A LIFE UNLEASHED
Some say she is still Hong Kong’s sweetheart but award-winning model and actress Kate Tsui Tze-Shan is more than just a pretty face. After being crowned Miss Hong Kong in 2004, Tsui has accomplished all there is to accomplish in the competitive entertainment industry. Now, down-to-earth Tsui is ready to show the world what she’s truly made of.
Hong Kong’s entertainment scene sees many beauty pageant finalists make it to Television Broadcasts Limited’s (TVB) circle of actors or embarking on a musical career, but not many leave a lasting impression. Who can forget Kate Tsui Tze-Shan’s role as a villain in the 2008 HDTV drama series, Moonlight Resonance — oh, how we all held a grudge against that evil character Lo Ka Mei! Now that’s a lasting impression. In spite of all our rancor, the role gave Tsui a career boost and earned her a well-deserved place in the top five Best Supporting Actress category at the TVB Anniversary Awards that year — the rest, as they say, is history.
“I enjoy any role that is challenging but it also really depends on the character, scenario or the genre of the film itself,” Tsui said. “Whether it is a villain or protagonist role, either one doesn’t matter as they are very different from one another — I’ve tried playing the innocent and extremely evil character, action and dancing roles, and even crazy comedy! Whenever a new role pops up, I’d jump on it as long as it’s challenging and I can use it to project a different side to me. There are times when being an actress can be really passive because you don’t get to choose your roles, but I’m grateful that people see me as a versatile actress. It’s important to have that because you get to portray so many personalities — be it in films or soaps — and that’s the making of a good actress.”
Fame and fortune came as Tsui gained more and more popularity over the years for her performances in films and drama series, but acting has a price tag. She was only 24 when she entered the entertainment industry, so as a young adult, Tsui need to make many adjustments to her personal life. “I guess not being able to sleep was one of them [laughs]! I love sleeping a lot and it’s a major part of my life,” she said. “It’s terrible, seriously! I’ve worked for three days straight without sleep and once, I even fell asleep in the shower.”
And to think we had it bad.
With 30 dramas and 21 films to her name, Tsui has hardly had a break from appearances in film and TV. She also tried her hand at music and released an album in 2009. “I’d gotten a call from my boss offering to have me make an album, and I went, ‘What? What are we talking about? I don’t really sing!’” she said. “But they insisted and believed that I could pull it off. When people say, ‘We think you can do it’, I would just do it because I trust their vision, and that is something I don’t have. Although there were guidelines to how they wanted me to sing and dance, it was a good learning curve and experience as a whole.”
Performing on stage and in the studio may have been startling additions to her resume, yet it is obvious that Tsui knew how to carve her own path in life. “I tried to enjoy singing; I don’t think, however, I had the talent for it — it was work and most importantly, there were fans that loved it,” she explained. “As an entertainer, it is vital for the fans to support you and your performances but if no one wants to see or like you, there’s no point to it at all. The same applies to me: if there are fans that like what I do, I’ll continue to work on it. Perhaps that’s my life’s mission — to entertain people and influence others.”
As you can imagine, Tsui’s 12-year career had her rubbing shoulders with some of Hong Kong’s best and most famous performers. And 26 film and music awards later, one man stands out above all the others … and no, it’s not a secret a secret lover!
“It’s great that I’ve had the opportunity to work with so many people during the course of my acting career, but doing films and soaps are so vastly different from the other. Unfortunately with films, you don’t get as much time to warm to your fellow cast members due to the short span of time you have to finish production,” she continued. “But I recall doing a comedy with Dayo Wong Chi-Wah and needless to say, he is the absolute god of comedy! If you know the influence he has in the comedy scene, imagine how much pressure I had, knowing that I’d be acting alongside him!”
“In reality, he is such a genuinely nice guy — he taught me so much on set, and that was a truly amazing experience. Although Wong looks very serious in public and off-camera, being his partner on set is an eye-opener. Towards the end of filming, we’d changed some of the script in order to touch the audience even more with our storyline and he was pretty hands-on in that aspect, to the point where he even ‘synced’ both our lines to make the flow better! You do come across actors who just care about how they look on-screen, but Wong’s not like that — he’s very proactive in making the partnership work … that’s the best part of it all. He’s such a good dai gor gor!”
Not many artists would be willing to give it all up, especially when you work for one of the most renown broadcast networks in Hong Kong and the region. News of her not renewing her contract with TVB shows Tsui possesses a very different perspective to life than her peers. “What is a comfort zone in the first place? I don’t even know what mine is! You know, all I did was win a pageant title and people just started asking me to act; I didn’t even know that I could act and that alone was not a comfort zone,” recalled Tsui. “I’m constantly watching myself to find out who I am exactly and what my life’s mission is — by going through different things, working on various projects or dealing with people from different countries, that’s how we grow as a person as well as find out more about ourselves. So, you could say that I’m still in the process of defining my so-called ‘comfort zone’.”
