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