Karena Lam

AS SHE PRESENTS YET ANOTHER ACT­ING TOUR DE FORCE, KARENA LAM TALKS TO TAMA LUNG ABOUT FAME, FAM­ILY AND LIV­ING IN THE MO­MENT

Prestige Hong Kong - - CONTENTS - PHO­TOG­RA­PHY CK AT SE­CRET 9 PRO­DUC­TION HOUSE | ART DI­REC­TION SEPFRY NG STYLING CHRISTIE SIMP­SON | STYLIST AS­SIS­TANT AN­GELA LE­UNG HAIR HIN WAN | MAKE-UP WILL WONG

WARDROBE GIOR­GIO AR­MANI JEW­ELLERY BVL­GARI

KARENA LAM DIDN’T SET OUT TO BE RICH, fa­mous or – what one might as­sume, given her nearly 20-year ca­reer on the big screen – an award-win­ning ac­tress. A 14-year-old Lam was sim­ply hang­ing out at her mother’s restau­rant in Van­cou­ver when a Tai­wanese tal­ent scout handed her a busi­ness card and sug­gested she get in touch.

“I thought it was a hoax,” re­calls Lam, the sec­ond of four sis­ters who grew up in the Cana­dian city. “But that win­ter break, I went back to Tai­wan with my class­mates. She’d said to check in with her and then all my class­mates were like, ‘Go, go, go!’”

Lam went, was signed on the spot and one year later re­leased a record with PolyGram. De­spite spend­ing al­most 10 years in Tai­wan, Lam never felt com­fort­able as a singer. “I didn’t re­ally know what I was in­ter­ested in, but it wasn’t sing­ing. It just didn’t feel right. But [I was told] that’s the quick­est way to get peo­ple to know you, so I just went with it.”

Af­ter so many years as a “pup­pet”, Lam scored her next break when pro­ducer Derek Yee asked her to au­di­tion for a role as a pre­co­cious stu­dent in the Hong Kong drama July Rhap­sody. She AEew to Hong Kong, her fa­ther’s home­town, got the job and found a new call­ing as an ac­tress.

Now, 17 years af­ter July Rhap­sody swept the Hong Kong Film Awards with Lam win­ning Best Sup­port­ing Ac­tress and Best New Per­former, the 41-year-old is set to wow au­di­ences again with her star­ring role in this month’s thriller De­clared Legally Dead.

Lam’s suc­cess in the Hong Kong movie in­dus­try, which in­cludes more than 30 films and mul­ti­ple act­ing awards, is a tes­ta­ment to her hard work and ded­i­ca­tion, not only to her craft but also to learn­ing Can­tonese from scratch. “I’m still learn­ing,” she says. “But it’s nice to be able to pick up

“I COULD FEEL MY HEART POUND­ING AND MY BLOOD WAS BOIL­ING. I WAS LIKE, ‘THIS IS IT; THIS IS WHAT I WANT’”

Can­tonese over the years, be­cause once you feel like you can re­late to the words, then you can re­ally fully ex­press your­self.”

Be­sides a new lan­guage, act­ing also brought out some­thing in Lam that sing­ing never had. “I could feel my heart pound­ing and my blood was boil­ing. I was like, ‘This is it; this is what I want,’” she re­calls of her first day on set with di­rec­tor Ann Hui.

“Her way of di­rect­ing is, she doesn’t tell you specif­i­cally what to do. She just says, ‘Oh, the fram­ing is from this wall to this chair.’ So you’re free to move. It felt so lib­er­at­ing. You know the si­lence be­tween lines when your co-star is just watch­ing you? That’s what I en­joy most. It’s not only the words but the si­lence be­tween the words.”

Lam went on to film two to three movies a year af­ter July Rhap­sody, and be­came a reg­u­lar on the awards cir­cuit. But act­ing came so nat­u­rally to the bud­ding star that all the ac­co­lades didn’t quite make sense to her. “I re­mem­ber be­ing on stage Cat my first awards cer­e­monyE and say­ing, ‘I’m not wor­thy,’” she re­calls. “I didn’t un­der­stand what was hap­pen­ing. I just fol­lowed my in­tu­ition and felt like I was ac­tu­ally liv­ing a di ٺ er­ent life Cwhen I was act­ingE.

“When we still used film, I re­mem­ber go­ing to see the dailies. They have no sound, and I saw me and my co-star Jacky Cheung kiss­ing. I was think­ing, it’s so weird be­cause I re­mem­ber this hap­pen­ing just the other day and why is it on the big screen?”

It wasn’t un­til she’d com­pleted her 10th film that Lam knew she needed to step away and take back con­trol of her life and ca­reer. She de­cided to go to Paris for six months and study un­der renowned phys­i­calthe­atre pro­fes­sor Philippe Gaulier when he was work­ing at Jac­ques Lecoq’s the­atre school. “-very­one around me was like, »Are you crazy' This is the time where you can max­imise your chances and your prof­its. And you’re go­ing to take six months o ٺ to go back to the the­atre'’ But I had to, be­cause I felt this big im­pulse that if I con­tin­ued, I’d end up hat­ing what I re­ally love, which is act­ing. It would be­come some­thing that I hate.”

