Valerie Chow Ka-ling
BOOT-CAMP BEAUTY I entered the Miss Hong Kong pageant in 1991 out of boredom. I was studying law at the University of Hong Kong and I wanted a degree but I didn't know what in. The pageant used to be the most watched TV show of the year and even if you didn't have a title, people knew who you were because of the publicity before the show. It was like a mini-reality show. There were three months of press conferences and production work, which included location filming and dance rehearsals. It was a day and night commitment and a good introduction to the entertainment business - like a boot camp. It was definitely one of the most life-changing experiences I've had. I was first runner up but it opened doors for me, and when you've stood out on stage in front of millions of people wearing just a teeny little bikini, nothing can intimidate you.
ROLE PLAY After Miss Hong Kong I got offered a lot of jobs in the entertainment business. The first was hosting a lifestyle programme on [TVB] Pearl. I think most people remember me as the seductress/villain in Twenty Something or as the air stewardess in Chungking Express; I also appeared in The Blade [directed by Tsui Hark]. Good parts were few and far between but when I did get one with a good director, it was very enjoyable. After a certain point, I got bored, so I took off to the United States. I worked in Los Angeles but lived in New York. I felt that, should things not go my way - which was likely - at least I'd be staying in one of the best cities in the world. I did films including Phantoms, with Ben Affleck and Peter O'Toole. It was surreal sometimes.
MODEL BEHAVIOUR I joined the William Morris Agency and I got a contract to model for Revlon when Salma Hayek, Halle Berry and Melanie Griffith were also modelling for the brand. I enjoyed being a spokesperson. Being part of the Revlon campaign was very exciting, in part because I believe I was the first Asian model to have a contract with a major Western cosmetics company. It also enabled me to live very well in New York for three years, where I took acting lessons. In Hong Kong you don't pay your dues as an actor - you learn on the job while getting paid for it and becoming famous. It's scary.
FACE IN THE WINDOW In my 30s, I joined Lane Crawford, starting in the media communications department. It seemed a natural transition to me. The media knew me and I knew the media. I liked and understood the product and I thought I could apply my experience to the job. I went to them and they gave me a chance and it came to be a very important part of my life. I worked for the group for 10 years. I rounded off this experience as vice-president, marketing. I met larger-than-life individuals who left an impression. Highlights included working with [American filmmaker] David Lynch and [footwear designer] Christian Louboutin at Cafe de Flore, in Paris, and producing the first Guy Bourdin exhibition in Hong Kong. I am also proud of the fact that I'm well known in the fashion industry for producing some of the best store window displays in Central. I think more people have seen or admired my window displays than have watched my films.
ON BEING CONTENT I am an only child from an upper-middle-class family. My father is in property development. He's tough, correct, direct and self-disciplined. He appreciates film and knows what good acting and directing is. I'm not sure he was impressed with my efforts but he knew it was part of my life. My mum got very excited for me. She feels a lot of anguish sometimes because she thinks I could have achieved more during my acting career. But I never thought of it as a craft or something enduring; it was always just a good opportunity to appear in films at the time. There are so many talented people who didn't get the opportunities I did. I never wanted more.
BABY STEPS I've done the pretty-girl thing, I've done the acting thing, I've got married and had a child and I've proved myself in a career. Now I'm reinventing myself again. [On Thursday] I'm opening a concept children's store in Central, called Mama Kid. It will specialise in designer apparel, novelty toys and accessories. I love retail and I recognised there was not much choice for childrenswear in Hong Kong. My husband designed the interior. My daughter and husband are the most engaging and exciting people to have entered my life in the past five years.