HK Magazine Archive

Actress Joyce Chen Yin-hang Reveals the Dark Side of Hong Kong Showbiz

Those who know her will agree she is a hybrid of sex symbol and comic—perhaps Hong Kong’s answer to a latter-day Goldie Hawn. To her friends, she is the living embodiment of compassion, as demonstrated by her work with animal welfare groups.

Photos: Kirk Kenny / | Venue: Le Meridien Cyberport

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 August, 2016, 6:42pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 October, 2016, 5:21pm

I joined TVB’s performing artist training program in 1995. It’s a six-month crash course with half the time spent in the classroom on theory and the remainder on actual acting. My mother wanted me to continue my studies in Canada but I knew I wasn’t too academically inclined, so after I graduated from high school in Toronto, I came back to Hong Kong to join TVB. I knew when I was a little girl that I didn’t want to settle for a rigid 9 to 5 job. I didn’t want a conventional and unpredictable life. I was interested in acting at a very young age; I think it’s in my blood. 

I recall the training interview like it was yesterday, and how daunting the whole experience was. I was up against at least 10,000 other candidates wanting to jumpstart their careers. By the final round of interviewing, only 20 candidates remained, including myself. That’s the moment when I thought to myself: Wow, I made it! I was very lucky to be cast in a popular TV drama during my training. I played a teenage delinquent. That first role was memorable for both me and the viewing public—I got pretty good reviews. People felt I came across as natural and easy going.  

I understand how cutthroat the business can be at times. While other actors and I may find the craft becomes second nature, some simply do not make it because they struggle to flit between their acting persona and their true, off-screen self.  When I was young I thought that if I could polish and improve my acting, that would be all that mattered. But as I got older, I realized there are other factors at play: Besides having to deal with competition and building a strong personal and professional network, you also have to tackle a lot of unstated underlying rules. 

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Not many people know about the darker side of the business. I recall a meeting with a talent manager from the Mainland at his hotel. I waited for almost an hour in the lobby before calling him to clarify whether I was at the right venue. He asked me to go up to his room because he was busy on a conference call. When I arrived, he greeted me in his bathrobe. His room was dark with all the curtains drawn. Without even saying a word, I turned around and fled.

This regrettable encounter would only be the first of many over the years. At first, I was shocked and disgusted, but after a while you just have to ignore them and carry on with what you think is the right path for you. Despite the evidently seedy underbelly of show business, in some ways the darker side of this industry is no more unsavory than any other profession, and every person has a choice about which path to take in progressing their career. 

"The darker side of this industry is no more unsavory than any other profession, and every person has a choice about which path to take."

I don’t regret choosing acting as my career. There are different ways to achieve a goal. I may have chosen a more treacherous and longer route and others may prefer a less difficult one. We all have choices and I respect the freedom bestowed on each of us to choose what is best for us. Actors who have chosen what might appear to be an easier path might have made a lot of personal sacrifices. We don’t know for sure, so we should never judge. 

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Now I have more time off screen, I can channel my energy into other projects. In particular, I am passionate about rescue animals and have used my celebrity status to endorse animal rights and environment issues in Hong Kong. I love animals and cherish all life. We came to this world with nothing and go with nothing. I remember someone once told me: “None of us is getting out of here alive, so be nice to ourselves and be kind to all lifeforms.” It has become my motto.