Sunday, February 11, 2007

[Express Weekly - Issue 438 - 11 Jan 2007]
Translated by Em @ TVBspace

Model Male Lead - Lai Lok Yi

For a Hong Kong Entertainment Gossip fan who does not really pay attention to television series, there are usually only two types of TV star who will rouse my interest:

1. Those with a negative image, who love partying, womanising, who have affairs behind their wives backs, who are arrogant, rumoured to have had cosmetic surgery or offer their services.

2. Those who hail from rich families - as the saying goes, hate the rich, love the poor.

But what about Lai Lok Yi?
Since entering the industry, he has not touched on any of the forementioned items. When his series "Hearts of Fencing" in 2003 brought him to notoriety, I was no longer in my youthful days. As a result, the time when he truly caught my attention was when he became caught up in the 'elder sister - younger brother' affair with Yoyo Mung last year. Then what kept my attention was when the story unravelled into Yoyo becoming linked with good friend Ekin Cheng and Lok Yi was found to be their matchmaker.

So I figured to find out more about the Yoyo-Ekin affair, I should go and interview the matchmaker. If the two people in question refuse to talk about it, then surely the person who brought them together would say something. However, Lok Yi had no intentions of gossiping to me and when he saw the three shuttlecocks I had prepared for the shoot, he raised a frown on his forehead.

"Still talking badminton? That's very outdated!" Upon saying this, he still took the photo to avoid any awkwardness. It was all my own intentions to talk about Yoyo and Ekin, because in his mind, as a male lead in television, what he should be doing is keeping a healthy image and perform well in his series. A healthy image is not easily built up (and of course gossiping about other people is not healthy), so there is no reason for Lok Yi to break his principles for this interview.

As straight and honest as he is, then the model male lead is surely a title that belongs to him.

You cannot blame Lok Yi for this. As an artiste, then whenever you meet the press and they want to talk about other people, then it is hard to face. Yet, there are too many people who want to know about Yoyo and Ekin, so as a reporter, it is my duty to ask at least a few questions.

Don't Say Matchmaker

Is it annoying? "I am used to it. There is nothing I can do. In this industry, this is what always happens. If they have any news, then I will get involved because my name is already in the dictionary.

"I have already clarified on numerous occasions that in a big group of friends, then it doesn't have to be me who introduced them. We play badminton in a big group, then why does it have to be me? It is just that I know Yoyo quite well, but they also know a lot of other people. If they have to write this about me, then I can't do anything about it."

I have also heard that they have already known each other from ten years ago. Lok Yi says a little impatiently: "How big is this industry? You can't now know each other. I don't know how long they have known each other, but they definitely know of each other and maybe they have worked together before. They have been in the industry for over ten years - how big is TVB City?"

Some reports say that this mutual good friend has to look after his friend's girlfriend for him, with Ekin heading up to the Mainland for filming, then people will automatically think that this 'good friend' and 'girlfriend' will be Ekin and Yoyo.

"Aii!" He sighs. "It is just what they write. I now choose not to respond, but people say it is a silent admission. If you respond,then they will say you are hinting at something. When you say that you don't want to comment, then they will twist it into a yes. There is nothing I can do, whatever I say will be turned around into admitting something and then they will say Lai Lok Yi this this this... I cannot stop them from writing it, so I just read it and leave it."

We leave Ekin and Yoyo and talk about his rumours with Yoyo. He describes this as 'just a laugh'.

"That time was even worse. We had just finished doing promotional work for 'Forensic Heroes' at Discovery Park and then we went to eat with (former manager) Sindy at a nearby cafe. After taking the official photographs, the reporters continued to photograph us and then twisted it into a romance between us. In the end we did not clarify anything, because from a news point of view it was okay and it was a bit ridiculous.

"Yoyo and I only got to know each other from filming for 'Forensic' and we are friends. As she is a very direct girl, she looked after me like a big sister looks after a little brother, after all she has been in the industry a lot longer and could give me tips in a lot of areas. So we saw the rumours as a promotional ploy for the 'Forensic' series."

Yoyo is like a big sister to Lok Yi: "She takes care of me and treats me like a younger brother."

His friendship with Ekin stemmed from working on 'Always Ready'. "Filming with Ekin, he would always give me advice and was very good."

The Road to Stardom

After talking about other people, it is time to talk more about Lok Yi himself.

Lok Yi graduated from the 18th Artiste Training Class in 2002 and before that, he worked as an accountant in a bank. "After six months, every day just sitting there facing a big pile of numbers and a calculator, calculating and calculating and just making sure everything worked out, I didn't have to move and it was very boring! When I saw an advert in the magazine for the artiste class, I sent the form off. At the time I was not looking to become a star, I just wanted some fun and not to be bored any more."

After three rounds of auditions,he thought he would be rejected, but one of the crew felt he looked a bit like [late singing star] Danny Chan and took him in as a reserve. "Even now, some people think I look like Danny, but I don't think I look like him at all."

After graduating, he played bit parts for nine months. "There were many series where I have been in the background. For example: 'Virtues of Harmony', 'Blade Heart' and 'Perish in the Name of Love'. The funniest thing was in 'Perish', I played seven different roles in one day. I remember the situation filming on that day, a whole group of us from the class were there and we had to stand at the front. The soldier on the top of the city wall was me, then the person shooting the bow and arrow was me and then I was also the guard at the bottom of the gate, then I was a villager. It was very funny. Those days were happy ones."

