While most women would give their right arm to look 10 years younger, actress Alannah Ong has found her looks to be a disadvantage. She appears to be in her early 40s but a query is met with a long silence and then a vague: 'Along the lines of early 50s.' It was this which caused the Canadian resident to miss the opportunity of playing one of the mothers in The Joy Luck Club. 'I was very disappointed and I said to myself, if I don't get this role, I'll quit.' But in the end, her love for acting ensured she stayed. A few months later, her loss was compensated when she was offered a leading part in the film Double Happiness. The opportunities have kept coming since, and her relentless energy has made sure she takes as many as possible. Ong is hopeful a new 20-part television series she is filming for TVB - Untraceable Evidence - will allow viewers to get to know her. It will be her first Cantonese-speaking role. Ong was born in Macau and moved to the mainland and later to Hong Kong when she was 10. At 18, she was offered a place at the Royal College of Music in London where she studied teaching and performing. Her return to Hong Kong after graduation marked the start of her performing arts career. She performed regularly in the Urban Council concert series for television and radio, taught music and the piano. Her stay in Hong Kong, however, was only brief as she emigrated to Canada five years later with her husband, Lance, an award-winning violinist whom she met at the college of music, and their two-year-old daughter, now also an actress. Ong signed up with an agent in Vancouver 12 years ago and got her first role in a television series called Secret Lives. Since then she has appeared in other series such as 21 Jump Street and One Hot Summer Night, as well as movies including The Accused and Friday the 13th, Part IV. She also took the lead in several theatre productions in Canada. Hollywood did not fall into her lap. 'Being Asian is still a disadvantage although they are trying to break away from casting Asians in their stereotyped roles of doctors and housekeepers,' she said. But Ong - who speaks fluent Cantonese, Putonghua and English, stuck to her guns. Although her performing career had largely consisted of musical forays, she always knew she wanted to act. 'Ever since I was three years old, I have always wanted to perform. I used to act out skits for my parents and dance in the aisles of movie theatres. I was in a world of my own,' the actress said. Ong has come back to Asia to work with directors in the region and to make a name for herself. She hopes her recent successes will boost her career in Canada. All this however, has been at a high personal cost. 'Coming to Hong Kong has meant sacrificing my students, money and losing a lot of work. Three days of work in Vancouver is the equivalent to one month's salary here.' She is grateful to TVB for giving her her first opportunity to work in Asia but feels the industry here is too focused on the young. 'Hong Kong society likes young faces especially those who have won beauty pageant titles. They churn them out quickly by giving them minimal training because they want to use them while they are still hot.' More time should be given to the young so their talent could be nurtured properly, she said. 'In the US, professional actors are trained even when they are working, but here, they seem to think on-the-job training is enough and it is not.' She understands the industry here does not have the same available resources to foster new talent as its Hollywood counterparts. 'Hollywood has the budget so it can afford the best of everything and it's much easier to produce higher quality work.' Her one hope is that older actresses can be appreciated in Hong Kong as they offer 'maturity, life and work experiences to acting and their characters are more enriched as a result'. These things, she said, a young face could not offer. Ong inherited the passion to teach from her father, a school principal, and mother, an actress turned school teacher. 'I was a born teacher and I love to teach and combine all types of art,' she said. Despite having taught acting for more than a decade, she finally set up her own school, the Greater Vancouver Academy for Performing Arts, two years ago. She gives private tuition and runs a film and television acting programme which includes everything from basic acting skills to audition techniques and vocal training. Some of the brightest young stars - Christina Paras, the leading lady in the Canadian production of Miss Saigon; Jennifer Barber, the lead in Body Of Evidence, and locally, Lee San-san, last year's Miss Hong Kong - have at one time been the benefactors of such an education. Ong also started an etiquette and image-building programme which trains mostly housewives in the art of good manners. More recently, she wrote a screenplay, Phoenix Of Dawn, a love story in China set 7,000 years ago, for which she is looking for international backing. The plot was inspired by a pendant she saw in a museum in Hangzhou 11 years ago. Another screenplay, Haku-ngatai, is underway, an autobiographical story of three generations of women who return to Japan to discover their roots. Ong should be more than satisfied with what she has achieved. After all, she has raised a family, has two performing arts degrees; acted on stage, TV and films; established her own school; written screenplays; performed piano concerts; and received the Queen's Silver Jubilee Medal for Distinguished Service in Music 1977. The notion of retirement brings a laugh. As long as her passion for the arts and enthusiasm for life continued, so would she, she said. Besides, she still has a lot to look forward to: at the moment, she is keeping her fingers crossed that she may get a part in the film Snow Falling on Cedars directed by Scott Hicks who directed the award-winning Shine. 'I am happy in a way that I have worked hard but I have achieved only half of what I really want. There is so much unfinished work to do and I feel as if I am just beginning.'