En­ter Aarif

The ac­tor with the un­usual name and mixed eth­nic­ity is cer­tain to go far with his act­ing chops and good looks.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - sky­seto@thes­tar.com.my By SETO KIT YAN

New­comer Aarif Rah­man Lee stars as one of Asia’s biggest ac­tion icons in the up­com­ing biopic Bruce Lee, My Brother.

AARIF Rah­man Lee may be Hong Kong’s fastest ris­ing star but the per­son­able young man has not let it get to his head.

Film­ing on his lat­est movie Bruce Lee, My Brother has re­cently wrapped. In it he plays the mar­tial arts leg­end. Cur­rently in post­pro­duc­tion stage, the movie is set for re­lease in Malaysia on Nov 28.

Said to be the first in a three-part biopic, the Ray­mond Yip-helmed movie chron­i­cles the icon’s grow­ing up years. The story also re­volves around Bruce’s fam­ily with Tony Le­ung Ka Fai play­ing the fa­ther, Christy Chung the mother, and Jen­nifer Tse as his love in­ter­est.

Did he feel any pres­sure tak­ing on the role? “Ini­tially, yes, and very shock­ing at the same time. As I’m sure it would be when you tell a 23-year-old that he’ll be play­ing Bruce Lee in a movie. But the team was fan­tas­tic. Ev­ery­one gave me a lot of en­cour­age­ment and sup­port. So, it was just a mat­ter of putting aside the pres­sure and div­ing in.”

The young ac­tor was speak­ing to StarTwo at a ho­tel in Putrajaya where he was sched­uled to ap­pear as a guest at Ntv7’s Golden Awards, which re­warded out­stand­ing tal­ent in lo­cal Chi­nese tele­vi­sion, late last month.

While wait­ing for his lunch, which was de­layed, Aarif was so hun­gry he gob­bled up the choco­late in his ho­tel room. His sched­ule was so packed that we even­tu­ally had to do the in­ter­view while he was tuck­ing into his salad and con­gee at the ho­tel.

See­ing the voice recorder in my hand, he said laugh­ingly: “You’ll be record­ing sounds of me chew­ing my food!” as he con­tin­ued to chomp on his salad.

Born and bred in Hong Kong, Aarif has a dis­tinc­tive face that seems to be a cross be­tween Tai­wanese-Amer­i­can singer-ac­tor Wang Lee Hom and le­gendary kungfu icon Bruce Lee.

“To be hon­est, I don’t think I look like any­body but peo­ple like to draw com­par­isons be­tween me and other stars.

“I got a lot of com­ments that I look like Lee Hom since I was 16. How­ever, only a hand­ful said I re­sem­ble Bruce Lee. ”

Be­sides his looks, the lad has in­ter­est­ing names. The name in his iden­ti­fi­ca­tion doc­u­ments is Aarif Rah­man, but he is also known var­i­ously as Aarif Lee/Li and Lee Chi Ting or Li Zhi Ting.

“We have a du­al­ity in sur­names. My grand­fa­ther’s Ara­bic name is Rah­man but his Chi­nese name is Lee. So, the sur­name came down from my grand­fa­ther.

“Chi Ting was given by a for­tune-teller in Hong Kong just be­fore I en­tered the in­dus­try,” ex­plained Aarif.

With a name that was in­con­gru­ous with his face, surely that gave rise to an iden­tity cri­sis at school. “Al­ways! No one knew what I was when I went to school in Eng­land. Al­though I went to a Bri­tish school, I spoke with an Amer­i­can ac­cent.

“But in Eng­land, most Chi­nese there were ei­ther flu­ent in English from pub­lic schools or not flu­ent at all as they were from other coun­tries.

“I was con­sid­ered weird be­cause I was flu­ent in English but had a funny ac­cent. Add to that were my Arab name and Chi­nese looks,” Aarif said with a laugh.

Ask him about his Malaysian roots and you get quite a com­pli­cated pic­ture of his ex­otic back­ground.

“My great-grand­fa­ther was Malay and he was from Bor­neo while my great-grand­mother was Chi­nese. It’s all very com­pli­cated. It’s just a ridicu­lous chop-suey (mix)of Chi­nese, Mid­dle East­ern and Malay.

“Eth­ni­cally, my dad is Malay-Chi­ne­seMid­dle East­ern. My mum is from Hong Kong. I’m ac­tu­ally the fifth gen­er­a­tion. I grew up in Hong Kong and did a bit of study­ing abroad.”

This wasn’t his first trip to Malaysia. Aarif had been to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, for a hol­i­day once, wher he en­joyed the beach and swim­ming.

“I’m an out­door per­son. I pre­fer that to nightlife. If I’m to hang out with my friends, I en­joy go­ing to the beach or mak­ing a boat trip or even stay­ing home watch­ing DVDs.”

Here’s a physics grad­u­ate who is no nerd, as most of his pas­times are phys­i­cally de­mand­ing.

“I’m quite pe­ri­odic. I’d got­ten into wake- board­ing at one point. I did a lit­tle bit of gokart­ing when I was a kid. And re­cently, I’ve taken an in­ter­est in motorsport, al­though I’ve never ac­tu­ally tried it. Apart from go­ing to the gym and run­ning, af­ter film­ing Bruce Lee I’m kind of into boxing as well.”

