Yann Yann’s back

Award-win­ning Malaysian ac­tress Yeo Yann Yann re­turns to act­ing af­ter a three-year break.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Front Page - By MICHAEL CHEANG

WHERE has Yeo Yann Yann been?

Prior to her ap­pear­ance in the re­cent

You Mean The World To Me, the Malaysian-born Sin­ga­pore-based ac­tress had been ab­sent from screens, both large and small, for the past three years. The Saw Teong Hin-di­rected Pe­nang Hokkien lan­guage movie was ac­tu­ally Yeo’s first role since 2014, hav­ing taken a three­year break from act­ing to con­cen­trate on be­ing a mother.

Be­fore her break, Yeo was ar­guably at the peak of her ca­reer. In

2013, she had gained in­ter­na­tional ac­claim when she was awarded

Best Sup­port­ing Ac­tress at the 2013 Golden Horse Awards for her role in Ilo Ilo by Sin­ga­porean di­rec­tor An­thony Chen, which also won Best Pic­ture. In fact, she was ac­tu­ally preg­nant in real life while film­ing Ilo

Ilo, and the movie even in­cluded footage of her daugh­ter’s birth.

Dur­ing an in­ter­view at the pre­miere of

You Mean The World To Me in April, Yeo said that since be­com­ing a mother, she’s had to slow down and pri­ori­tise her fam­ily. “I can’t work like I’m sin­gle any­more, like ‘Oh, there’s a pro­ject in Tai­wan, bye!’” mused the 40-year-old ac­tress, who is mar­ried to Hong Kong ac­tion chore­og­ra­pher Ma Yuk-Sing. The cou­ple met on the set of Malaysian film

Petaling Street War­riors in 2011, and their daugh­ter, Vera, is now five-years-old and lives with her fam­ily in Jo­hor.

While her most re­cent ac­co­lades have been for her film roles, Yeo ac­tu­ally made her de­but on stage in

1997. She is also a well-es­tab­lished ac­tress in Sin­ga­porean and Malaysian TV shows. To date, she has been in­volved in 16 fea­ture films, in­clud­ing the late Yas­min Ah­mad’s 2008 film Mual­laf, and the crit­i­cally-ac­claimed Sin­ga­pore Dream­ing in 2006.

Set in Pe­nang and filmed en­tirely in the Pe­nang Hokkien di­alect, You Mean The World To Me is about a Pe­nang-born film­maker named Sunny (played by Frederick Lee), who re­turns home to make a film about his dys­func­tional fam­ily. Yeo plays Ah Hoon, the el­dest sis­ter in the fam­ily, and ac­cord­ing to her, when Saw of­fered her the role, she had just be­come a mother, and was ini­tially re­luc­tant to com­mit her­self to the role.

“I was very ner­vous about that. I had just be­came a mother at the time, and I couldn’t re­ally bring my daugh­ter there, or bring my­self to stay there for a long time with­out my daugh­ter, so I just kept say­ing no,” she re­called.

In the end, she re­lented, say­ing that the story about love and fam­ily drew her in. “Of course, Pe­nang is also one of my favourite places in the world. I used to work there a lot ... I did lots of films and TV there,” she said.

One of her ini­tial wor­ries was the lan­guage – she speaks Jo­hor Hokkien which is very dif­fer­ent from the one spo­ken in Pe­nang. “I had to re­learn my Hokkien for the movie. When my mum heard me re­hears­ing at home, she was laugh­ing at me!” she shared with a smile. “I also said I would like to come in ear­lier, one week be­fore shoot­ing, just to im­merse my­self in the at­mos­phere of Pe­nang. Ev­ery place has its own speed and rhythm, so I wanted to try to be a Pe­nang lang (Pe­nan­gite) and speak Pe­nang Hokkien with peo­ple on the street.”

Yeo, who started her act­ing ca­reer in theatre, went back on stage in Fe­bru­ary to “re­gain her en­ergy”.

“In theatre, you can see the au­di­ence, hear them and feel them as they are watch­ing you; and you can suck up all the en­ergy from them,” she said. “But for film, you re­lease your en­ergy through that lit­tle lens to the au­di­ence.”

Her first theatre show in six years, ti­tled Ac­tor, Forty, is a mono­logue in which she plays an ac­tress who has just been cast in a con­tem­po­rary re­make of Sum­mer Snow ,a 1995 Hong Kong film about a 40-some­thing woman deal­ing with dif­fi­cult fam­ily is­sues. The ac­tress has a se­cret that she is strug­gling to keep un­der wraps – she is turn­ing 40 and ex­pect­ing her first child.

“It was crazy. I stopped theatre for six years, and I chose the most dif­fi­cult work to go back to! It al­most killed me, and I al­most wanted to give up!” she com­plained good-na­turedly. “But I had a great time and it made me re­alise I’m not in my 20s any­more. I don’t have that kind of en­ergy any­more.”

Yeo also lamented that the film world is very cruel to ac­tresses her age, and that they have a pretty nar­row choices of films to choose from.

“It’s dif­fi­cult for me to be cast in ev­ery film ... we don’t have a big in­dus­try ei­ther, where we have the lux­ury of dif­fer­ent types of films. I don’t want to play the ‘mother’ role all my life!” she said.

Then again, Yeo is not in a rush to do as many films as she can these days. If she’s not keen or thinks she is un­suit­able for a role, she reck­ons she’ll just shrug it off, go home and spend more time with her daugh­ter.

“I also think it’s very im­por­tant for an ac­tor to live a peace­ful life. Our work in­volves crazy emo­tions. So, be­cause of that we need to be as peace­ful as we can when we live our own nor­mal lives. I do yoga, I med­i­tate, I run, I read, I watch films, go to theatre ... it’s im­por­tant to gather your­self and be knowl­edge­able all the time.”

How­ever, she loves act­ing too much to quit for good.

“I re­ally love act­ing, and I re­alto ly want con­tinue. But I don’t want to push my­self, fin­ish all my en­ergy and die, or burnout and not want to make films any­more! I want to act un­til I’m 80 years old!” she con­cluded.

Photo: DARRAN TAN/The Star

en­ter­tain­ment@thes­tar.com.my Photo: DARRAN TAN/The Star

Yeo didn’t want to take on the role in You Mean The World To Me ini­tally. — Astro Shaw Yeo with the Best Sup­port­ing Ac­tress tro­phy she won at the 50th Golden Horse Film Awards for her work in Ilo Ilo in 2013. — AFP

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