Saturday, June 17, 2006

Bossy Drunk Woman - Florence Kwok

[3 Weekly - Issue 349 - 17/06/06]

Miss Hong Kong is here again and as everyone talks about the "Tsing Yi Fiona Sit", I tune into TVB's repeat of "Street Fighters" and "Men in Pain" in the evenings and see Florence Kwok.

She was also in Miss Hong Kong, the year, I have forgotten and I have few memories. She didn't win, but the crown she wears with much stability is that of a TVB artiste. You can't compare that with the winners like Michelle Reis.

When you take part in a contest, there are winners and losers and you can comfort yourself by saying that if you have lost, you can always start over again. Yet Florence's experience tells you: "How easy is it?"

Audiences are cruel, you can forget, but others will remember and remind you and even dig at you and insult you.

And so, she developed a love of alcohol. "I like to drink, but I have never been drunk."

If life is like a drink, then the first three years of showbiz life is described by Florence as a lager - tasteless.

After another ten years, as she began to taste the stronger wines, she ran away, thinking that she would find her fortune, but then she tasted the bitterness of whisky.

Unable to leave, unable to stay, a reality that cannot be changed - so she had to change herself.

The situation goes back to the drink.

New wines are never good to drink, there is no depth, it is bitter and if you leave it to one side, it will change of its own accord. When it starts to turn good, then you have to drink it up, otherwise it will go bad.

There is one thing that will never turn bad in this world, it is honey. She finds that the Florence at the moment is the best, so she has returned to TVB.

A Moment of Stupidity

Talking of Florence Kwok, you will think of 'evil woman', 'mistress', 'cool professional' or 'bossy housewife', as these are her usual roles. To put it nicely, she has made an impression on people, to be blunt, she has never had a major role. She will tell you that she has been in the limelight, as a hot favourite in Miss Hong Kong, she did not win, but this was not her fault.

Still in her teens, Florence graduated from an English High School and could speak English fluently, so a large international company offered her a job as a secretary, earning over ten thousand dollars a month. For a starting job like this, she was already above many others, so taking part in Miss Hong Kong was a moment of stupidity for her.

"I was very young then, like a lump of rice and I never thought about being a star. I remember I was passing the Star Ferry terminus and a modelling agency asked me to go for an audition, so I went along out of curiosity. Not long afterwards, the owner then said: 'I want to nominate you for Miss Hong Kong.', so my first reaction then was just 'Oh, okay!'. If you kicked me a little, I just moved a little with no opinions of my own."

With the modelling agency behind her, helping her with her make-up and teaching her how to answer questions, Florence was without fear during the competition: "At the time, I was so naive, I was in the clouds through the interviews, entering the semi-finals and the finals, I was not afraid throughout the whole process and so I didn't even feel anything when I didn't win. I just remember going to Europe for the location shoot, where the whole group of girls had to wear swimsuits in just a few degrees and dance in the streets. It was very cold!" What other memories do you have of the pageant, any gossip? She says: "The group of girls were a lot of fun. Anything else? I really don't remember." Is there really nothing, or do you just not want to say?

Taking part in Miss Hong Kong 1992, Florence had a little baby fat on her face, but a splendid figure.

Wasting Time

Aimlessly taking part in the beauty contest, unknowingly becoming a favourite and then losing for no reason, afterwards TVB asked her for a screen test.

"The screen test was also an acting test and I didn't know how to act then and it was absolutely awful, but I don't know why they signed me - maybe they could see I had potential. To be honest, from the beauty contest to the screen test, I was just taking each step at a time and I did not think about which path I would take but at the moment I signed for TVB, I started thinking seriously: 'Well, this is real, do I sign or not? Wow, just $6000 salary, that is less than half of what I earn. Florence, do you want to play? Oh, why not, I have plenty of youth.' I signed and drank watery beer for three tasteless years.

"In the first year, I did not have ten days work all year and it was so wasteful, I was just sleeping and eating or going shopping and the feeling was very downgrading. Even my mum couldn't stand it seeing me at home every day and she would say: 'Young girl, you could have had a good white collar job, why did you go and become a so-called star? You are wasting your time and your youth!' I knew that, but I was in a three year contract and I had another two years to waste away. I had plenty of youth, so I said to myself the more downgraded I became, the happier I should be."

Learning on the Job

After being useless for two years, Florence thought that the nightmare would end after another year, but at this time someone from TVB asked her to film a series. She had been thinking about this day for two years and having nothing else more worthwhile to do, she took the plunge and started filming.

In her first series, she played Wong Wai's mistress and faced with a chance to perform, she stared at this man who was so much older than her and thought: "Well, he is old enough to be my dad, how can I talk to him lovingly and flirt to him. I can't do this feeling, I could do it if it was Aaron Kwok." With her virgin performance not good, she thought that this would be the end of her, but she still passed and other work started coming in, changing her from 'don't know' to 'know how'.

In her ten years at TVB, she appeared in representative series such as 'Time before Time' and 'A Colourful Life', where she played bossy and spoilt women characters. Although she made an impression in the hearts of the viewers, every time her name was mentioned, people would relate to her as arrogant or bossy, but each time she played these roles again, she would feel that she has done well, so 'bossy woman' has become synonymous with Florence Kwok.

