Actress Karena Lam Ka-yan says 'nasty' comments by French acting coach Philippe Gaulier have made her more determined than ever to succeed.
Lam recently completed a five-day workshop with Gaulier - the mentor of veteran actor Jim Chim Sui-man, who founded the Theatre Ensemble PIP School. 'He used a very nasty way to teach, but he was spot on when it came to identifying your weaknesses.
'He knew that I was too nice and timid so he made me growl like a lion, but I sounded like a kitten. What he tried to do was to coax out my most primitive nature,' Lam said.
She said her polite upbringing had hindered her career. 'He wanted to strip you layer by layer mentally, but I didn't mind being mocked in front of my 39 classmates, because I wanted to confront my own fears and I wanted to learn.
'Some of my classmates didn't come back after the first two classes because they couldn't take his criticism. I think many people have too much pride, too much dignity. But actors face fear all the time. The more they were afraid of facing their fears, the more Philippe wanted to break them down. He wanted to bring you to another level, to open more doors,' Lam said.
Her hard work paid off towards the end of the workshop, when she managed to step out of the shadows. 'Philippe asked us to play musical chairs. At first, I would give away to others, but after he yelled 'Be more nasty!' I ended up pushing him off the chair,' she said with a laugh.
Lam (left) said her confidence took a pounding during the five-day workshop, but that it boosted her determination. 'If it wasn't for that, being stepped on and making me feel crap, I think I would have given up easily. It was a wake-up call for me.'
A story Gaulier told even made her cry. 'He told a very simple yet beautiful story about going through a harbour tunnel from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon. He said in that dark tunnel, a few minutes seemed like forever - which was a metaphor for the long, tough learning process - but when you got out at the end, there would be something bright waiting for you,' she said.
The 29-year-old has had something of a roller-coaster career. By the age of 15 she was already a teen idol in Taiwan. She released her first album at 16. But her career imploded when she had a contract problem that stopped her in her tracks at 17.
'It was like that for the next five years and my next break was when I came to Hong Kong to make my film debut [July Rhapsody],' she said.
In the film, Lam played a teenage schoolgirl who falls for a middle-aged teacher (Jacky Cheung Hok-yau) and she won prizes for best new performer and best supporting actress at Taiwan's Golden Horse Awards in 2002. She has since taken on many roles, including Inner Senses in 2002 opposite Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing and 2005's Home Sweet Home in which she plays a psychopathic mother.
There have been times when she felt she was going nowhere, but she has no regrets about starting her career so young. 'The entertainment business is like giving birth to a baby. No matter how much you plan, you can never be prepared for that moment. It's not something you can do by the book. There aren't any shortcuts. If you want to grow, you have to get into that tunnel.'