HK Magazine Archive

Sara Lee Lai-yui Embraces Her Rebellious Side

The award-winning actor, singer and DJ has nearly 30 years of experience under her belt.

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 February, 2016, 10:06am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 October, 2016, 4:57pm

I started out in showbiz the same way as many others: through a singing contest.  It was organized by RTHK back in the 80s. There was no prize money, but that didn’t matter.  It gave me the chance to record an album and I got exposure through the radio station by hosting a morning program. The program became quite popular. In the early 80s radio was immensely popular for artists to sell their records. 

It put me into the public spotlight and very quickly I became a household name. It was then that I was approached by TVB and offered the chance to appear on [legendary variety show] “Enjoy Yourself Tonight.”  In those days the show had a household penetration rate of nearly 100 percent. Every family in Hong Kong watched it at dinner time. If you flew into Kai Tak Airport in the evening, you’d almost certainly see people in Kowloon City apartments watching “EYT.” Apart from TVB I also worked for ATV hosting programs and doing dramas, as well as hosting programs for Cable TV.

I’ve made more than 10 movies. I even won Best Supporting Actress at the Hong Kong Film Awards for my role in [Ringo Lam’s] “School on Fire” back in 1989. It was one of my first films and is still my most successful. But stupid me—I totally missed the award presentation. Halfway through the awards ceremony I ducked out to go to the toilet. That’s when the MCs announced the winner. I missed the chance to go on stage. When I finally got back into the main hall “Fei Fei” [late actress Lydia Shum] was shouting at the top of her voice, telling me off for missing my Hong Kong “Oscar” moment.

So now you know the Hong Kong Film Awards are the real deal. You just get invited to the ceremony. They really don’t tell you the results in advance! To this day I’m still kicking myself for missing that opportunity. I was stereotyped in most of the films I was in—playing a rebellious youth. I guess I was a rebel in real life. 

After my early success I thought that everything had happened too fast. I just wanted to escape reality and do something different, so I left Hong Kong to study in the UK. I spent two years there and it was totally satisfying because it was so different and I gained some fresh perspectives on life. Not to mention a total freedom away from the shackles of family.

"There’s still a rebel in me telling me I need to do something different."

It gave me a genuine sense of freedom. It was a culture shock, but in a good way, and I’m glad I had that experience. Everyone needs to live in a different environment at least once in their life. Otherwise you never get the chance to experience something outside of your culture or your comfort zone. When I returned to Hong Kong after two years, I managed to resume my career. I worked for Metro Radio in the 90s. I think I’ve worked for just about every radio and TV station in the city!

Then in 2000, my life suddenly fell apart.  After spending a number of years there, I was fired by Metro Radio. They had changed senior management and wanted to restructure the station. After losing my job I broke up with my long-time boyfriend. My life was disintegrating and bad things seemed to be crashing into me like a tsunami. I felt like I was drowning. Then I told myself: I MUST solve one problem at a time. First find a flat, then a job. I took time to think, to assess every part of my life—like they were puzzle pieces. I examined and reorganized every puzzle piece and found the best place for each. And voila! In the end I reconstructed a new “product”—like a new roadmap of my life.

Going through such a life-changing process is like being scooped out like a pumpkin at Halloween. I felt like I’d been put inside a washing machine. It wasn’t a pleasant experience, but looking back I now think quite differently. I think I am pretty blessed. I’m lucky to be always surrounded by people who are willing to help me and offer endless opportunities. For that I’m really grateful.

Now I’m at the stage in life where I’ve pretty much done just about everything. But there’s still a rebel in me telling me that I still need to do something different, to get out of my comfort zone. I still want to explore and find a different landscape in life, on both professional and personal levels. I hope I can find another runway to take off from—to lift my life to another level, another stage.