Geat interview at Time Out HK!! she is one of the most unique artists in Asia http://www.timeout.com.hk/feature-stories/features/53116/style-icon-karen-mok.htmlStyle Icon Karen MokPosted: 12 Sep 2012
Karen Mok has been breaking the mould for what a Chinese celebrity should be for years. The fashion muse, actress, singer-songwriter and newlywed sits down with Janice Jann to dissect her unconventional appeal and approach to life. Portraits by Calvin Sit
Since Karen Mok burst on to Hong Kong’s entertainment scene in the early 90s, she’s never really fit the mould of a typical Cantopop starlet. “At the very beginning, when I first started in show-business, everything was more conservative,” recalls the 42-year-old actress and singer-songwriter. “I was literally forced to wear some really ‘princessy’ outfits. That was kind of the way everyone did it. We did that for a split second but then even the studio figured that it didn’t really suit me.”
Since those early days, Mok, who is of Chinese, Welsh, Iranian and German descent, has gone on to etch out a strong public image
as a fun-loving free-spirit who is just as comfortable rolling around in a thigh-high suede mini-dress while sporting voluminous curls in a photo shoot as she is playing a gold-plated, buck-toothed, lazy-eyed sidekick (as she did opposite Stephen Chow in 1996’s God of Cookery). Mok’s unconventionality has paid off as her film and music careers have skyrocketed over the years – and the entertainer has raked in nominations, awards and accolades (including three Golden Melody Awards from Taiwan and a Hong Kong Film Award for her role in 1996’s Fallen Angel).
And fans of the entertainment industry aren’t the only ones who adore Mok. Single women view her as the cute-girl-next-door they can relate to. Straight men think she’s one sexy badass who’s at home hanging out with the guys. Gay men love her charming on-stage persona. Designers call her their ‘muse’ and all sorts of leading brands want her to represent them.
So what is it? Is it those legs – long, lean and tanned? Is it that voice – deep, throaty and husky with a British twang? Or is it the laugh –
a hearty chuckle that shows off her dimples and beaming smile? What exactly is this appeal that has created a 20-plus-year career which is still going strong? In between wrapping up her new film, the Keenu Reeves-helmed Man of Tai Chi, which is released next year, and prepping up her forthcoming new album, Mok glams up and sits down with Time Out to help us get to the bottom of what makes up this unconventional ‘Mok factor’.When we discussed who we would love to be our cover star for this ‘style issue’, Karen Mok was firmly at the top of the list. Seriously.
Good choice! [Laughs]How do you feel about being called a fashionista?
I have no idea why people call me that. I don’t really think so much about it. I think the way to do it is not to follow the so-called trends. Because then you’re just copying what others dictate. Having your own style is very important. Be yourself and wear something that makes you shine. That will make you stand out and not look like everyone else on the street. I always do what I feel like. I don’t follow what everyone else tells me to do.Can you help us define this ‘Mok factor’?
I think it’s based partly on my own personality. I just enjoy trying things out which appear to be fun. I like to be adventurous in fashion. I encourage people to try things out and not be timid because they think ‘ooh, no-one else has worn it’. Whatever! Fashion should be fun. It should be whatever takes your fancy. It’s only when you try something out that you know if it suits you.Any fun fashion memories?
Oh my goodness! So many! Especially during my university days in London. In London, nobody cares what you wear. You see all sorts of people dressed in all sorts of ways. And I used to grab all of my mum’s old qipaos. She had tons of them. She was always wearing all sorts of qipaos and I would be fascinated by them because they were so beautiful. Sometimes I would cut them short and turn them into mini-qipaos. That was blasphemy for my mum. Or I would wear funky Doc Martens boots with them. I like that sort of style. It’s unpredictable when you put different things together to create a contrast.Your good friend Johanna Ho has said this: “The reason I say Karen’s my muse is not just her look or her body, it’s her character – and that reflects my theory of design.” Would you agree with her?
Yes, it’s got a lot to do with your personality. You’re a person, not a mannequin. You have to wear things that suit you and not just hang different things on your body.Why do you think designers and labels want to work with you?
Maybe it’s the different things I’ve done and the image I’ve put out to people.Was this a conscious effort to put a certain type of image out to people?
