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Gin Lee

Hong Kong singer Gin Lee and Ronny Chieng of Shang-Chi film recall childhood in Malaysia after praise from Sultan of Johor

  • The platinum-selling singer and The Daily Show comedian were held up as ‘two outstanding Johoreans’ by the sultan in a recent Facebook post
  • This Week in Asia caught up with Lee, who spoke of her pride in her Malaysian-Chinese heritage and how it prepared her for moving to Hong Kong
A Hong Kong-based singer-songwriter and a Malaysia-born comedian who recently appeared in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings have spoken of their delight at being praised by the Sultan of Johor.

Sultan Ibrahim Ismail singled out Gin Lee and Ronny Chieng in a Facebook post earlier this month in which he said he was “very proud of two outstanding Johoreans striking success on the international entertainment scene” and thanked them for “bringing glory to Johor in their own way”.

The sultan, 62, urged artists in Johor to take inspiration from the pair and wished them continued success.

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Both Lee, a platinum-selling artist who has starred in the Chinese reality TV talent shows The Voice of China and China’s Star, and Chieng, who also appeared in Crazy Rich Asians, were born in Johor, a Malaysian state bordering Singapore that has been ruled by Sultan Ibrahim Ismail since 2010.

The praise appeared to catch both stars by surprise.

Sultan Ibrahim Ismail of Johor. Photo: Facebook

“I found out about the sultan’s post from my family – they were very emotional and jumping with joy! As there is some kind of distance between the royal family and the common people, we never expected them to know of me or what I do,” Lee told This Week in Asia.

Lee, who is also known as Jeanie Lee, said that as a Malaysian-Chinese – a minority in the multi-ethnic and multicultural country – she had felt particularly proud.

“Ethnic groups are exposed to different cultures – we consume separate media, newspapers and so on. So for the royal family, who are of a different race, to acknowledge me publicly, it was almost unthinkable and I felt privileged,” she said.

Gin Lee as a student in Malaysia. Photo: Handout
Lee began her career in Hong Kong in 2010, three years after graduating from Malaysia’s International College Of Music. Her most recent visit to Johor was in February last year, before Covid-19 cases surged.

“Growing up in Malaysia served as a strong foundation for me because I’ve always had to adapt. I went to a Chinese primary school where everything was in Chinese, then transitioned to a secondary school where everything was in English and Malay,” she said.

“They were completely different environments – the books, the language and everything in between. I struggled to communicate with my peers and it was a difficult time. But it prepared me for similar challenges I faced when moving to Hong Kong.”

Malaysia-born comic Ronnie Chieng. File photo

She has since released six studio albums, including the Platinum-selling beGin, and has plans to expand onto the international stage. She has worked with artists including London DJ Jax Jones, the “King of Mando-pop” Jay Chou and most recently, Hong Kong singer Jacky Cheung.

Gin Lee and Jacky Cheung during the filming of their music video. Photo: Universal Music

“I hope to expand my career beyond Hong Kong, to mainland China, Taiwan, or even back in Malaysia. My recent collaboration with Jax Jones was well received by my fans – it was refreshing and they wanted me to continue experimenting with other genres and artists,” Lee said.

She also hopes to collaborate with Canto-pop diva Sandy Lam, R&B musician Khalil Fong and Malaysian singer Siti Nurhaliza.


Marvel’s first Asian superhero film Shang-Chi premieres in Hollywood

Marvel’s first Asian superhero film Shang-Chi premieres in Hollywood
Chieng, who was born in Johor but raised between Singapore and the United States, thanked the sultan on Facebook, recalling his fond memories of Malaysia.

“I have so much affection for the places, restaurants and Bangsa Johor [‘people of Johor’] who have always been so kind to me when I was growing up,” Chieng wrote.

Chieng, 35, began his career in the entertainment industry after graduating with a Bachelor of Laws and a Bachelor of Commerce in finance from the University of Melbourne.

He started off as a correspondent on The Daily Show, a US news satire television programme, and co-wrote and starred in the pilot of a sitcom called Ronny Chieng: International Student, based on his time as a Malaysian in Australia.

Among the films he has starred in is Godzilla vs Kong. He is currently touring Australia and the US as part of his “Hope You Get Rich” comedy tour.

In a promotional video for the Shang-Chi film posted on September 16 for Malaysia Day, Chieng flaunts his Malaysian passport and says he’s still a Malaysian at heart.