Loletta Lee, famous Hong Kong actress of the 80s and 90s, on her four-decade career, Drifting with Francis Ng and why she’s working again
- Drifting, about Hong Kong’s homeless, just scooped two Chinese film awards – standout performer Lee hopes more films like this can draw attention to social ills
- Looking back on her career, she says she was happiest when she started out in 1984: ‘My job on set was just to be beautiful and smile happily’
Drifting, a gritty Hong Kong film about the plight of homeless people in the city’s poorest district, Sham Shui Po, has won the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the First International Film Festival in Xining, northwest China.
“I found out they are no different from ordinary people,” she says. “They just live in a different environment.”
Lee, 55, says she admires Chan’s adaptability and her willingness to come to terms with reality. “Among the homeless people [in the film], she is the only one who is willing to work to make ends meet. I portrayed her willingness to compromise through my eyes and body movements.”
“The film didn’t show directly the miserable past of the homeless,” she says. “Only small parts of their troubled lives are revealed through conversations. For example, in the conversation between Chan and Brother Fai [played by Ng], Fai – when humming a nightclub song – mentions that many customers patronised Chan when she was younger.
“The audience get the implicit message that Chan used to be a prostitute. All of the plot concerning her past stops there. Li uses the same understated approach in presenting the emotional problems of each character. I like this because it gives the audience room for imagination.”
Lee says she hopes gritty Hong Kong films that show social ills, like Happiness (2016), Tomorrow is Another Day (2018) and I’m Livin’ It (2020), can draw more public attention to the welfare of those in the lowest levels of society.
Lee returned after a long hiatus from showbiz to star in ViuTV’s Showman’s Show in 2019, playing a former star who wants to repair her relationship with her estranged son. She began acting again because she wanted a fresh start after her daughter finished university.
“I still love performing,” she says. “I hoped, by working with a group of young people in Showman’s Show, I could present a different side of myself to the audience.”
She was nominated for best actress in the 7th Hong Kong Film Awards in 1987 for her performance in Final Victory, and won the best actress award at the Golden Horse Film Festival in 1999 for her performance in Ordinary Heroes.
Lee, looking back on her four-decade career, says she never felt like she had to rise to the top.
“I was happiest when I starred in Happy Ghost. I didn’t know anything, I didn’t carry any baggage. My job on set was just to be beautiful and smile happily. For Ordinary Heroes, I hope the audience feel that I had truly matured as an actress.”
Lee, in talks to star in several movies, says her goal is to keep working. She did not take part in promotional events for Drifting in June as she had been in mourning for her mother, who died recently.
“Being in a work environment will make me feel happier and stop me from having chaotic thoughts,” she says, adding if she stayed at home she would keep thinking about and missing her mother. “So I will keep active and be very hard-working at work.”