They say the bigger the star, the bigger the entourage. Justin Bieber never travels anywhere without his rowdy bunch of adolescent-brained homies. Lady Gaga always has a posse of 10 orbiting in her solar system of weird. Mariah Carey’s entourage, large enough to fill out a plane’s Business Class section, includes a professional drink holder. What about Fann Wong, who has all but disappeared from our TV screens and this magazine’s cover for more than a year?
“I tell you first ah, there’ll be a lot of people accompanying Fann… very grand one,” David Gan whispers to us, beaming with ‘motherly’ pride. The celeb crimper, who spent most of the morning pottering about the 8 DAYS studio dispensing career advice to the crew and urging us to eat the char siew bao he bought, is bracing us for his beloved showbiz daughter’s new-and-upsized entourage comprising personal assistants, minders and managers from Fann’s new management firm. Catwalk, which also represents Lin Chiling, Ethan Ruan, Sonia Sui and Fann’s hubby Christopher Lee, is one of Taiwan’s top modelling and talent agencies, with branches here and in Hongkong and China. In other words, expect the entoura-geous.
True enough, when Fann bursts into our studio moments later — effervescently greeting everyone in her overwhelmingly chirpy, you-know-you-missed-me fashion — she’s followed by a herd of four who circle her with the attention and care of museum curators handling a piece of art. They bring with them laptops (which two of them would furiously bang on throughout the shoot), digital cameras (that would take countless behind-the-scenes pics of Fann), food and drinks (which this writer greatly appreciates), and constant chatter that range from ringside commentary (“Oh that dress is stunning on her!”) to declarations of love (“You’re too beautiful, Fann!”).
[ASIDE: Fann’s personal rah-rah team was also out in full-force at last month’s Carolina Herrera store opening in Marina Bay Sands where six of them flanked her in military-style V-formation while she glided gracefully through the crowd. And at the recent Star Awards postparty, her posse formed a human fortress around her, shielding her from the errant crowd with the precision of a Black Ops unit. Colour us impressed.]
Catwalk, we understand, is bent on making Fann, 42, an even bigger star in Asia. It’s clear that Fann has embarked on a new phase of her ever-evolving career, one where she belongs more to the world than Singapore. We shouldn’t be surprised: this has been the actress’ goal since she started plying her craft overseas eons ago. And considering Fann’s laser-sharp focus on the Chinese market in recent years — her last Ch 8 drama, On the Fringe, aired way back in 2011, while her 2012 screen output (two dramas and two movies) were all mainland Chinese productions — it’s about time, we say.
With Fann jetting in to, out of and around China — apart from spending three months filming in the deserts of Xinjiang, she’s promoting her new flick Runaway Woman across the country, and attending fashion events and work meetings — she’s become almost impossible to pin down now (planning for this shoot took weeks). In fact, David advises us during the interview, “You must talk more to her. It’s very hard to meet her ’cos she’s now a foreign artiste.” What Ah Bu probably means is that Fann is now like singer-songwriter JJ Lin and actor-model Leon Jay Williams. Stars, who though Singaporean, have high-flying careers that aren’t necessarily centred on Singapore.
Fann giggles when she hears that. We can’t tell if she agrees with it, or if she thinks being called a ‘foreign artist’ is absurd. She can be inscrutable like that. Those who know Ms Wong will know that it’s one of her most defining character traits, like her uncanny ability to light up a room with her girlish exuberance. So yes, Fann Wong, now 14 months older, and with a little more meat on her bones, is still Fann Wong.
It’s obvious, when speaking to Fann, that while everyone and anyone with vested interest in her has a meticulously thought-out plan of where her life and her career should be headed from here on, Fann herself doesn’t appear all too bothered about it. She doesn’t know what her next project will be. She doesn’t know when she’ll film another Ch 8 drama. She may or may not release an album. She still doesn’t know if or when she’ll have kids. Heck, she doesn’t even know which country she’ll be in next week. And guess what, she’s totally fine with it.
“All that matters now is that I enjoy the moment,” she proudly declares. And right now, doing an interview where we grill her on her life and career is the last thing Fann Wong wants. “Can’t we just chit-chat?”she whines, and then smiles, really smiles. “I give you permission to invent the story, okay?”