“Funnily enough, a lot of people perceive me to be ambitious — it may be because of my looks or something — but I am not; I prefer to go along with the flow. In fact, I didn’t join the pageant on my own accord. It was a friend who told me to and of all things in the world, I would’ve never imagined myself getting into showbiz,” she said. “Whether it is singing, acting or designing jewellery, I never really planned for any of them … they just came into my life!”
“For instance, my jewellery line started only because a company in Hong Kong initiated a collaboration after seeing a design I did for myself. Yet I didn’t feel comfortable doing something without knowing it thoroughly, so I went for a jewellery design course,” Tsui explained. “I would have felt so insecure, especially if people asked me about how I went about the designing process. I didn’t want to feel that there’s no substance to it — I wanted to draw out the designs or choose the stones personally so that I would be more confident or, at the very least, more convincing.”
Wearing one of her very own jewellery pieces at the photo shoot, Tsui could not be happier to share how she came across this exciting venture that has defined the next phase of her life.
“A friend had given me a book on philosophy and I’d picked up an idea or two from there. Whilst working on the designs, I thought to myself, ‘You know, your designs can either just look pretty, or be something that you like.’ On top of that, I thought of creating a jewellery line that would be meaningful for others as well as myself, hence the Rabbit-Duck Illusion concept that was incorporated to the collection’s overall design [Tsui’s collection is called the Rabbit-Duck Illusion]. The upcoming collection – which is going to be due real soon – is quite interesting as well; it’s about ancient Chinese scripts, so I’ll try my best to hurry it up [laughs]!”
On the surface, many would assume that it’s another focus for Tsui as her performing career winds down, but he new career touches the actress on a much deeper and personal level that many people don’t realise. “Through my jewellery, I want to share things that I have been inspired by. I do tend to overthink things sometimes, so the Rabbit-Duck Illusion reminds me that there are always other ways of looking at things. Even at the slightest difference in angles, things can turn out entirely the opposite or have a new interpretation altogether,” she explained. “So I’m really happy that nowadays, on social media, my fans tell me how inspired they are by the collection via their personal stories and I really am grateful to have that channel to influence or make people happier, in general … I think it’s an incredible thing to do.”
While still doing a little bit of acting here and there, Tsui has also been caught up with another important element to her life, that is the health and well-being of others and the Earth alongside the people who love her most. “I used to have gatherings for fans at different times of the year and we’d just take selfies and sign autographs, but I knew that I could do more than that!” she said. “Since my birthday last year, it has changed from parties to charities and one of them was organising fan trips to sea turtle conservation areas, where the experience was so amazing for the supportive fans! Although we were out in the scorching heat, everyone was having fun doing something meaningful and I wouldn’t have traded that for any other birthday gift. Since then, I’ve also been talking to a lot of my friends on how we can transform fan clubs into volunteer groups instead.”
Although her life is now balanced and complete, Tsui still has her little indulgences that make her squeal with delight. When we asked about little luxuries that she’d picked up during her stardom, she answered almost instantly, “Are you referring to my extensive collection of high heels [laughs]? Before I entered Miss Hong Kong or got into showbiz, I only had that one pair which was about an inch high — I was the girl who’d wear sneakers all the time, so I had no idea what high heels really were. It didn’t take long for me to get obsessed with them, however, because the higher the better! It’s really hard to have a favourite pair; please don’t make me pick!” she said bashfully.
With such a charming personality, we had to let her go at that one tease. Nonetheless, the team was curious to how she dealt with the pressures of the industry, even when it meant having perfect facial features. What we heard next only made her appear more like one of us than a famous, aloof actor. “Always make it a point to be yourself. When my contract with TVB ended, it was a period for me to recalibrate, to go back to my true self and do the stuff that I’ve been wanting to do,” Tsui explained.
“Of course, day-to-day work includes doing certain things or talking to certain people whom you don’t like — it happens everywhere, all the time! And for that reason, I decided to pig out by staying home a lot, doing movie marathons, travelling and, of course, sleeping … those moments have been the best! I think no matter what your job is, it’s important to step aside for a moment and know that the world is so big that you don’t have to pick on the small things in life when resources are in abundance. If you feel narrow-minded lately, it’s time to get away!”
Tsui has just completed a course in jewellery design in the United States and part her still desires to prolong her time as a student. “I wish I had stayed in school longer. I enjoy being a full-time student because you get to do amazing stuff all the time,” she mused. “Then again, if I went down that road, I may not have been in the entertainment industry today … things could have been so different!”
By now, the sun had set and the crew has packed up. But before she leaves, Tsui gives us her last thoughts on her life so far. “It’s about living life without regrets. I really wish I knew what was going to happen next, but isn’t it amazing to wait and see what unfolds?” she smiled. “Have little surprises in your life — in fact, the best way is to enjoy yourself in the moment, be happy everyday and look forward to what’s coming your way. I always say, no matter if it’s acting, showbiz or jewellery design, these little things have been delightful surprises in life! I don’t mind having more in my life but I would really love to do more community work.”