Actress Myolie Wu’s mastery of Mandarin Chinese makes her a rare success as a Hong Kong star in China
- Myolie Wu is fluent in Mandarin Chinese, unlike some Hong Kong actors, and wowed actress Vicki Zhao Wei with her proficiency in Anhui dialect on a TV show
- In Hong Kong Wu was known as ‘queen of the small screen’ for her TV drama roles, but she quit them to marry and have children. Now she is enjoying a renaissance
For Hong Kong film stars who are native Cantonese speakers, a poor grasp of Mandarin has often been a big hindrance to their careers in mainland China.
Myolie Wu Hang-yee, who turned 41 on Friday, is among the few to have overcome this obstacle; indeed, she speaks a number of Chinese dialects so fluently she is often mistaken for mainland Chinese by audiences.
The actress and singer’s linguistic prowess came to the fore recently when she spoke flawless Anhui dialect while competing in a Chinese reality TV show.
Everybody Stand By pits 40 actors against one another in a contest to re-enact classic scenes from TV dramas and movies.
Hugely popular, the second season of this Tencent TV production was launched in early October.
Wu says she felt a lot of pressure joining the show, in which she had to re-enact a scene from the film Dearest, in which she played a poor village woman who unwittingly adopts two kidnapped children after she and her late husband are unable to have any of their own.
“I only knew of the character I had to play two days before shooting. [Mastering] the dialect was the biggest challenge, [but] I forced myself to learn it. I also kept watching the original movie,” she tells the Post.
The original character was played by Vicki Zhao Wei, who won multiple best actress awards for her performance in the 2014 movie. Together with directors Chen Kaige, Derek Yee Tung-sing and Guo Jingming, Zhao appeared on the judging panel and was tasked with coaching contestants in the show.
Wu’s portrayal of a wretched woman who has to part with her daughter after the police learn she was kidnapped awed the judges, with Zhao saying Wu mastered the Anhui dialect even better than her. Wu says she watched Zhao’s scenes in the movie so many times that she dreamt about the actress.
“Coincidentally, I didn’t see my son for the two days before shooting. [This separation] made me get into the role more emotionally,” says Wu, a mother to two boys.
Wu says she had no qualms portraying a physically unappealing character with sticky hair and an oily face. Being an actor is like putting on a mask, she says.
“An actor wears a mask when working. The mask alone is amorphous, it attains a form through make-up or costume. We shouldn’t mind [how we look].”
Wu began her show business career after winning second runner-up in the 1999 edition of the annual beauty pageant run by Hong Kong broadcaster TVB. She went on to become an actress and won multiple awards for her performances in a number of TVB dramas.
Known as “the queen of the small screen”, Wu’s acting skills and unassuming demeanour made her one of the top TVB actresses before she left the TV station in 2015 and got married. Recalling her decision to quit to study biochemistry at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, she says she has no regrets.
“The ultimate aim of studying is to get better choices when finding a suitable job. I am very lucky that I found the job I love having skipped [university when I was younger].”
Since her marriage, she says, her challenge has been to find a balance between work and family. “This is an unavoidable problem that every woman faces. I won’t complain. I will try [to do] my best,” Wu says.
Despite media reports that the actress went into a hiatus after her marriage and is now making a comeback, Wu says: “I never left.
“I just took a break after childbirth. I took only one to two months off after each birth. I am grateful that I recovered very fast. Being an actress is not much different from other career women who take the 10-week maternity leave [Hong Kong law requires]. I will keep doing jobs that suit me.”
While her husband, a businessman, took care of their older son (he is three) in Hong Kong, Wu took her one-year-old son to China – and had him in tow even when she was on set.
“It’s a new experience for me to bring him to work with me,” says Wu. “In the past, I was afraid that people would think I am not professional by doing that. But I made the decision because of the Covid-19 outbreak, which entails long separations [because of border controls].
“Although I need to do many things to take care of him, it is worth it, as I can hug and cradle him every day.”