Carina Lau

Character building

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 10:54pm


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Veteran actress Carina Lau Ka-ling stole the spotlight despite the presence of other starlets at a recent fashion event in Hong Kong. The award-winning star looks even fitter than she did a few years ago and is possibly much wiser, too.

Last month she opened two shops and one nightclub in just one day at Yi Feng Galleria - a revamped heritage building across from The Peninsula hotel on the Bund and home of top luxury brands such as Bottega Veneta.

'The Bund for me is a place that fuels dreams. I feel very lucky to have my own shops in this landmark venue,' she says.

Growing up in Suzhou, Jiangsu, Lau always loved her weekend family trips to Shanghai - the metropolis just a two-hour drive from her scenic hometown.

'When I first went to Shanghai in the 1960s, people still travelled by tram,' recalls the softly spoken star. 'It was already a prosperous, vibrant and fashionable city, different from Suzhou. As a little girl, it had a great impact on me.'

Although Lau moved to Hong Kong as a teenager in the 1980s, her romance with Shanghai and the Bund lingered. For her 45th birthday in 2010, she threw a soiree at the then just-opened Waldorf Astoria and was one of the first to party in the renovated heritage building.

When she started a business four years ago - the same year she married actor Tony Leung Chiu-wai - she turned to Shanghai.

'I often go back to Suzhou, and Shanghai is in between. I have a lot of friends there and I'm familiar with the city. It's an international city, a bridge connecting mainland China and the rest of the world,' Lau says.

Hong Kong has been her home for 30 years, but she didn't always feel she would fit in.

'I was mesmerised by this beautiful city,' she recalls. 'When I first came, I couldn't adapt to the culture easily because I didn't know the language. Also, because it was a British colony, the culture was very different from the mainland's.'

And while Lau had wanted to do business in Hong Kong, the costs were prohibitive. Thanks to her stardom and celebrity friends, the business in Shanghai has taken off.

She began by investing in Muse, the nightclub, which opened in 2006. Now her company also runs a restaurant, and she has become distributor of Swiss watch brand Tendence and Italian fashion brand Giuliano Fujiwara. Muse became one of Shanghai's most popular nightspots, and she has since opened two more nightclubs.

Muse on the Bund, which opened on July 12, features a poolside patio on the roof.

The red carpet was rolled out for the gala night to welcome Lau and her celebrity friends from Hong Kong, including actor-singer Kenny Bee, TVB actor Bosco Wong Chung-chak, model sisters Kathy and Niki Chow, as well as mainland actors and models Sun Li and Lu Yan and actress Alyssa Chia from Taiwan.

Lau says that while it might be easier for a celebrity to start her own business, it's not necessarily easier to sustain it.

'It's actually even more challenging because people will focus just on your stardom and give you a hard time,' she says. 'So you just have to work as diligently and as hard as any other successful entrepreneur.'

Having been in the film industry for almost three decades, the actress says doing business gives her a different kind of satisfaction.

'Because it's a new world for me, every baby step I take gives me a lot of satisfaction. I've never before got this kind of recognition for my creative ideas.

'I'm learning as I go along. I'm getting better at reading reports now but when I first started, the moment I looked at numbers, I'd get a headache,' she says, laughing.

She confesses that the dimmed lighting and dull PowerPoint presentations at business meetings used to make her feel sleepy.

Six years on, Lau is proud of what she has achieved, but she remains pragmatic.

'Fashion, luxury watches and clubs are all things that I'm familiar with,' she says. 'I wouldn't invest in things that I wasn't interested in. I wouldn't even know where to start.'

Last year Lau won best actress at the Hong Kong Film Awards for her performance in Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame, directed by Tsui Hark and co-starring Andy Lau Tak-wah. Playing the fierce Tang dynasty Empress Wu Zetian in the saga's upcoming prequel, Lau says she has already 'taken leave' from her business. Filming begins next month.

'This is the most enjoyable moment in my acting career. I've been fortunate to have experienced a lot in my life so that I can better relate to the characters I get to play,' she says. 'I'm truly savouring each of the characters and going for perfection.'

Juggling her roles as a businesswoman, actress and wife, Lau says the key is to focus on one thing at a time.

'Whatever you do, you have to be devoted and not have your attention easily diverted. When I'm filming, I won't think about business. I'm fully into the character,' she says.

Being the wife of one of Asia's best-known actors, Lau says her approach to a happy marriage is in sync with how she deals with business.

'I've learned to focus on just us and not care too much about what others think of us,' she says. 'People have different angles on things. But as long as your loved ones know and understand what's going on, what others think doesn't matter.

'I don't want to put too much pressure on myself. At this stage of my life, I want to enjoy what I do.

'When I was young, I didn't want to lose. I was obsessed with winning. Now I still don't like losing, but I have learned to accept that it's normal to have setbacks, hiccups or simply misfortunes. It can't always be perfect, and you can't always have it all.'