‘Exciting new chapter’: Veteran S’pore actress Hong Huifang stars in her first Taiwanese drama series
KINMEN, Taiwan – There is no slowing down veteran Singaporean actress Hong Huifang.
After making waves internationally last year in the South Korean-Singaporean film Ajoomma, the 62-year-old has kick-started the next chapter in her career – in Taiwan.
“My friends keep telling me, ‘You’re so old – just retire already and take a break’,” she says with a laugh. “But I feel like I’m just getting started.”
Hong is speaking to The Straits Times over dinner at a hotel in Taiwan’s outlying island Kinmen, where she is filming her first Taiwanese drama series.
Titled Breeze By The Sea, the romantic comedy stars Taiwanese actor Chen Bolin as a grumpy movie star who hides from the press in idyllic Kinmen following a scandal.
Hong plays a plucky oyster farmer whose granddaughter (played by Taiwan’s Puff Kuo) gets romantically involved with the disgraced actor. The series is directed by Taiwanese-American actor Peter Ho.
The series is co-produced by CJ ENM Hong Kong, Central Motion Picture Corporation and Deepwaters Digital Support.
In the three weeks since filming began, Hong says she has already enjoyed so many new experiences, from sampling local foods to visiting tourist sites.
In many ways, her latest acting project feels like an extended paid vacation. “I’m seeing new places and learning new things every day. I’m having a great time,” she says.
For one thing, she has developed a better appreciation for how oysters are harvested.
To prepare for her role, she observed how local farmers – mostly elderly women – would trudge knee-deep in thick mud before using a shovel to pick oysters off rocks.
“I’ve had rock oyster omelettes so many times before, but I never realised how much work it took to pick the oysters. These women still do things the traditional way, so it’s back-breaking labour,” she says.
Over the hour-long dinner conversation, Hong often displays curiosity about her film location, where she is set to be stationed for more than two months.
She asks a waiter about the island’s daily ferry services to the Chinese city of Xiamen, which is located 6km away at Kinmen’s closest point.
Later, she gets into a spirited chat with another staff member about whether hot soup boiled with Kinmen’s famous ginseng-like root yitiaogen would be tasty.
“I thought yitiaogen was used only to make medicated massage oils. Are you sure it won’t taste really strange?” she asks him.
During some recent time off, she also hopped on a 50-minute flight to the Taiwanese capital of Taipei, where she spent a weekend and ate her way through a night market.
More than once, strangers at the night market stopped her to say hello. “They were Singaporeans who said they watched my shows since they were young. I’m grateful, but my other takeaway is that Singaporeans are everywhere,” she says, laughing.
Given that it is her first time filming in Taiwan, she is going to “make the most of the experience”, she adds.
“For decades, I’ve been filming dramas in Singapore, which I loved, but I never expected to get overseas opportunities at this point in my life.”
Hong rose to fame in the Republic for playing a host of memorable supporting characters over a 40-year career, in popular series such as The Unbeatables (1993) and The Price Of Peace (1997).
In 2022, however, the limelight was finally fully on the star after her leading turn as a K-drama-obsessed widow in Ajoomma garnered her a Best Leading Actress nomination at the prestigious Golden Horse Awards in Taipei.
In February 2023, the Mediacorp actress signed a deal with management agency Catwalk Taiwan, which will co-manage her in China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan alongside the Singapore broadcaster.
Hong stops short of confirming any other overseas projects. “Let’s just say that there are active negotiations going on,” she says.
She adds: “Sometimes, it’s really hard to believe I’m here now. This is all part of an exciting new chapter for me.”