Shining star


Crystal Lee in Chiu Keng Guan-helmed local movie Great Day.

Child actress Crystal Lee’s parents stand solidly behind their daughter, as she is thrust into the international limelight.

TUITION teacher Florence Chua’s phone has not stopped ringing since her daughter Crystal Lee became the youngest best actress winner at the recent 16th Shanghai International Film Festival.

“Media from not just Malaysia, but also China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and other countries, have all been trying to get an interview,” said Chua. Winning the award has literally propelled Crystal into international stardom, and everyone is curious to know more about the ten-year-old talent.

Chua, 40, and her husband civil engineer David Lee are literally learning how to handle the attention their only daughter is attracting on their feet. They didn’t have time to prepare for Crystal’s sudden thrust into the international limelight, as they didn’t even know Crystal was nominated for a best actress award at the film festival.

“It was such a shock, especially to Crystal, when her name was announced. We had only received an invitation from the festival organisers to attend as guests, and we weren’t even told she was nominated for an award,” recalls Chua. who accompanies her daughter to all her events.

The live in Hulu Langat, Selangor, which means long commutes to Kuala Lumpur to attend her events and other activities. Her parents take turns driving Crystal to her functions, and also to chaperone her. They keep a hectic schedule as the ten-year-old schoolgirl’s calendar is packed with singing engagements, dinner shows and endorsement commitments. Last week, Crystal became bubble tea beverage company Chatime’s celebrity spokesperson under the Chatime Friends Programme, which aims to nurture local artistic talents. Private university UCSI will also be awarding Crystal a scholarship.

Crystal’s parents certainly didn’t plan for their daughter to be in showbiz, but there was just no denying her talent.

When she was only four years old, her kindergarten teacher asked Crystal to emcee a school event.

“We were taken by surprise, but the teacher was confident that she would be up to the task,” said Lee, 41.

Unlike most other talents, Crystal has never had to audition for her roles; all her projects came via referrals and recommendations from friends.

Her foray into television drama series came in 2009, when she was cast in ntv7’s Lion Hearts. She even played a boy in 2011’s Forget Me Not, which was also aired on ntv7. Last year, she bagged the Best Newcomer award at ntv7’s 2nd Golden Awards for her role in Footprints In The Sand.

Crystal has only featured in four movies to date. But, every film has been a milestone for her, and she has starred along some big names in the Chinese film industry.

Malaysian filmmaker Chiu Keng Guan’s Lunar New Year flick Great Day (2011) was her very first big screen feature. Hong Kong director Dante Lam’s actioner Viral Factor (2012), starring Jay Chou and Nicholas Tse, was her first Hong Kong flick. Lam’s latest action film Unbeatable, was her first award-winning film. Next to hit our screens would be Pang Bros’ fire-fighting movie Inferno 3D with Louis Koo and Sean Lau, which would be her first 3D venture.

“I remember the first time somebody asked me for my autograph. At that time, I really did not know what an autograph was. So, I turned to my mother and asked her, ‘Mommy, what is an autograph?’ My mother said that person wanted my signature. So, I just wrote my name down,” shared the precocious child celebrity, giggling as she recounted the amusing incident.

The pint-sized starlet is aware of her celebrity status, yet too young to be concerned about privacy issues. Ever smiling and trusting, the wide-eyed schoolgirl cheerily obliges every request for a snapshot with her and remains unfazed by the flurry of activities around her.

As they have no experience in the entertainment business, Crystal’s parents enlisted electric violinist Dennis Lau’s entertainment company Mosaic to mentor Crystal and manage her career.

Winning an award at the prestigious Shanghai International Film Festival is no mean feat, as best actor winner and co-star Nick Cheung stressed during a press conference held to promote Unbeatable on Sunday.

“A child’s innocence is precious and childhood is a wonderful period in our lives that is quickly lost as we get exposed to the harsh reality of life. I hope she values this period in her life and maintains her focus on getting a good education,” said Cheung, who is protective of Crystal as she is around his seven-year-old daughter Brittany’s age.               

“I agree with Nick Cheung that our child’s education should be our main priority. When she performs at events, people are impressed by her talents. Yet, when they speak to her, they always ask where she is studying and are especially concerned about how she is doing at school,” said her father.

Her parents are thankful to considerate teachers and helpful classmates who help Crystal keep up with her schoolwork as her filming commitments had sometimes taken her away from school. Her parents would collect her homework from school so she would not be left behind.

Her scenes in Great Day and Viral Factor were filmed in Malaysia, but Crystal had to take leave from school for Unbeatable which was filmed in Macau and Hong Kong as well as for Inferno 3D which was shot in Bangkok, Thailand.

Although she was treated like any other professional actress while filming her scenes, Crystal was still thankful filmmakers gave her a little leeway on the set to catch up with her schoolwork.

“Director Dante Lam was considerate as I’m still a child and would allow me to retire to my room to get some rest while waiting for the crew to set up a shoot, or while waiting for other cast members to film their scenes.

“During the breaks between shoots, I’d take out my books and study materials and revise my schoolwork. My mother would be right there to help me if I wasn’t clear about anything,” said Crystal, who declared she ‘loves school and every single subject’.

“I’m glad she is doing so well in school and enjoys studying despite having to travel quite a bit,” said Crystal’s mother, who added her daughter’s examination results are excellent.

For Crystal’s parents, their challenge is striking the balance between wanting the best for their daughter and helping her find an equilibrium. They are mindful of the opportunities to nurture Crystal’s talents and realise her potential.

“We are always trying to achieve that balance. And, we will take each opportunity as it comes,” said her parents, who now have their hands full juggling their child’s prolific career.

With her parents solidly behind her, Crytal is taking all the opportunities and accolades in her stride.

“My friends would ask me when my next drama or movie would be out. I would tell them to watch out for my latest project. I remember that Viral Factor was rated 18, so my friends couldn’t go watch it in the cinemas. They had to get their parents to buy them DVDs of the movie so they could watch it at home, again and again,” said Crystal.

There is certainly no stopping this dynamic talent, and she will be showcasing her singing prowess next.

Crystal has entered singing competitions since she was five, and is currently preparing for the next round of Hunan TV’s Let’s Sing Kids singing competition held in Hunan, China next month. She is set to work on an original song and release a single together with her mentor Lau, who says the song will be dedicated to her fans for their continued support.

Unbeatable is scheduled to hit local screens on August 22, while Inferno is set to follow on September 26.

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