After this, producer Chin Kwok Wai selected him to play the role of 'Au Yeung Yat' in "Hearts of Fencing", raising his popularity and attracting many young female fans. Following this, he was given role after role and in 2004 was even arranged to join other promoted young male stars: Raymond Lam, Ron Ng, Bosco Wong, Kenneth Ma and Sammul Chan to become the 'Six Olympic Stars'. "That year we had to promote the Olympic Games and to do this, the company chose six young men. At the time, I had just finished filming for 'Hearts of Fencing' and 'Aqua Heroes', so I was very tanned and as I had done some fencing for 'Hearts', then they asked me to join and become an Olympic star, that is what happened. When I first entered the industry, I was not sporty at all and was very pale and had lost about 30 lbs."

Now I would like to have seen Lai Lok Yi like this.

In 'Glittering Days', he played band member Hui Wing Hong. "To be able to sing in this show was great fun."

2003's 'Hearts of Fencing' was Lok Yi's big break.

With five other young stars as 'Six Olympic Stars', Lok Yi says that he does not know the others too well. "I have still not worked with any of them in a series so far, so maybe when the opportunity arises, we will become good friends."

The Best News

Now, he has at least three to four series a year and he feels lucky that his stardom has been so plain sailing in the last few years. I feel that even luckier has been his lack of gossip and even his rumours with Theresa Fu and Race from 2R have quickly fizzled away. Even the recent rumours linking him with Emme Wong and their private date has only lasted two or three days.

"Those (girls) who are linked, then we all know that there is nothing, so we just let them say what they want. In today's showbiz scene, then all a man and a woman have to do is to step slightly closer to each other, then they will be linked in gossip and rumours. I feel this cannot be avoided and you cannot limit your friends to just other men and avoid the women, as this would be very hard work. We are all young people and maybe sometimes we will be photographed chatting, but chatting is nothing and we aren't doing anything else, so it is very normal. People will go out, have dinner and watch movies, but they can still write something negative about you. I really don't like that.

"If I really did want to find a girlfriend, then I will choose someone from outside the entertainment industry. If we are both from showbiz, then if we fall out, then it will affect the other person. We may not be able to adapt to each others working schedules and then it will be easy to link you with your co-stars in the course of filming, then you have to respond and it causes too many problems."

So if you are dating, would you reveal it? "Yes, I would. The audience nowadays are very accepting of artistes with other halves and I am an ordinary person, so it is only normal for me to have a partner by my side. You see Roger (Kwok) and Bobby (Au Yeung) are both married and their popularity has not been affected. Television artistes are a little different from film actors or singers and we don't need to hide our partners away too much."

As for his other negative press being near to zero, does he not worry about his lack of press coverage affecting his popularity? "Louis Koo once said: 'In this industry, no news is the best news.' I feel that is right. You may have a lot of news in a short period of time and always seem to be in the press, but in this industry, it is all about long term progression. Take Chow Yun Fat or Andy Lau for instance, they will not have a short period of a lot of negative press. Maybe you feel it is a little quiet for now, but when you have a good production or series, then other people will know if your existence and you do not need the short term news stories.

"At the beginning when my mother read my reports, she would ask me: 'Son, why are you like this?' Now, she is used to me being written about like this and will not call me about these things any more."

The Strong Sun Rises

Lai Lok Yi's original name is Lai Yat Sing [meaning 'sunrise'] - a name given to him by his father. "Maybe he wanted me to rise up in the world every day. I still use this name on my ID card because I am afraid of the hassle."

As for the name 'Lok Yi', it arose from a misunderstanding. "At the time I was in the training class, there was a form that had a section for a 'stage name'. I thought that every artiste had to have a stage name, so I asked a feng shui master for advice and he gave me a very complicated name with a lot of strokes in it. After that, I used this name for my work pass for TVB and I used this name for everything to do with TVB. After using this name, I felt it was okay and it sounded good. Although it was difficult to write and difficult to read, the best thing about it was that some housewives would see me and say: 'That's that Lai Lok Something. His name's really difficult.' Haha! 'Yat Sing' is still quite a good name, but it is a little ordinary. If I have to change, then of course I want something a bit stronger!"

Lok Yi grew up on a housing estate, his father having died when he was quite young, so it was his mother who brought him and his two brothers up on her own. Lok Yi is the middle of the three. Although his background is not a wealthy one, he is still proud of his good relationship with his family.

"When I was young, my mother had to work and look after us, so she was very strict. We were not allowed to go out to play at any time and she looked after us very well. Although the estate was quite rough, but at least my brothers and I did not turn bad and we studied quite well and had proper jobs, so it was okay.

"My mother has recorded all my series and no matter how well or badly I do, she still says it is very good. Sometimes, she will even force my brothers to watch with her and that is quite funny."

Now, I finally realise why the healthy image is so important to Lok Yi.

Best of Friends

Asking Lok Yi to pose with three shuttlecocks that had faces made me feel very apologetic. After all, badminton makes people think about Yoyo and Ekin. However, in reality, he does do other sports as well as badminton. "I do wakeboarding, basketball and fishing, especially fishing - it is great fun and very relaxing.

"Badminton, I will still continue to play as it is a normal sport. I will not set out to avoid anything and will not let one news item change a lifestyle habit that has no problems, such as going out to eat with friends."

As for his good friends in the industry, then there is more than Yoyo and Ekin. "The three of us are good friends, but there is too much focus on us and the news has made us into the recognised best of friends. I can't avoid that. Actually, I have many other good friends in the industry, Elaine Yiu, Patrick Tang, Selena Li, Bowie Lam, Wayne Lai, Kate Tsui, Claire Yiu... In fact, I see Patrick more than I see Ekin and Yoyo. I have known him for over three years and have been good friends all this time. If we have any problems, then we will help each other immediately, like when I had to sing, then Patrick helped me out and taught me to breathe properly and helped me to rehearse and keep in tune... "

With so many good friends, I should really have prepared a few more shuttlecocks for him to pose with.


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