His big break into Hong Kong film came dur­ing a chance meet­ing with Alex Law, di­rec­tor of this year’s mul­ti­ple-award-win­ning Echoes Of The Rain­bow.

“That was a stroke of luck for me be­cause the di­rec­tor went to the same school as my dad and they knew each other 30 years ago. They met again at a re­union and it turned out he lives nearby. So, af­ter the re­union, he came over for a drink and we got talk­ing. To me, he was just un­cle Law. I had no idea he was Alex Law the di­rec­tor.”

Law liked the young­ster and of­fered him a role in his up­com­ing movie. That was the start of act­ing for Aarif, who made his de­but in Echoes Of The Rain­bow. He played the high­achiev­ing teenage son of a poor cou­ple (played by Simon Yam and San­dra Ng) who falls for a wealthy school­mate (Eve­lyn Choi).

Aarif and his co-star Buzz Chung who played his kid brother were jointly nom­i­nated best new per­former at the 29th Hong Kong Film Awards in April for which Aarif won. He also nabbed the best orig­i­nal film song (shared with Low­ell Lo and di­rec­tor Law who sang with him).

“The funny thing was I’ve never even shot a mu­sic video be­fore that. It was the first time I was ac­tu­ally cap­tured in mo­tion. I was very ner­vous the first few times. And then, I just kind of let go and had fun.”

Next, he starred in Derek Kwok’s sci-fi ro­mance Frozen with star­lets Jan­ice Man and Jan­ice Vi­dal, who played his girl­friend and daugh­ter re­spec­tively.

“It was set in the 80s so it was re­ally quite fun. My part­ner Jan­ice Man was amaz­ing. She was very eight­ies and very into the char­ac­ter so it re­ally helped me. I did not feel much stress and it was just so much fun.”

He also dueted with Vi­dal on the movie theme song, which was a cover of Leslie Che­ung’s Wai Nei Jung Ching (In Love With You).

“But I still have to do my mu­sic on the side. I’m hop­ing to try new things and learn some skills from those who are the masters of the in­dus­try,” said Aarif, who is look­ing to re­lease his next al­bum later. It will fea­ture Can­tonese, Man­darin and English tunes, just like his 2004 al­bum Start­ing To­day.

Bet­ter known out­side of Hong Kong as an

ac­tor, Aarif’s cre­den­tials as a singer-song­writer are no less im­pres­sive. His de­but al­bum

Start­ing To­day bagged nu­mer­ous awards in Hong Kong.

While Aarif loved mu­sic, study­ing it did not in­ter­est him. In­stead, he chose to study physics at London’s Im­pe­rial Col­lege and made it his ma­jor.

Aarif hated mu­sic lessons when he was a child. Till this day, he can­not read mu­sic scores and com­poses his songs us­ing the com­puter. “The clas­si­cal style of teach­ing wasn’t quite ap­pro­pri­ate for me. So, I never re­ally got into it un­til much later.

“Mu­sic, to me, was a part of life. You meet peo­ple and you learn off them. I liked it like that. I never en­joyed mu­sic in a class­room.

“But I had a mu­sic teacher in high school who was the fun­ni­est guy ever. He was ac­tu­ally a huge in­flu­ence on why I got into mu­sic. His name’s Mr Hag­gerty.

“That was when I was around 11 or 12, and I started play­ing drums (he had his own drum set at home). That was fun but I wasn’t re­ally en­grossed.

“I re­ally got into mu­sic when I was 14. That was the peak. I was prac­tis­ing the gui­tar at least five to six hours a day, and play­ing drums for two hours a day – ev­ery sin­gle day. It was in­tense. Po­lice used to come around to com­plain about the noise.”

Un­like many English-speak­ing Chi­nese stars, the guy can read both Chi­nese and English. “My mum got a pri­vate tu­tor to help me with my Chi­nese as she found it un­ac­cept­able that many kids like me who go to In­ter­na­tional schools and Bri­tish schools ended up not know­ing any Chi­nese.”

Aarif is the youngest of three sib­lings (he has a brother and a sis­ter) and while his busi­ness­man fa­ther is a good singer, none of his fam­ily mem­bers are into en­ter­tain­ment. How­ever, they are al­ways very sup­port­ive of Aarif’s in­ter­ests. “Ini­tially, they were just wor­ried about whether I would be happy or not. They’d keep ask­ing me whether I knew what I was get­ting into.”

With the loss of pri­vacy be­ing one of their main con­cerns, Aarif says he is lucky to be do­ing what he en­joys in fast-paced Hong Kong. “I’m get­ting the most out of life. That’s all I’ve ever asked for. I get to travel and do what I love. And I’m be­gin­ning to love film more and more as I learn about it while meet­ing the giants from the in­dus­try. It’s amaz­ing that all this is hap­pen­ing within this short pe­riod.”

BruceLee, My Brother opens in lo­cal cine

mas on Nov 28.

Photo by LOW LAY PHON

Le­gendary role: Aarif Rah­man Lee plays the le­gendary mar­tial artist in BruceLee,My­Brother.

Aarif (right) with co-star Buzz Chung in Alex Law’s EchoesOfThe Rain­bow.

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