8 DAYS: Sure! Fann Wong has quit showbiz!
FANN: (Giggles) Uh-huh!
It’s been more than a year since we last spoke…
Yeah! Why is that ah? (Laughs)
’Cos you’re not in Singapore all the time!
Yah... I don’t think I’ve stayed in Singapore for more than two weeks in the past year.
Tell us how this new management deal with Catwalk came about.
I’ve had two managers for the longest time ’cos of my work here and overseas. But most of my work now is based in China so it got to a point where it became very stressful to have both. You get two different working styles, and sometimes there’s conflict when there’s a clash in schedules and other nitty gritty details. I’ve worked with Catwalk a number of times and there was very good chemistry between us. That’s the most important thing to have between a manager and an artiste.
So it’s safe to say that your focus will be on the Chinese market from now on?
That has been my focus for a long time. Everyone knows that. If you follow my career, you should know I’ve been working overseas for many years… it’s not like this decision happened suddenly. But Singapore will always have a special place in my heart. That’s why I filmed Loveshake (a Toggle telemovie which co-stars Zheng Geping). I had planned to take that time to rest but when they asked me to do it, I agreed almost immediately.
Some Singaporeans will think that you’re abandoning them for China.
That’s not true… and um, how is that my problem? (Giggles) I’m sure people who love me would want me to be happy and explore new markets. I’m sure it’s refreshing for them to see Fann Wong act with foreign artistes. And it’s not like I won’t act on Ch 8 anymore. It’s just that we have a different working relationship now. I believe that with the right script, it will happen.
You seem to really enjoy working in China. Usually we just hear people whine about how tough working conditions there are.
You just bear with it. Or you curse and swear. (Laughs). When you’re young, everything looks bright and cheery. Even hardship tastes sweeter. You bear with it all ‘cos you want the success. You want it so much, it makes everything easier.
Do you think you still have it in you to endure hardship like that?
You want to die is it? (Laughs) I’ve paid my dues! If I still have to go through all that, it means I’ve been walking on the same spot all these years. Certain rights and privileges have to be earned.
Most of the shows you film in China aren’t aired here so it feels like you’ve gone MIA. Do you sometimes feel like your efforts are wasted?
Of course … (Laughs) But it’s better now ’cos most of the dramas are available online.
Well, my mum’s always asking me about your whereabouts.
I can give her some DVDs! Or why don’t you teach her how to download? It’s touching to hear that ’cos it shows that people still love me and are looking out for my shows. It’s just too bad the shows don’t get to them.
Why is working in China, or overseas for that matter, so important to you?
How do I put this… I’m like a wild horse. Since my first day in showbiz, I’ve been very lucky. I got to release albums in Taiwan, act in movies in Hongkong … I got to see what the rest of the world is like. To be honest, I’ve never been the kind who can stay in one place. I like to work with different people. So yeah, I’m like a wild horse.
Does being a ‘wild horse’ apply to your marriage as well?
Eh! I don’t want to have to spend two days explaining to my husband ’cos of what you’re implying! (Laughs). No, it doesn’t apply to my marriage.
Speaking of your husband... He’s based in Taiwan now, while you work mostly in China. What is it like being in long-distance marriage?
It’s tough. Sometimes Chris will call me to say he misses me so much… I do, too. But I guess you can’t have everything in life. I’m sure we’ll have more free time for each other in the future.
Do you plan to move to Taiwan to be with him?
(Shakes her head) No… no plans for that yet.
Since you spend so much time in China, are you buying a house there?
Yeah. I’m looking now, and I hope I can find one soon. I live like a gypsy there! (Laughs). I won’t buy a car, though. If you’ve ever driven in China, you’ll understand why I don’t want to. I prefer to be chauffeured there (giggles).
Back to Chris. How often do you guys meet in a month?
Not even once sometimes. I didn’t see him for three months when I was filming in Xinjiang! We FaceTime every day, though. He was filming in Shanghai the past two weeks, and I happened to be there, so that was good. You know, if he stayed in Singapore, we probably won’t meet as much. Actually, I was the one who encouraged him to sign with an overseas company.