To me, the big thing to do is to have fun. So, from the songs I sing to the clothes I wear, I get to have fun doing it. If it’s not fun, I can’t be bothered. [Laughs]A major point on fashion is that it’s about self-expression, as with music. What’s the relation between your fashion and your music?
Everything’s part of the act on stage. Depending on what you wear and how you carry yourself, when it becomes a bit more complicated, everything just has to fall into place. If you’re doing a sensual dance, you have to dress sensually to go into it. Everything counts just so you can create one atmosphere.How much input do you have in expressing that image to the public?
[I get] full input. It’s difficult to separate into categories. Everything’s intertwined. You have to figure out everything here [points to head] in one go. Ever since I started doing my own concerts, I’ve been the person behind the creative process.A lot of people say Hong Kong’s music industry is packaged and systematic. Have you ever had any conflicts with this idea and your style?
I’ve been really quite lucky. [A packaged, systematic approach] was only at the beginning and we quickly scrapped that. You can tell that
if something wasn’t working, there was no way you could force it down my throat. After they
tried to set me up in this princess image, I completely went the other way. It was during the time of the grunge look and I went completely 180-degrees in these platform heels and big necklaces and no-one dressed like that in Hong Kong at the time. When I walked down the street, people would literally be gawking at me like ‘where did that come from?’ But I had fun. I
stood out. You have to stand out – especially in show-business.So what stage in your evolution are you at now?
My next big project is my first English album and it’s jazz. This has been my dream for as long as I can remember. Our take on this jazz album is to also retain our Chinese identity. So we have some Chinese elements in the album. I play the guzheng and we put that in as well. It’s a completely new sound we’re trying to create. I don’t think there’s ever been the use of Chinese instruments to play jazz and this is experimental and fun. I’m always trying to do something that’s different and has an element of surprise. I think that’s important. Give something new to the audience. So, image-wise, I’m also going to play around with these different elements. I’ve always had these visions of myself in qipaos. That’s my favourite attire…Really?
Yes! Every time I go to concerts or go to a really important event, I make sure I feature the qipao. This time around, I think dressing in the qipao and doing jazz music – that’s very sexy.How do you plan on promoting your jazz album? Will you be doing more intimate performances?
Yes, definitely, as well as performing in jazz festivals all over the world. I’m really excited to reach these new places and audiences.A lot of artists have felt they’ve had to turn to the Mainland or Taiwan to be more experimental. Have you ever had to do that?
I’ve been really lucky branching out to different markets and territories very early on in my career. Taiwan and Mainland China are bigger markets so they embrace more versatility. Hong Kong is still quite conservative. But now, with this jazz and English album, we’d like to bring it to a bigger audience. To the world. [Giggles]In addition to music, you’ve also just finished filming Keanu Reeves’ first directorial feature, Man of Tai Chi. What was it like working
It was like a dream!Did you ever have any hesitancy because he’s never directed before?
Me? Hesitate? No way! It was like, yes! Bring it on! It’s cool because he’s amazing as an actor and so good-looking as well.That doesn’t hurt.
Yeah, that doesn’t hurt. And he’s an ultra-nice guy on top of all that so it’s exciting he’s going into directing as well. It’s quite a challenge because [this film is] a Hollywood production but it’s being shot in China and the script is in English, Cantonese and Mandarin. And, of course, he works with a lot of the crew that are from this part of the world. [This production is] a hybrid. Of course, when you fuse different elements and style, that’s when you create something new and I’m really proud to be a part of it.What kind of directing style are you drawn to personally?
It’s actually quite nice working with actors-turned-directors because they’re actors themselves so they think from the angle of actors. It’s probably just more direct when you communicate with someone who’s also an actor. Working with Keanu, he would bring in acting methods from Hollywood so it would be like ‘wow, masterclass! Drama class with him!’Speaking of actors and directors, your film collaborations with Stephen Chow have been very notable. He’s someone you’ve said you would take any roles for if he directed. Any chance of that happening in the near future?
