It is 34 degrees Celsius outside and the Hong Kong summer is at its most hellish. But, inside the cool Grand Hyatt Hotel, it is clear Christy Chung Lai-tai is glad to be back in her adopted home. The Montreal-born actress has been in self-imposed exile for more than a year, in part because of a surprise pregnancy and marriage, and a post-natal regimen to lose more than 20 kilograms of weight she gained. But the new Chung, weighing in at a svelte 52kg, is raring to get back to work. 'I like the hot weather!' she exclaimed, explaining how she was stuck in an ice storm with temperatures dipping to minus 40 degrees in Montreal during the birth of her daughter, Yasmine, earlier this year. 'Anyway, I don't want to be a tai-tai and do nothing but watch television, look after the baby and go shopping all day. When I left last year to have my baby, I was at the top of my career. There were still things I still hadn't achieved. Besides, I really enjoy doing movies.' Chung has been a familiar face in Hong Kong movies for the past five years. She first arrived in Hong Kong as the Montreal representative to the TVB-organised Miss Chinese International Pageant in 1993. Then a business management undergraduate, she had entered the beauty contest 'for fun' because a good friend was taking part. She never imagined she would win the Miss Chinese International Pageant title in Hong Kong as well. Her plans had been just to get her degree and some day open a health spa. She made one brief appearance 'flitting around' while Canto-pop star Jacky Cheung Hok-yau was singing during a charity concert and returned to Montreal to carry on with her life. However, TVB spotted her potential and snapped her up. Her first screen appearance was 'starring' opposite heart-throb Aaron Kwok Fu-shing in his musical special. Her fresh looks attracted the attention of film-makers such as Raymond Wong Pak-ming and movie offers started pouring in. Her first film was Sting II, something she is not particularly proud of since she was still new to acting. To date, she has worked with Andy Lau Tak-wah, Cheung, Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Alan Tam Wing-lun and even new Hollywood villain Jet Li (The Bodyguard From Beijing). Chung realises now is hardly a good time to be returning to the Hong Kong film scene, with production output likely to dip below 80 films this year, but she is looking on the bright side. 'That's good in a way because it will give me time to spend with my baby,' she said. 'But by the end of the year I will have a couple of movies to do. The peak release season is always the Lunar New Year so I will probably be starting work in October or so.' The actress is also eager to explore another medium: television. Although she was brought to Hong Kong by TVB, she has ironically never starred in a television series. 'I thought this may be a good time to try that. I know it's going to be very tough [because of the hours] but now that I have a baby, I think I would like to reach the family audience and TV is the best way to do that.' Later this year she hopes to start work on a series to be produced by independent producer Wong for distribution in the mainland. 'It will be good for me because then I can practise my Putonghua,' she said. She feels her experiences in the past year will be a tremendous help to her acting abilities. 'I think I've improved. I have more experience of life in every way, physically and emotionally, so I'm more complete than the old Christy from last year,' she said. 'I can use those experiences and emotions for work. Even my personality feels stronger and I have more confidence in myself than last year.' For a while, Chung was not quite sure she could do it. She was determined to shed the kilos she had put on and holed herself up for intensive gym sessions for two months in Bali where her husband, sports consultant Glen Ross, was working earlier this year. 'I hit a plateau. After a certain time, I could not lose any more. I would look at myself in the mirror and be horrified. I knew some women got post-natal depression so I had to keep reminding myself to keep my spirits up. Luckily I had a lot of support from my friends.' Her worries were well justified - the Hong Kong media and public can be unforgiving of imperfections in their artists. Finally, a beauty centre in Hong Kong offered to sponsor her with their special weight-loss programme, after which Chung became its spokesperson. 'As an artist, the way you look is what you are selling so I guess that is important,' she said. 'Hong Kong is not like Hollywood. Demi Moore can have three children but here . . . This time, hopefully I can change things and make them realise 'oh, you can have a baby and a career, too'. 'We're approaching the millennium. Women should be independent. We are made to give life but we can do that and maintain our independence.' Being more conversant in English than in Cantonese, Hollywood would seem to be a natural destination on Chung's road map and, indeed, director Stanley Tong Kwai-lai had mentioned casting Chung in a coming movie. However, the new mother says she has no such aspirations at the moment. 'I'm not ready to move yet. I want to work in Asia and establish myself first. It's easier to work in movies here. Maybe later.' Chung has her eye on the action genre because she enjoys the thrills, but she says she is not going to limit herself. 'I think it's really cool when Michelle Yeoh kicks ass,' she said with a laugh. Naturally, her priorities have changed with motherhood. She, her husband and Yasmine have moved to a new home on an outlying island to provide a better environment for Yasmine, even though it means she will have to take a ferry to work when the time comes. 'I try to spend as much time as I can with her. When I start filming the television series in China, she can come and visit me on the weekends; it's only about two hours away. But my time will all be on my baby if I'm not working.' The entertainment pages are edited by Winnie Chung. Tel: 2565-2216; Fax: 2562-2485.