of­ten. It’s been such fun pick­ing out Car­net pieces for the shoot as I knew she would look beau­ti­ful in any­thing I chose,” says Ong, who started the jew­ellery brand two decades ago.

Lau takes her role as men­tor se­ri­ously and has clearly thought long and hard about the wis­dom she wants to im­part to the youth of Hong Kong. “I will tell them all the things I wish some­one had told me. But mainly I will tell them to never give up on their dreams, no mat­ter what prob­lems they face along the way. So long as you pick your­self up af­ter­wards, fail­ure isn’t nec­es­sar­ily a bad thing. In fact, I think it can be re­ally im­por­tant as it makes you grow as a per­son and re­flect on your past, and plan what you must change about your­self and your per­for­mance in the fu­ture,” she says.

Elo­quent as she is on the sub­ject of fail­ure, Lau’s own ca­reer has moved from strength to strength over the past few years. In 2013 she starred in BENDS, a Hong Kong-made film di­rected by Flora Lau about a priv­i­leged woman who falls in love with her driver. It was screened in the Un Cer­tain Re­gard sec­tion of the 2013 Cannes Film Fes­ti­val, where it re­ceived crit­i­cal ac­claim—as did Lau her­self, re­splen­dent in an ar­ray of Dior and Schi­a­par­elli dresses on the red car­pet. Lau’s suc­cess on the fes­ti­val cir­cuit con­tin­ued last year when she won the Best Ac­tress award for BENDS at the Osaka Asian Film Fes­ti­val. “I was de­lighted to have won, and what is par­tic­u­larly funny is that I didn’t ac­tu­ally get paid for that role,” she says. “But I knew I had to take the part when I heard Flora was di­rect­ing it. She works so hard—i read four edi­tions of the script, which she kept fine­tun­ing un­til I was sat­is­fied. She just wouldn’t give up. I ap­pre­ci­ate such a strong spirit.” Since then, Lau has stared in

BEI­JING LOVE STORY and FROM VE­GAS TO MA­CAU II, but by the time of our in­ter­view, her fo­cus is firmly on her cur­rent film, CAIRO DEC­LA­RA­TION, for which she is based in Shang­hai, where it is set. “I love work­ing on this pro­ject but it’s been ex­haust­ing be­cause it has taken so much re­search,” says Lau. “It’s set in the past, so I’ve been read­ing about life in 1930s Shang­hai and dress styles and ways of speak­ing for months. It has been re­ally fas­ci­nat­ing to learn how to in­habit a char­ac­ter so fully.”

Lau is also hop­ing to do more theatre work this year and—“if I can only im­prove my English”— dreams of one day per­form­ing on Broad­way or in the West End. As well as her sup­port for the FIF, she is in­volved in other char­ity projects and is plan­ning to spend more time on her own ven­ture, Ten­der Lov­ing Care. Founded with her hus­band, it does im­por­tant work in pro­vid­ing help to el­derly house-bound peo­ple re­quir­ing nu­tri­tious meals and med­i­cal at­ten­tion. “We haven’t re­ally pro­moted it—we just raise money through spe­cial oc­ca­sions such as birth­day cel­e­bra­tions,” she says. “I’m not very good at talk­ing about money, but I’m pas­sion­ate about mak­ing a dif­fer­ence in the lives of oth­ers. I once be­lieved I could do that solely through act­ing, but I now know that I have so much more to give than just my tal­ent.”

“So long as you pick your­self up af­ter­wards, fail­ure isn’t nec­es­sar­ily a bad thing. In fact, I think it can be re­ally im­por­tant as it makes you grow as a per­son and re­flect on your past”

Pho­tog­ra­phy Weilai Styling justine lee

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