Of course. I’ve learned so much from him in the films we’ve worked on together. It was very early on in my acting career and it was great – everything was new and I just had so much input from someone as great as him. I’m glad to have had those experiences. But then he hasn’t been putting out much work recently, so we’ll see…What was the atmosphere like on set with him?
It was fun but also challenging because he’s very demanding. But it’s good to sort of have this pressure because it helps you get better.But what’s more challenging for you?
I really enjoy comedy. It’s fun and, you know, it’s not easy to make someone laugh. It’s actually quite difficult. You’ve really got to nail it.You’ve never been afraid to play the ugly girl. What do you think that says about your definition of beauty?
I think if you’re confident in yourself then nothing will come off as a worry. Especially in movies – you’re not playing yourself. If it requires you to play ugly or weird, you do it. I never worry about playing ugly roles because you don’t actually become that character. It’s great because you can play a zillion characters and live their lives.In an industry which keeps pushing different ideas of what is beautiful, how do you stay true to yourself and your own definition of beauty?
You just have to believe in yourself. Everyone else has a different opinion so who are you going to believe? If you listen to everyone, you’ll just go crazy and end up losing yourself.Did you realise that early on in your career?
I think I’ve always been like that. Partly with the way I’ve been brought up and my surroundings. I think that’s been very helpful. It’s inherent in me. I think, in every industry, you have to be confident. Especially in show-business, we’re constantly in front of other people and prone to criticism, so you just have to know what you’re doing.In terms of not listening to what others say and following your own will, you’ve been like that in your personal life as well, marrying at a later age and to your first love, no less. Why did you even bother with marriage?
It’s just one of those things where it happened and you just know. It’s impossible to plan. I believe in fate especially when it comes to love. This whole business of meeting my first love again and finally getting back together after all these years, it’s like something out of the
movies. Like, give me a break, you can’t be serious. But when it actually happens to you… well… I’m really lucky. When an opportunity comes, you mustn’t take it for granted. Just seize the occasion.This unconventional route to marriage could inspire others. Do you have any advice for young women who are trying to find a balance between their career and getting married?
You really have to trust your gut feeling. You just have to do what feels right to you because if you don’t, then whatever else you do will probably leave you with regrets. If you feel strongly about something, then do it. Don’t not do it and regret it later. That’s the worst. When you look back when you’re 50 and go ‘oh, I should have… blah blah blah’. Especially when you’re young. You can actually afford to make mistakes.What’s your living situation like right now?
It’s actually a very challenging setup right now. He’s based in London so our home is, in theory, London but I have to spend a lot of time in this part of the world because my career is very important to me. It just means I’m doing a lot of long-haul flights going back and forth –
but I just have to balance my life in a more efficient way.Well, those long-haul flights don’t show. You look great! What’s your beauty secret?
To be happy. Of course you can do creams and all that stuff but the main thing is to be happy.Are you happy right now?
Yeah! I think I’m happier than I’ve ever been. This whole getting married thing [laughs], it feels like there’s someone I could really rely on. Of course, I’ve got a great family who are always there and I can always rely on them – but finding a partner for life who keeps you grounded and gives you more power to go out and do your thing. That makes me so happy.And you have a great relationship with your husband’s kids. Do you see yourself having kids any time soon?
I’m not interested in being a mum. At all. [Laughs] So no. No actual plans in that department.
You’ve mentioned before that you haven’t reached your peak yet. Are you there now?
I think I’ll always say that because once you reach this peak you’ll see ‘oh there’s another peak up there’.
What’s the next peak right now?
I always feel like I could better myself and be more perfect. I could always raise the bar higher. That’s probably what keeps me going and gives me the strength to keep doing my stuff. Maybe one day I’ll find that I’ve done everything I’ve ever wanted to achieve. That’s great. Maybe one day I’ll stop doing all of this and just go away somewhere. Maybe that day might come but I’ll just know it when the time comes. As of now, I’m still loving this, so I’ll keep doing it.
Karen Mok shot exclusively for Time Out Hong Kong at 101 Sight Chai Wan on September 3
Photographer Calvin Sit
Art Director Jeroen Brulez
Stylist Janice Jann
Hair Carr Cheng @ P.O.P Hairdressing
Assistant Kerry Wong @ Zing The Makeup School
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