Mainland star Yao Chen open to new role after visit to Manila refugees

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 June, 2010, 12:00am

Renowned for her big mouth, mainland actress Yao Chen proved she has a big heart, too, after a recent trip to the Philippines to highlight the plight of urban refugees in Manila.

Yao, 30, made her name as the funny Guo Furong in the 2006 hit martial arts television sitcom Wu Lin Wai Zhuan or My Own Swordsman, and most recently in Lurk, in which she plays a spy during the Chinese Civil War. She made her big-screen breakthrough last year in the romantic comedy Sophie's Revenge, starring alongside Zhang Ziyi and Fan Bingbing.

Nicknamed 'Big Mouth' by the Chinese media for the size of her smile, Yao proved she has the heart to match after spending four days in Manila as an honorary patron of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

She travelled with Hong Kong and mainland reporters to have a close look at what the UNHCR was doing. A camera crew filmed her experiences, which will be screened at the Shanghai World Expo today to promote World Refugee Day.

'It was a bit frightening when I suddenly became famous, but I realised it also meant I could contribute and help in this kind of cause,' Yao said. 'China has been stereotyped as a place wary of refugees, so to see urban refugees in Manila helped me understand their problems.

'It was very informative and gave me an insight into their lives. I'd like to use my prominence as a public figure to raise awareness in China for these refugees.'

Yao was impressed by the refugees' perseverance and determination to fulfil their dreams and pass on their hopes to the next generation.

'One refugee said his son was going to college and he hoped he'd eventually become a senator or a congressman in the Philippines. The sky's the limit to what can be achieved,' she said.

Growing up, Yao said she loved watching Hong Kong films and that they had a powerful influence on her and the generation of actors that came to prominence at the same time as her. She listed Maggie Cheung Man-yuk and Tony Leung Chiu-wai as two of her favourite actors, but it was a Hollywood A-lister that she most wanted to emulate.

'Angelina Jolie has done enormous work as a UNHCR goodwill ambassador. She's so committed to the cause and has set an example for everyone,' Yao said. 'She's not just doing it for publicity. She believes in her humanitarian work and takes on the responsibility to help people. When the UNHCR approached me, I wanted to do the same.

'I'd like to give something back to society. Angelina Jolie has proved that it can be done. I'd like to be able to do the same and make a difference for the people that really matters.

'After speaking to the refugees and finding out what they've been through, it gives you the perspective you need for your own life and to also help get their voices heard.'

The UNHCR provides international protection and assistance to refugees. Since its creation in 1951, it has helped about 50 million refugees, earning two Nobel Peace prizes in the process.

In Hong Kong, the UNHCR established its initial presence in 1952. Its office was officially set up in 1979 to cope with the influx of Vietnamese boat people.