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Finding her own footing

Written by Sandi Panda ♕. Posted in appearance

Sunday July 2012

Despite powerful connections, starlet Jennifer Tse Ting-ting has to learn the ropes of the industry.

SHE was never an artiste until she was 25, yet for all her life, Jennifer Tse Ting-ting has been leading the life of a celebrity – not a surprise when your parents are Patrick Tse Yin and Deborah Lee, once Hong Kong entertainment’s golden couple.

In recent years, however, she was more commonly known as the younger sister of Nicholas Tse Ting-fung, the actor-singer who established himself through award-winning films like Beast Stalker andBodyguards And Assassins, and a fairly successful recording career.

In their early years together, renowned veteran actor Patrick, 74, and actress-host Deborah, 65, were the Brangelina of their time, attracting attention and dominating showbiz news with their every move. Even after their divorce in 1996, their family continues to be one of the most chronicled in the celebrity-obsessed Hong Kong.

A year after their parents’ divorce, Nicholas stepped out of his father’s shadow and became a star in his own right, crafting a career first as a Cantopop singer and later, as a bankable actor. The marriage of Nicholas to Cecilia Cheung Pak-chi, an A-list actress in Hong Kong until she was exposed in the Edison Chen sex photo scandal in 2008, further fuelled the media interest surrounding the Tse family. (The couple have two sons, Lucas, soon to be three, and a new baby, Quintus.)

Jennifer, who studied psychology at University of British Columbia in Canada – where she and her brother were raised – was the latest member of the family to join the entertainment world. She became a model one-and-a-half years ago.

And now, the Hong Kong-born gal is touted as the next Cecilia Cheung with her first movie role on the horizon.

With such powerful connections in the circle, one would regard Jennifer as a media-savvy, highly polished young lady who can do no wrong.

That was not really the case, said the starlet when she was in town recently for a photo shoot with fashion brand Guess and a meet-the-fans session at Pavilion Kuala Lumpur.

In a one-on-one interview with The Star, the long-haired beauty surprised by admitting that she hadn’t the faintest idea how things were run in the business when she first started out.

“A lot of people may think, ‘Oh, your whole family is in this business. You must know everything.’ Even though I was already 25 then, I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know how to play the game,” confessed the 27-year-old who took her time to decide on her career path after her graduation.

Don’t believe her? Jennifer cited an example when she committed what many would consider a faux pas at the initial stage of her modelling

career.

“The first time I was at a watch event, some reporters tricked me by asking me, ‘What’s the most expensive watch you’ve got?’ It was some other brand (not the one being promoted) and I just named it. It’s these little things that you’ve got to learn and watch out for. I’m very honest and straightforward.”

Now, that is an attribute she inherited from her famously outspoken mother – a well-known TV host before her retirement – said Jennifer.

“I think I am very much like my mum – I speak too soon. You know how there’re assistants or managers that should say these things for you? However, very often I just blurt things out.

“Never mind the politics in the industry, I didn’t even know the little things, like the fact that you could borrow clothes for your functions,” she added.

All this is going to change soon as Jennifer has just been signed on by filmmaker extraordinaire Wong Jing.

“It’s a very safe choice for me to sign with Wong, my parents’ close friend. If anything goes wrong, my dad would probably go, ‘I would take your head,’” she said with a laugh.

Of course, mention Wong Jing and one is reminded of the Jing Girls (the sexy female leads in his films). On top of producing crowd-pleasing fare like the popular God Of Gamblers film series in the early 1990s, Wong was also responsible for propelling Chingmy Yau Suk-jing, Athena Chu Yan and a then-unknown Shu Qi to stardom when he cast them in a string of provocative roles in movies like Naked Killer and Sex & Zen II.

Jennifer, however, is determined to steer clear of such roles. She is more interested in becoming Hong Kong’s answer to Angelina Jolie.

“I can be in his movies but certainly not as a Jing Girl. He knew that too. My first movie is not even going to be directed by him.

“When we signed, it was agreed that I would be more like Jolie, you know, the action type. I think the whole flying-in-the-air, hanging-on-wires thing is exciting,” she said.

What about the talk that Wong is set to groom her as the successor to Cecilia Cheung?

Maintaining that she was hearing about the “new Cecilia” theory for the first time, she noted that her sister-in-law was “an icon of her own”.

Currently, Jennifer is preparing for her big-screen debut in the HK$35mil (RM14mil) Bruce Lee: My Brother to be directed by Raymond Yip. The biopic on the legendary kung fu star follows the latest trend of pugilistic movies from Hong Kong that include Ip Man, its sequel and prequel.

