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Fann Wong: ‘I have never seen myself as a goddess’

Already one of Singapore’s most celebrated actresses, Fann Wong is now officially a “goddess”.

The 53-year-old “Ah Jie” is featured in a new women-focused exhibition, Goddess: Brave. Bold. Beautiful., opening at the ArtScience Museum on April 6. Developed and curated by ACMI, Australia’s national museum of screen culture, it pays homage to iconic female stars over 120 years of cinematic history, whose influence extends beyond the silver screen. They include Malaysia’s Michelle Yeoh, China’s Zhang Ziyi and the late Hollywood legend Marilyn Monroe.

In the section Fighting Back, Fann is credited as playing fierce and fabulous action heroines, countering early film depictions of women as fragile beings.

She is also recognised as the first Singaporean actress to break into Hollywood, having played leading lady Chon Lin in the 2003 action comedy Shanghai Knights, alongside Hong Kong star Jackie Chan and American actor Owen Wilson. On display at the exhibition are photos of her taken during the film’s production in 2002, as well as her crew pass, her guest pass for a press event and a VCD box set autographed by her.

Also on show are clips from the 1998 local television series, The Return Of The Condor Heroes, in which Fann played Xiaolongnu, or Little Dragon Girl – one of her most popular roles. There is also a black-and-white photograph of her shot by famed Singaporean fashion and celebrity photographer Wee Khim in 2005.

Dressed in a white Ralph Lauren pantsuit, Fann – who was a special guest at the Goddess: Brave. Bold. Beautiful. media preview at ArtScience Museum on April 4 – told local media during a group interview that she felt honoured and humbled to be included in the exhibition’s line-up of international screen queens.

“I have never seen myself as a goddess,” she said with a laugh.

Referring to the other “goddesses” showcased, such as Hong Kong’s Maggie Cheung and China’s Gong Li, Fann said: “A lot of them are iconic. In my mind, a goddess can have many different faces. She can be sexy and expressive, or kind and benevolent. That said, every woman is a goddess. They all have moments when they shine.”

Although self-effacing, the star has gathered many accolades, such as being the first actress to clinch three prominent Star Awards in 1995 – for Best Actress, Most Popular Newcomer and Top 5 Most Popular Female Artiste.

In 2000, she also became the first Singaporean artiste to stage a solo ticketed concert at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.

Asked about her many show business accomplishments, she said: “Those are all in the past. I hope that in the future, I will have more possibilities, or chances, to portray women my age.”

Fann’s last drama was the local English-language series Titoudao: Inspired By The True Story Of A Wayang Star (2020), in which she played the mother of Singapore wayang star Oon Ah Chiam. Fann’s last movie was the Chinese romance The Italian Recipe (2022),in which she portrayed the aunt of the female lead character.

After marrying Malaysian actor Christopher Lee, 52, in 2009 and giving birth to their only child Zed, who turns 10 in August, her priorities gradually shifted away from acting. When taking on new projects, her main consideration now is if Lee – who often films overseas – would be in Singapore.

She said: “If he is away working, I have to stay in Singapore and look after the home. As a woman, I feel I should have my little piece of heaven.”

She cherishes her close relationship with Zed, who often updates her about his homework and things that happen at school. While she fears the adolescent years may bring out a rebellious side of him, she believes that “when a child is brought up in a loving family, I don’t think we will go that wrong”.

For now, she is happy to share that her son plans to be a marine biologist, or possibly a voice actor, as he feels the latter “would be very fun”.

With his Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) coming up in two years, the stress is building for Fann. “When I hear my friends talk about PSLE, my heart starts thumping. I don’t know how I will be like two years later. We will prepare the best we can, but I also realise that PSLE is just a stop on the road. There is much more to life.”

To film the upcoming Taiwanese drama Breeze By The Sea (2024), she had to spend some time away from Zed. On one of her video calls with him from Taiwan, she told him how much she missed him, to which he replied: “Be patient. You will be back in four days.”

She said: “Initially, I thought these pockets of time apart would test how he would cope without me. But actually, it is to test how I can not worry about him when we are apart.

“As he grows up, I should slowly learn how to let go. Let my son have his own life, and for me to have my own too. To me, this would make for a beautiful life.”

Goddess: Brave. Bold. Beautiful.

Where: ArtScience Museum, 6 Bayfront Avenue
When: April 6 to Aug 11, 10am to 7pm daily
Admission: $20 (adult Singapore residents) and $23 (adult tourists)