“Aiyoh, you didn’t change at all!” shrieks Jin Yinji when she bumps into former actor Jason Oh (aka Qin Wei to folks who know him by his Chinese name) at Mediacorp’s wardrobe unit.
The veteran actress grabs him by the shoulders and examines him like a critical mother-in-law, which is a pretty normal reaction considering that most folks haven’t seen Jason Oh (even on the small screen) in at least five years.
If his name sounds familiar, that’s ’cos you had seen him acting in Ch 8 dramas such as 2011's Secret Garden, 1999’s Wok of Life and, of course, 1995’s The Dragons Five.
The drama about five dashing policemen was the ’90s equivalent of our current Eight Dukes and it comprised of Jason, Thomas Ong, Andrew Seow, Raymond Yong and Henry Tee.
On the surface, it seems like nothing has changed for Jason. He’s still acting (his next drama is Ch 8’s Fifty and Fabulous, for which he's doing the fitting for his character when we meet him for this interview).
He’s also 50 and fabulous. While some stars had fought and lost the fight with middle-aged flab, Jason still has his wholesome good looks. “I think my appearance has changed lah, maybe Jin [Yinji]-jie is just being polite!” he tells us modestly. “I think it’s important to eat healthy and stay positive.”
Which is why it came as a shock when the famously boyish Jason reveals that he had brought his 24-year-old daughter, Vanessa Oh, to Mediacorp today.
What? A 24-year-old daughter?
“She’s doing some screen tests for dramas,” he says. “She expressed an interest in acting, so I called up some friends in the drama unit and asked if they’re looking for [an actress] for their shows. I’m lucky that they want to take a chance on her! She went for a couple of screen tests and auditions for some Ch 5 and Ch 8 shows.”
Oh, and after leaving Mediacorp in the early Noughties, Jason also briefly became a monk, and now has a career as a full-time artist sharing his works on his Instagram page @jason_qinwei. “Whenever I feel like taking a break from painting, I go back to acting. I also did some short films in China over the years,” he says.
8 DAYS: Not many people know that you have a daughter who’s an adult now.
JASON OH: Yes, she’s my daughter with my ex-wife. She lives with her mother, so I don’t see her that often, only during Chinese New Year and other special occasions. But we’re still close lah. She’s my child after all!
She worked for some [theatre] productions and acted in some short films after graduating from school. I’m not sure what she studied, but it has something to do with theatre. Since she’s interested in acting, I thought it’d be good for her to explore that field more.
Honestly, I’m not really keen on the idea of her being an actress ’cos showbiz can be very tough. But young people are playful and curious, so I should let her try what she wants to do.
Have you remarried since?
No, I’m ‘married’ to my art! (Guffaws) I don’t think about [having a thriving love life], it’s passé. Marriage is not a priority for me. But I’m attached lah. I’ve been with my partner for over a decade now. She also works in the arts, and we have a 5-year-old son. We’re not like the typical couple. We prefer to focus on our art.
Speaking of art, tell us more about your painting career.
Painting is my main job now. I started doing it seven years ago, and occasionally go back to acting to take a breather ’cos I’m cooped up in my studio all day! I’d isolate myself so I can immerse in painting, usually from 8am to 5pm every day. It’s a full-time thing.
I don’t do commissions, but I [earn an income] from private collectors buying my paintings. A collector just bought five of my paintings at one go the other day. I paint mostly clowns, ’cos [my artistic theme is] 'Life’s a Joke'.
Each of my painting usually sells for about $6,000. But it’s considered cheap! Some of my artist friends can command $100k to $200k for their paintings. I do contemporary art, so I hope my paintings don’t increase in value only after I die (guffaws).
I have been interested in art since young. As a teenager I used to do part-time work painting movie posters for cinemas, back when posters were still hand-painted. Acting is a good way of expressing yourself, but you have to stick to a script. Painting is more fun. I derive more creative satisfaction from being both the ‘director’ and ‘actor’ for my artwork.
Interestingly, you’re 50 and playing a 50-year-old businessman with a much younger mistress in Fifty and Fabulous.
It’s a challenging role. I have a few love scenes with my co-star [played by newbie Denise Camillia Tan], and some scenes require me to swim and flash my bod (laughs). But it’s not awkward for me lah. As an actor, I have already done all these things. My partner doesn’t mind the love scenes since it’s for work.
In 1995, you did an interview with 8 DAYS where you said that you could not imagine being in your 50s. Here you are!
(Guffaws) Wow, did I really say that? I enjoy where I am in life right now. I have matured over the years and can think better for myself now. I wouldn’t go back to my younger days for anything. I’d have to relive my struggles and the heartache from break-ups. I channel this newfound maturity through my art now!
Fifty and Fabulous airs in June 2018.
PHOTOS: CHEE YAN