Contracts bind actress beyond reason, says writ

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 April, 2008, 12:00am

Starlet Isabella Leong Lok-sze is trapped in an unconscionable deal that limits her movements, hands up to 99 per cent of her earnings and all the rights to her work to Emperor Entertainment Group, a writ lodged in the High Court has claimed.

The 33-page writ is the latest move in an increasingly acrimonious dispute between the 19-year-old star and Emperor, which signed her when she was 12 years old.

Emperor filed a writ this month claiming breach of contract by Leong.

The actress-singer is counterclaiming that the contracts are unenforceable and contain unconscionable conditions. She also claims Emperor breached an implied term of the contracts by failing to act in her best interests.

Leong's first contracts with Emperor - a recording contract and management agreement - run for 10 years and were signed by her and her mother in June 2001, just weeks before she turned 13. She entered two other contracts in February 2003.

When she turned 18, she endorsed the contracts previously signed by her mother on her behalf. She signed a 'supplemental agreement' - extending by three years the original contracts - in November 2006.

The writ says Leong's mother was the family breadwinner and supported Leong and her sister on an income of a few thousand dollars a month. It further states that her mother was educated only to Primary Six level.

Leong claims she was forced to sign the supplemental agreement to avoid being 'frozen' - industry parlance for when a company refuses to do any work for a contracted artist who has fallen out of favour.

The writ says Leong's freezing came about after she shot to international attention in the film Isabella.

It claims she was advised that the only way to be unfrozen was to 'plead for mercy from the ultimate owner and person in charge of [EEG], Yeung [Sau-shing] Albert, by saying that she was completely in love with the company and was truly devoted to working for it'.

To prove her loyalty, she signed the extension contract and EEG began taking bookings for her again, the writ says.

It claims the contracts are simply too one-sided and onerous to be worth the paper they are written on.

Leong is seeking a declaration that the contracts are unenforceable and to have them cancelled. She also wants a summary of all contracts entered into on her behalf and control of those contracts handed to her.

A secretary to Leong's manager at EEG, Mani Fok Man-hei, said: 'We have no comment on this issue at this time.'

It has long been rumoured that budding stars are often signed to restrictive and long-running contracts - a practice industry sources say is justified by the investment needed to create a top seller. If Leong succeeds in having the contracts voided, it may set a precedent for other artists wishing to sever ties with their management companies.

Young find

Emperor Group has signed Isabella Leong to 10-year recording and management contracts

Leong's mother signed the contracts on behalf of the singer-actress, who is now 19, when she was aged just 12