Friday, October 29, 2010

Karena Lam

Name: Karena Lam, 林嘉欣
Profession: Actress, Singer
Country: Canada, Hong Kong, Taiwan
Height: 163cm
Weight: 47kg
Birthday: 1978/8/17
Hobbies: Barbeque, Drawing, Reading, Online, Movie, Picnic
Karena Lam

Hong Kong cinema has produced its share of international stars. Bruce Lee, Jet Li and Jackie Chan may be first to come to mind, but the region has shown that it has more to offer than just martial arts powerhouses. Canadian-born actress Karena Lam may or may not find herself in the international spotlight, but in Hong Kong she’s built a promising resume over the past five years, starring in 10 films. Most notably, she garnered a best actress nomination for her role in Koma—a psychological thriller that explored illegal organ transplants and the darker aspects of human relationships—at the 24th annual Hong Kong Film Awards held on March 28th of this year (the award went to Zhang Ziyi—House of Flying Daggers, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and the upcoming Hollywood adaptation of Memoirs of a Geisha—for her work in the critically acclaimed 2046). Synthesis recently corresponded with Lam via e-mail and discussed her young film career and the ups and downs of working in Hong Kong cinema.
Karena Lam
You’ve made your career as both a film actress and a recording artist in Hong Kong and Taiwan, but you were born in Vancouver, BC. Had you always had exposure to Hong Kong cinema?
Up until now, I’ve felt that I’m not all that familiar with Hong Kong cinema. I know films from the ‘90s, but before that, not really. Sure, I’ve seen Hong Kong films when I was young through rental services or cable TV back home. For me, it’s pure family entertainment because my parents would watch them. A little closer to home for them, I suppose.
You were “discovered” while on vacation to Taiwan. Did you have any interest in being involved in films before that or were you more interested in becoming a recording artist?
At 15 years old I didn’t know what I got myself into. I think at that point I just thought, “sure, why not?” I wanted to start out as an actress, but my agent said the Taiwan film industry is tough. So, I started out as an recording artist with Polygram. I’ve become a film fanatic for the past five years.
What do you enjoy most about acting? What do you get out of it that you didn’t from performing music?
I enjoy the “moment” of being in character and on set with good co-actors, script, director, crew and environment. When you’re into a character and in the moment, it is a rush or an addiction. You don’t want it to stop. Sometimes I think it’s easier to be in-character than be yourself. Standing on stage and singing in front of a big crowd makes me nervous. I don’t know how to enjoy that as much, yet. You feel naked somehow.
How did working in the entertainment industry in Taiwan prepare you for working in Hong Kong?
Well, I didn’t work as much in Taiwan compared to Hong Kong because there was a break. I returned to my studies (completed grade 11/12) and didn’t work in this industry. I was waiting for a good opportunity and good timing. Time in Taipei prepared me spiritually for Hong Kong. Hong Kong is a city that works on a fast pace. It is easy to lose yourself. So, you must know what you’re doing, what you like and don’t like and stand for yourself.
Since you’ve also worked as a recording artist, how do you think that affects the types of roles you’re offered?
Actually, I think it the other way around. After I started acting four years ago [Karena’s debut film was July Rhapsody in 2001], I realized it has helped me with my singing, because I’m “in-character” when I sing. Every little thing I am sensitive with from the lyrics, to the tone of voice, the storytelling, etc. For instance, I did a musical soundtrack last November; in one of the songs, I had to portray many crazy characters. If I didn’t have acting experience I don’t think I could’ve done it as well.
Why do you think Asian films have started to make such a big impact in Hollywood? Is Asian cinema at all concerned with Hollywood trends, or does it prefer to develop on its own? Are you at all concerned with breaking into American films?
I think Asian films are noticed because it’s new to the American audiences. We shoot film with a different rhythm, different camera angles and different approach to storytelling. I think it’s good to develop on its own trends. I heard that one of my previous films may or may not be remade in English. I am happy, but I am in no rush.
How do you view the climate for female actors in Hong Kong? Do you think there are enough strong roles for women? How do you think roles for women in Hong Kong cinema compare to those in American cinema?
I don’t think there are enough women roles. Most films in Hong Kong are more focused on the plot, not their characters. In America, they have bigger market, finances, more time on their hands and so on.
How would you describe the film community in Hong Kong? I’ve noticed how a lot of the same names and faces pop up. Is the community really close or is it rather clique-ish? Is it difficult for newer actors and filmmakers to break into the Hong Kong film industry?
The film community in Hong Kong isn’t really that big. It’s either you have market value or you don’t (e.g. box office, big name/popularity). It isn’t tough for new actors to get in the industry, but to stay around is a tough one. You really have to give it your best and continue to learn, always.
Though you are of Asian descent, was it difficult for you to break into the film industry in Hong Kong being native Canadian?
Yes, it was difficult for me because when I came to Hong Kong four years ago, my Cantonese wasn’t all that good. I had someone read all my dialog on tape and practice everyday for one week before shoot. Now I can read and speak fluent Cantonese. I used to feel bad because I’m second generation Canadian Chinese; I don’t know my roots as well as my other Chinese friends. They are real proud and deep in their roots. Now, when I think of it, I have less burden because I don’t really have roots or long history before me. I can start from zero and be daring to make my beginnings.
Karena Lam
Karena Lam
Karena Lam

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