Model-turned-actress CHRISSIE CHAU wants more women play­ing bigger roles – both be­hind and in front of the cam­era – within Hong Kong’s male-dom­i­nated movie in­dus­try, writes KIERAN HO

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Chrissie Chau shares how it feels to be a fe­male actress in a male pop­u­lated in­dus­try

CHRISSIE CHAU, af­fec­tion­ately nick­named “Big Sis­ter Na” (word­play based on her Can­tonese name Chau Sau Na) by Hong Kong lo­cals is one of the city’s most suc­cess­ful model-turned-actress sto­ries. Since her break­out role in 2006 play­ing a night­club PR in Sing Yuen Chung’s Bet to Ba­sic, Chau has lever­aged her way into more than 40 films and a smat­ter­ing of TV shows, ce­ment­ing her place within the Hong Kong film ac­tors’ cir­cle. As a child she dreamed of want­ing to travel the world, but the re­al­ity was less glam­orous. She re­lo­cated with her fam­ily from Chaozhou, China to Hong Kong at the age of 10 and five years later took a job at a fast-food restau­rant to sup­port her fam­ily. Her first foray into the pub­lic eye came when she won a run­ner-up prize at the 2002 Comics Fes­ti­val ‘Game Girl’ and be­gan mod­el­ling, even­tu­ally scor­ing her mi­nor roles in movies and TV shows. She soon wowed di­rec­tors with her gusto and can-do at­ti­tude and pho­tog­ra­phers praised Chau for her slick pro­fes­sion­al­ism and cam­era pres­ence.

On the set of ac­tion films, she re­fuses to use a body dou­ble for dan­ger­ous stunts as she val­ues au­then­tic­ity. On the set of Kick Ass Girls, (2013), on the first take of an ac­tion scene, Chau fa­mously slams her head into a pil­lar ren­der­ing her un­con­scious from the im­pact. The direc­tor kept the first cut in the fi­nal reel.

Be­hind her sweet de­meanour and

Faye Wong- es­que looks (see our shoot, the re­sem­blance is un­canny), lies a tough soul. Chau was raised in a fam­ily with three broth­ers so in­evitably their mas­cu­line in­flu­ence rubbed off on her; even her voice is quite deep for a fe­male. She reveals that she ac­tu­ally doesn’t like her “Big Sis­ter Na” nick­name, which has stuck with her for a decade. It’s a name fans have given her, so she is not em­bar­rassed by it, but due to the hi­er­ar­chal na­ture of the Hong Kong film in­dus­try, she finds it awk­ward when work­ing with sea­soned ac­tors or di­rec­tors who re­fer to her as “Big Sis­ter”.

Cur­rently Chau is filming a movie cen­tred around a Hong Kong women’s pri­son and the sto­ries its pris­on­ers have to tell. She al­ways ad­mires the spirit of brother­hood and the bond por­trayed be­tween men in Hong Kong movies but rarely does she see fe­males de­picted in such a way. We dis­cuss her be­ing a fe­male in a mainly male- dom­i­nated busi­ness and if she feels there is gen­der in­equal­ity, an es­pe­cially poignant topic given the re­cent pro­lif­er­a­tion of fe­male abuse sto­ries within the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try.

Chau is quick to com­mend Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch on his re­cent Hol­ly­wood dec­la­ra­tion that he re­fuses to work on any project where women are paid less than their male co-stars. “He’s so in­spi­ra­tional and valiant,” says Chau, her face no­tice­ably fill­ing with ad­mi­ra­tion. “I hope his re­spect for women is set­ting a stan­dard for the fu­ture of our busi­ness.”

On the sur­face, it can feel as though women aren’t mak­ing the same mark as men, given how few di­rec­tors or pro­duc­ers in Hong Kong are fe­male. This can lead to things be­ing some­what one-sided – and told through a male per­spec­tive. She as­sesses whether it’s more re­al­is­tic for a movie with a pre­dom­i­nantly fe­male cast to have a fe­male direc­tor.

“Not nec­es­sar­ily, but I think a fe­male direc­tor would delve fur­ther into the psy­che of women and show a side that is un­der­rep­re­sented,” she says. “In many cur­rent award-win­ning Hong Kong films, the fe­male pro­tag­o­nist al­ways feels like an af­ter­thought or sup­port for the male char­ac­ter’s sto­ry­line. I want to see more fe­male tal­ent in ac­tion and thriller movies, not just the mushy lovey­dovey films.”

Movies with an all-fe­male cast such as the 2016 re­make of Ghost­busters and the re­cently re­leased Ocean’s 8 ex­cite Chau be­cause th­ese were two projects she never thought would be adapted by women.

“I’m so thrilled that th­ese movies ex­ist – it means that there is a mar­ket for fem­i­nism.” And if a sim­i­lar move­ment ever hap­pens in the Hong Kong mar­ket, you can bet that Chrissie Chau will be the first to vol­un­teer for a role.

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