Lam used that time to learn, ob­serve and ex­plore act­ing in the safe en­vi­rons of the re­hearsal stu­dio. “You can go to the un­known and no one will judge you. You can just try a lot of things,” she says. “You see so much and it all goes into your li­brary [of ex­pe­ri­ences]. I still miss those days, and I’m so glad I took those six months o ”.ٺ

The next time Lam took time o ٺ was sev­eral years later, af­ter she started a fam­ily with her di­rec­tor hus­band Steve Yuen. The cou­ple took their two daugh­ters, now aged six and nine, back to Canada for a year and then re­turned to Hong Kong, where Lam took another four years o ٺ from act­ing.

“I wanted to ex­pe­ri­ence a lot of their »firsts’,” she says. “I wanted to be very hands-on. You know in Canada there are no helpers, right?” she says. “I’m breast­feed­ing and then I’m pump­ing right af­ter to keep ev­ery bit of milk. Then I’m hold­ing my baby and pick­ing up re­mote con­trols with my toes. But I re­ally cher­ish those times, be­cause if you’re go­ing to be an ac­tress, I feel like you re­ally have to live life. For me, those five years are some­thing I’ll never for­get.”

Lam first met her hus­band on an ad­ver­tis­ing shoot, but the pair didn’t start dat­ing un­til eight years later. Now they’re to­gether in more ways than one, with Lam star­ring in and Yuen di­rect­ing De­clared Legally Dead. It’s a del­i­cate bal­ance for Lam, who knows Yuen’s ev­ery move yet still wants to re­tain an el­e­ment of sur­prise.

“I de­lib­er­ately hide cer­tain things from him,” she says. “He’s al­ways keen to ask me how I want to do a scene. So he’ll pre­pare the cam­era block­ing and I’ll de­lib­er­ately not tell him what I’m plan­ning to do. That’s the ex­cit­ing part. I want to let him know there’s still so much more to me. Mak­ing films to­gether is so ad­ven­tur­ous.”

For her role in De­clared Legally Dead, star­ring op­po­site An­thony Wong and Car­los Chan, Lam had to trans­form into a par­tially blind woman who walks with a limp. Her prepa­ra­tions in­cluded vis­it­ing a casino – in Ma­cau – for the very first time, and prac­tic­ing the var­i­ous phys­i­cal el­e­ments.

“IF YOU’RE GO­ING TO BE AN AC­TRESS, I FEEL LIKE YOU RE­ALLY HAVE TO LIVE LIFE”

“I re­mem­ber I wanted to prac­tice the walk, so I put some weight on my left leg as I’m send­ing my four-year-old to kinder­garten,” says Lam. “I was walk­ing with a limp and I re­mem­ber her say­ing, ‘Mommy, what game are you play­ing?’ Then we were both limp­ing and her teach­ers were at the door like, ‘Are you OK?’” she re­calls, laugh­ing. “It’s so funny. This is for sure not your ev­ery­day fam­ily. There were times when I wanted to prac­tice hav­ing my left eye out of fo­cus and my girls would know what I was do­ing and what’s in­volved.”

Lam also stud­ied the women who vis­ited the small casi­nos in Ma­cau in the af­ter­noon: “Af­ter they lose their money or win their money, they go home and cook. And no one knows. I pre­fer not to get my ref­er­ences from other movies. I pre­fer to meet [real] peo­ple.” She also ate “a lot” in or­der to gain around 10 pounds and have a thicker waist.

But no mat­ter the role or the movie, Lam has learned to fol­low her in­tu­ition. Which means that no mat­ter how much re­search or home­work she’s put into a role, once she’s on set she puts that aside and fol­lows her gut. “It’s in­stinct. You do all your home­work and then you throw it away, right' I al­ways find that hard to ex­plain. Like you’re act­ing out your in­tu­ition. It takes a lot of prac­tice.”

When it comes to awards, Lam is sim­i­larly de­tached. “I’ve al­ways given them ei­ther to the movie com­pany or to the di­rec­tor, be­cause I don’t want con­stantly to look at the award and re­mind myself of what I once did. I let go of the past, but I don’t fan­ta­sise about the fu­ture yet be­cause I’m al­ways liv­ing in the present.

“Of course, there’ve been a lot of re­mark­able mo­ments for me through­out my ca­reer, be­cause mak­ing films is a beau­ti­ful process. You work with cre­ative peo­ple, and each and ev­ery one counts. It’s like this big fam­ily work­ing to­gether. As for awards, go­ing on the red car­pet, all that’s a bonus. It’s al­ways been about mak­ing some­thing beau­ti­ful.”

“I LET GO OF THE PAST BUT I DON’T FAN­TA­SISE ABOUT THE FU­TURE YET BE­CAUSE I’M AL­WAYS LIV­ING IN THE PRESENT”

SERPENTI BAN­GLE IN WHITE GOLD WITH EMER­ALD EYES AND FULL PAVÉ DI­A­MONDS; SERPENTI SE­DUT­TORI WATCH IN WHITE-GOLD CASE WITH DI­A­MONDS, WHITE-GOLD CROWN WITH CABO­CHON-CUT BLUE STONE AND BLUE HANDS, FULL PAVÉ DIAL AND CASE, AND WHITE-GOLD BRACELET; DI­VAS’ DREAM OPEN­WORK RING IN WHITE GOLD WITH AQUA­MA­RINE AND PAVÉ DI­A­MONDS; SERPENTI VIPER BAND RING IN WHITE GOLD WITH DEMI AND FULL PAVÉ DI­A­MONDS; SERPENTI VIPER BAND RING IN WHITE GOLD WITH FULL PAVÉ DI­A­MONDS BVL­GARI OUT­FIT GIOR­GIO AR­MANI

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