Did he have reservations?
He had been looking for an overseas management company for a while but he wasn’t sure about exploring an unknown market like Taiwan. But I told him, “You’re still young, so why don’t you do the things you want to do?” If he misses this chance, he might have to live with the regret forever.
Do you guys still talk about having babies?
Of course… But we live in different places so... Is it still part of our plans? Sure…
Aren’t you worried that time might be running out?
(Looks amused) Why? Why won’t I have time?
Is all this baby talk irritating to you?
It irritates Chris. He explodes with anger. When I see him get angry, I’m like, okay....[I’d best keep quiet for now] The funny thing is, when I whine to my mum, “(Sighs) I don’t have baby yet…” she’ll tell me to take my time. Our families don’t rush us, but there are some people who just keep hounding Chris. They’ll ask, “Eh don’t you want kids?” If he says, “we don’t”, they’ll ask, “Why you don’t want?” And if he says “we want”, they’ll say, “What you waiting for?” There are always more questions. He knows people are concerned... But it’s getting a bit… yah…
Next topic, then. I hear there are plans for you to release an album.
Thinking of it….
With album sales in decline around the world, wouldn’t that be a risky business decision?
It’s not about … Okay, my motive, if I release an album, is not to make money. I genuinely want to create new music for my fans. People in China are always asking why I don’t have any new albums. It’s really surprising to know that lots of people actually like my music! (Laughs).
Will your new songs be in the same cutesy vein as your previous hits?
What do you think? Can I still sing those songs? (Guffaws) It will shock Asia, okay!
Of course not! You expect me to tie my hair into two ponytails again? You must be mad!
Well, everyone sees you as being eternally youthful…
You can tell them now that it’s not true (laughs).
Are you scared of aging?
No. What I’m scared of is… ’cos of this supposed notion of “eternal youth”, I’ll end up playing the same roles over and over again.
So you think being eternally youthful works against you?
I’m not eternally youthful lah. It’s obvious, what. (Laughs).
Would you balk at playing, say, Kimberly Chia’s mum?
No. I met a producer in China recently who asked if I would mind playing the mum of a teenager. Even [Hongkong director] Clifton Ko has asked me that. But why would I mind? What’s most important is that the character is well written.
So it’s producers and directors who are scared of asking you to play motherly roles?
Maybe? Some of them don’t understand actors. When they think that we are scared to play a certain role, they are the ones who are scared. They censor themselves with ideas like, “Oh, maybe she can’t pull it off” or “She doesn’t look like a mother.”
And the oldest on-screen kid you’ve had is…
Someone in his 50s?
Playing a grandmother with special make-up effects is not counted.
I mean in your current state.
What do you mean by ‘my current state’?
Like Chris played Ian Fang’s dad in Showhand, while you played his sister in On the Fringe...
(Laughs) What can I do if they ask him to be my brother? Maybe it shows that Chris is um, aging gracefully?
You’ve been working hard for so many years. Have you ever thought of slowing down?
Well, I can now choose what I want to do. When I first started, I took on everything the company gave me. I thought being busy was good. For the past few years, I’ve only acted in roles that I like and I thought were suitable.
Doesn’t all that flying about get to you?
Oh, I dread it. It’s very tiring. More tiring than being on set, which is weird. But I like to work in China, so… no choice.
Are you trying to earn as much money as you can now so that you can retire comfortably?
It depends on which is more alluring, the script or the money (laughs). If I see a script I like, I will grab it. I’m cheap that way (laughs).
Do your parents tell you not to work so hard too?
My mum does. She said, “You earn so much money already, why you still work so hard?” Whenever I tell her I have to go to some ulu location to film, she’ll always ask me to just stay in Singapore.
And how do you reply her?
I don’t… she knows I like working. My parents will also ask me if I can pass them DVDs of the shows I act in ’cos they also want to know what I’m doing. That’s motivation for me… Knowing that they still want to watch my shows. Honestly, I have slowed down. I used to run. Now I brisk walk (laughs). But I’ll slow down when it’s time.
And when that will be?
I don’t know. It could be tomorrow. It could be five years from now. You’ll never know. Like I said, all that matters.