Though it is going to be an action-heavy flick, Jennifer does not have any fight scenes in it. She plays Lee’s love interest and the daughter of the late Cantonese screen legend Walter Tso Tat Wah. Looks like her ambition to become an action heroine will have to wait.

“It’s my first movie and I’m nervous. I asked my father how the 1950s – his era – was like. And this is a biography on Bruce Lee in honour of him. So it’s not just me as other actors, especially Aarif Lee (who is cast as Bruce Lee in the film), also face a lot of pressure. Aarif has to be Bruce Lee but not to overdo it because there’re a lot of things out there about the hero that people know,” she said of her co-star, who bagged Best New Performer at the recent Hong Kong Film Awards for his performance in the heartwarming and multiple-award-winning Echoes Of The Rainbow.

Shooting starts this month but Jennifer has yet to receive the script, which will be in Chinese.

“I’m kind of anxious because I can only read, like, 300 characters in Chinese. My makeup artiste said my Chinese level was like a five-year-old’s! So I need somebody to read it for me,” she revealed.

It came as no surprise that the English-educated Jennifer worships American actor Johnny Depp and Australian Cate Blanchett.

“I really admire Johnny Depp. He’s very versatile, he’s a chameleon,” she said. “In every movie, his character always stands out. He played Captain Jack Sparrow (in the Pirates Of The Caribbean movies) magnificently. I also love Cate Blanchett, another chameleon. And I like Al Pacino too.”

Versatility is something she aspires to but just don’t expect her to follow in her brother’s footsteps in becoming a singer.

“I don’t like performing solo. Every time I watch a concert or see someone on stage by themselves, it amazes me. You know, there’re like 10,000 pairs of eyes on you – and you are alone. It’s crazy. You have to be born with it or be really comfortable with it. I can’t. I would probably wet my pants,” said Jennifer.

What about co-starring with Nicholas in a film?

“I don’t think I will pass it up. There’re more reasons to say yes than to say no, unless it’s a role that requires me to be his girlfriend or something, which would be impossible (laughs). It would be great to work with him or my dad or my mum,” she said, heaping praise on Nicholas’ most recent work, Bodyguards And Assassins, where he ditched his good looks to play an ordinary rickshaw puller. The performance earned him Best Supporting Actor at this year’s 29th Hong Kong Film Awards.

In real life, Nicholas, 29, is far from the cool, mean persona he portrays on screen, revealed Little Sister.

“He has this side that he never shows publicly – acting like a child, doing silly things, running around. He is especially funny when he is being daft. We always talk about irreverent things,” said Jennifer, smiling.

She gave a peek into the married life of Nicholas and Cecilia. “Family is the most important for him right now,” she said of the man who resolutely stood behind his wife after the sex photo scandal broke.

Jennifer also could not resist talking about nephew Lucas, who bears a striking resemblance to his dad.

“There was once when I was playing with Lucas and I felt like I was playing with Nick when we were young. They look identical. It was a surreal feeling,” said the lass whose family remains close-knit even after her parents’ break-up.

While Nicholas has settled down, Jennifer is dating Hong Kong-based Chinese American actor Andy On Chi-kit. During these two years they have been together, the couple have on several occasions openly declared their love for each other, sparking rumours of marriage.

“We do have a plan for our future but right now, both of us are focusing on our work,” said Jennifer, who described her 33-year-old beau as “kind, thoughtful and the perfect boyfriend”.

However, like every aspect of her life, their fairy-tale romance has become fodder for gossip rags and tabloids – not a new thing for Jennifer, who has practically been living under the limelight since she was born.

Still, that does not mean that she has grown immune to the glaring spotlight of the paparazzi.

“I don’t think it’s something you’d ever get used to. It’s a strange and unnatural feeling. I can be in a cafe and they just videotape me having my lunch. You don’t get used to that.

“I can be rather impulsive like my mother and brother. So I have to control my temper. I know they might trick us to get a certain reaction. I’ve learnt to handle it.

“Even as you plead, ‘Don’t take my pictures,’ they’d do it anyway. My dad told me, ‘They are going to take pictures of you regardless of whether you smile or not, so why don’t you smile?’” she said.

Well, one thing that helps is that she does not read Chinese, so she will never fully know what’s written about her.

“Normally, I’ll just check out the pictures to see whether I look good or not,” she quipped.

Losing her privacy may be the downside of being a celebrity but for the model and up-and-coming actress, she can always count on her famous family for their full support.

 

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