Showbiz is a hard business to be in if you’re a middle-aged woman, even when you have bucketloads of talent. It’s what makes Deanie Ip Tak-han’s awards for A Simple Life such an inspiration for other actresses who perhaps have been told once too often that they were past their prime.
“I remember when I first started acting I was told that I wasn’t young enough, tall enough and pretty enough to make it in the movie business. And it is true that leading roles are almost always played by young, tall and pretty starlets,” says the veteran actress and singer.
A Simple Life brought Ip and the Hong Kong film industry international acclaim when she was named Best Actress at last year’s Venice Film Festival.
Venice was followed by wins at Taiwan’s Golden Horse Film Awards, the sixth Asian Film Awards and the Hong Kong Film Awards, plus a slew of other honours.
Paying tribute to the 64-year-old for just A Simple Life would belittle the work of a highly talented artist who has given television and film fans many hours of joy through her versatility in bringing to life the many characters she has played, be it a middle-aged sex worker in Cream, Soda and Milk (1981), an anguished mother in The Unwritten Law (1985) or a wacky mum in Prince Charming (1999).
Ip started her career relatively late with a music album in 1969 before moving on to television work and, later, films in the ’80s. Like the rest of her colleagues, Ip had a pretty hectic run in the mad ’80s and early ’90s when Hong Kong filmmakers were churning out 300 to 400 films a year.
As film production numbers dwindled, so did the roles and there was a 12-year hiatus before A Simple Life came along.
Through the years of films and intermittent albums, Ip also gained a reputation as an artist with very strict work ethics and for sticking to her guns, even though she acknowledges that it might have made her less popular with her directors.
“I was viewed by some in the business as a disobedient actress who loves to play the role of a director on set. I am also not great at networking. I guess these are the reasons why I haven’t been offered a lot of work,” she says.
It was tough taking an enforced break, but Ip is uncompromising on the roles that she wants to work on.
“I would need to identify with the character or find a connection to her. If I don’t understand her behaviour, I know I would not be able to play the character convincingly and I would have to turn the role down,” says Ip, who kept herself occupied with yoga, hiking and taking classes at the Apple Store.
And, while she works on solo concerts at the Hong Kong Coliseum, she’s not waiting around for another A Simple Life to come around. The avid astronomer is planning to see the solar eclipse in Australia next month and hoping to fit in a trip to Iceland to see the northern lights.
“The freedom to enjoy life is what I enjoy most about life now,” she says.