Hard to be Ordinary

Four years ago, Florence's contract with TVB ended and at the time, her sister was seeking someone to help run her business. Thinking about it and being kicked a little, spurred by a yearning to learn, Florence left everything behind to start again and be an ordinary office worker, thinking that she would no longer have to drink the same tasteless beer. However, this was actually a worse situation as she tasted the bitter whisky.

"These four years have been hard! No-one treated me as a normal person and I was ostracised and lonely. For example, when I went for dinner with my colleagues, and a waiter asked me for my autograph, my colleague would turn to me and ask: 'You are eating Chicken Leg Rice, I am eating Chicken Leg Rice - why is your plate so much bigger than mine?'. From their expression and tone of voice, I felt that they were a little afraid of me bringing trouble onto them."

Did you work hard to change this? "It is hard to blame them though, if I were in their position, I would think: 'She is a celebrity, she is used to eating expensive things and we just eat at the cafes. It will be too cheap for her, so let's not invite her.' or 'It is such a scene when we go with her, what will happen if we are photographed by the press?'. No-one would eat with me, so I had to eat take aways every day. I had no friends, so I was very alone and lonely." Loneliness can be borne, but when her clients recognised her as a former artiste, they would question her ability and this was the hardest thing for her to bear. "They would think I am still an artiste and just a 'vase', who is unable to do anything. The result was I had to rethink things again."

Hiding her Identity

Afterwards, Florence opened a restaurant selling lamb and mutton and with a celebrity owner, this should have helped with business and at least have people know her as the face of the restaurant, but the reality was hiding tears behind the smiles.

"One day, I had to go down and be a waitress and as soon as the customer saw me, he said: 'You look like Florence Kwok, no, you are Florence Kwok!' and then he would look around frightened to see if it was a candid camera shoot. After this, I realised that I would cause too much of a scene on the shopfloor and make my customers uneasy."

In 2003, Hong Kong was hit by SARS and the marketplace took a blow, but with everyone wearing masks, this was a slight release for Florence: "Business was bad of course, but when I wore my mask, I could be an ordinary person again. I was no longer Florence Kwok the artiste, I was Florence Kwok the ordinary person. I remember once, a male customer came and he said: 'Your eyes look like Florence Kwok, has anyone told you that you look like her. Even your voice sounds like her! I know her, do you believe it?" I didn't know him, so how could he know me, but I didn't point this out."

After a few days, the same customer came again and brought out a photograph. "Wow, I took a look and it was a photo that I had taken with him. He had arranged a stage performance for me, so I took a photograph with him. I still did not take my mask off though, so he didn't know I am Florence Kwok. I was afraid that if I revealed my identity, he would think I was messing him about."

Forgetting the Past

After four hard years of trying to bury her identity, as the lease to her restaurant drew to an end, Florence decided to return to being an artiste, after all this is the role for which most people know her.

"I can't be an ordinary person, so I will go back to being an artiste. At the time, I called Catherine (Tsang, TVB Production Department Deputy Chief) and very soon I was back at TVB. However, going back to TKO TVB City, my first feeling was that I didn't know anyone or my way around. Where is make-up? Where is the canteen? Wow! You can use your Octupus card to buy things - everything was so fresh! You could say that my return was a happy one, but the worst thing was becoming a spokesperson for a slimming company!"

At the beginning of the year, a magazine published some [rejected] photos of her revealing her pubic hair and she was so angry that she immediately terminated the contract with the slimming company: "I don't want to talk about it. The best thing to do is to forget about unhappy incidents." You can forget about unhappiness, but do you regret it? "You learn from every experience, like the four years I spent away from showbiz, they were tough, but it has enriched my life. When you are an artiste, you only worry about your own role, but in the advertising business, you have to do all the backstage tasks as well and it makes you realise how hard it is for the crew and I have learned to appreciate their work more."

Talking of her targets for her revival, Florence's expression changed a little: "None really! If I have a path, I will take it. Life has it's ups and downs and making the most of the present is most important." Before you learn to drink, you find alcohol is bitter, but when you learn to savour it, then you can appreciate the flavour. A good wine is like a good life, it has to have depth.

Three relationships

Talking about your thoughts over a drink makes it very easy to say what you want to, so it is a good chance to ask Florence about her three relationships.

Lau Siu Kwan: "This was dictated by the script and people's words are fearsome."

Director Chung Kwok Keung: "After I changed jobs, our circles became different."

Gordon Lam: "We know each other too well, we are good friends."

Talking of her career, she has spoken at length, but talking of relationships, she has brushed over it. Only when she talks of her mother does her real emotion flow: "In the past, I would not spend time with her and although she is still in good health, her age is getting on and has to make the most of the time to spend toegether, otherwise you will not be able to."

As I think of my own elderly relatives who are ill, I think of the time when they will pass away and I ask: "Can we not drink this bitter wine?", but this is inevitable. Although it is tough, we can still remember Florence's motto: Cherish those around you, Cherish every day.


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