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Jelly Lin isn’t sure she’d be in show business if her Mermaid role hadn’t come along. Photo: Jonathan Wong

Is Jelly Lin China’s most reticent film star? An interview with director Stephen Chow’s latest muse

Award-winning actress puts her success in breakthrough blockbuster The Mermaid down to persistence and, despite her fame, she says she’s not sure what’s next or whether movies are for her long-term

Jelly Lin Yun doesn’t like to speak much in public. In fact, the 20-year-old star of Stephen Chow Sing-chi blockbusters The Mermaid and Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back couldn’t remember her prepared acceptance speech when she went on stage to accept the Rising Star of Asia Award at the Asian Film Awards in Hong Kong on Tuesday; she said little beyond courtesies.

Media interviews with film stars tend to drag on beyond their scheduled time slots, but Lin was apparently so efficient at dispatching reporters’ questions in the preceding sessions that our slot ended up starting 25 minutes early. Reticent and exceptionally soft-spoken, the actress talked to the Post about acting, Chow, and her ambitions.

You’re the recipient of the Rising Star of Asia Award at this year’s Asian Film Awards. How are you feeling?

Grateful. I’d like to thank [the Awards].

You’re nominated for best newcomer at both the Asian Film Awards and the Hong Kong Film Awards. Do awards matter to you at this stage?

I think they’re approval for an actor. They’re a kind of recognition for me.

Jelly Lin Yun poses after winning the Rising Star of Asia Award of the Asian Film Awards in Hong Kong. Photo: AP
What was your earliest experience with movies?

Arts school.

What did you like to watch most at the time?

Comedies. Because [they made people] very happy.

Did you watch many comedies by Stephen Chow then?

Many. Because when I was young, his films were on [television channel] CCTV-6 all the time. After I came back from school, I would watch them with my family during dinner.

Jelly Lin in Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back.

What are your favourites among his films?

Kung Fu Hustle and A Chinese Odyssey – I like both a lot.

Were you familiar with Hong Kong cinema when you were a student?

I’ve pretty much only watched anything that came up on CCTV-6. I seldom ever went to the cinemas.

Did you want to become an actress from very early on?

After I had experience with the acting profession, I gradually developed an interest for it. And then I felt that I could make it my profession.

Do you think it’s the right profession for you now?

It’s quite suitable for me, yes.

Where did you get your English name Jelly from? Does it mean anything interesting?

None. The name was chosen blindly.

It’s a much-told story that you beat out some 120,000 other contestants to take the leading role in Stephen Chow’s The Mermaid . Looking back, what do you think was the reason behind your success?

[Long pause] Persistence, I guess. Persistence and effort. I don’t care about how other people look at me; when I consider myself good enough, then I’m good enough.

If you weren’t chosen then, would you still be in showbiz?

I don’t know. I really don’t know.

Jelly Lin in The Mermaid.
With the success of The Mermaid , was it a struggle for you to suddenly go from being an ordinary girl to one of China’s most recognisable actresses?

At first, I felt that maybe there were some changes to my daily life. But now I’ve got used to it, it’s all right.

What was most memorable about filming The Mermaid ?

The sea. The seaside.

Have you heard the rumours about a Mermaid sequel?

Yes, I have.

Do you know if they’re true?

I don’t know, either. I’ve only heard [rumours].

Has Chow ever mentioned this?

I don’t understand Cantonese.

Jelly Lin – curious about acting but not sure what she’ll do next. : Jonathan Wong
You’re widely regarded as Chow’s newest muse. Do you agree with that label?

It’s okay. Actually [when he produced] Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back, he was considering other actresses; he came back to me only because he couldn’t find anyone.

Isn’t it incredible to say that he couldn’t find anyone?

It really is [the case] because he couldn’t find anyone.

Is Chow officially your manager?

His assistant is my manager.

What’s been the best advice he’s given you?

He said, “Lin Yun, use your brain.”

Do you sometimes not use your brain?

I’m sometimes afraid to talk to him. [Because I’m] nervous.

I saw your question-and-answer session at the New York Asian Film Festival 2016, where you said that you became an actress only because of Chow. Were you serious or was it a joke?

It’s also because I’m curious about acting – and I’m very curious about director Chow. I’d like to explore more.

You worked with Chow on The Mermaid , and then Tsui Hark on Journey to the West . What was the greatest difference between those two experiences?

Everything is different. [Pause] When I was making Mermaid, Chow talked to me all the time. And then for Journey to the West, Tsui gave me some instructions, but didn’t otherwise say much, and he just let me perform. Also, one is a contemporary story and the other is a period piece, so that’s also a big difference.

Jelly Lin in the fantasy film L.O.R.D: Legend of Ravaging Dynasties.
You also worked with Tiny Times director Guo Jingming on the motion-capture animation L.O.R.D: Legend of Ravaging Dynasties . What’s he like?

Guo is both the author and the director of the work, so he has a really good idea what his characters are about. He wouldn’t require the actors to figure out the personalities of the characters, because it’s all in his books.

Your first few films are all fantasies. We have yet to see you play an ordinary human being.

That’s true. I also very much want to play an ordinary human being.

Do you want to be in, say for example, one of those contemporary urban dramas that have proved quite popular in China?

I’d like to go back to school. This is a thought that I’ve recently had, but I’m not sure whether I’ll still think that after a while.

Do you mean going back to school in a movie?

In a movie, yes.

Would you say you’re a confident person?

It depends on what you’re talking about.

How about acting?

Every character is different. Sometimes it’d give me a fit, but sometimes it’s quite easy. They’re all different.

Has your confidence grown now that you’ve starred in several movies?

A little bit. I have a better sense of where the cameras are, now that I have accumulated more experience.

There are film-goers who think that you look very much like Shu Qi. Would you agree?

I’m very honoured by that comparison. Shu is a goddess, and I’m extremely honoured to be compared to her.

From your observation, is the China film market very competitive for actresses your age?

I don’t know the bigger picture, actually. But I realise that I’m a very lucky one.

How would you encourage young people who aspire to join the film business?

The most important thing is to do what you like best.

So will acting be a lifelong occupation for you?

I don’t know. I don’t even know what I’ll think tomorrow, or the day after.

Do you have any ambition for your career?

I don’t know that, either.

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