Mandy Lieu, the Malaysian-born model, television show host and fledgling actress – she has a role in Stephen Fung’s Tai Chi trilogy – transforms into a beautiful bride in front of our eyes. Arriving in a Clash T-shirt and cargo pants with her sandy-coloured dyed hair tied up and no makeup, she is nondescript and though willowy not so tall that you would immediately think ‘model’. Within 90 minutes, though, she appears as you see her here, poised and positively glowing.
Childhood dance classes contribute to a physical presence that is both graceful and commanding (especially when towering heels are added to her 170cm frame), but it is her positive nature that is most striking. Behind a gentle manner lie a strength of character, self-assurance and enthusiasm that make her instantly likable.
At 27, Lieu might appear to be living the dream – star of magazine, catwalk and small screen, and possibly big screen in the future – but she hasn’t always had it easy. She has bravely gone her own way, coming to Hong Kong nine years ago with nothing but a brief portfolio in hand – she had secured a few modelling jobs “unintentionally” while she was at school and had liked them.
She won’t talk about her parents except to say they are no longer around. Her father was American, her mother Malaysian-Chinese and she has always used her mother’s surname. She says later that she “was kinda raised” by a godmother “who has been my rock”. Her first goal was to be a ballerina – she made money by teaching ballet and piano before landing in Hong Kong - her second was to travel.
She hung a map of the world on her wall and dreamed of experiencing far more than the familiar routine of daily life in Kuala Lumpur, where she grew up. Lieu’s adventurous spirit and curiosity about faraway lives have been put to good use in her television work. Four years ago, she was approached by Now TV to co-host a Chinese language (which she speaks but doesn’t read) luxury lifestyle programme, Lifetival, which appears on channel 101. She was on a modelling assignment in Greece at the time, but within two weeks had met and clicked with the producers and was filming her first segment.
"When I was younger I used to jump from one relationship to another, but in the last few years I've had the chance to really know myself, which is one of the most difficult things we must learn."
“It really helped me to grow as a person,” she reflects. “As a model your job is solely to represent someone else by wearing their dress or brand, but hosting a show involves taking the audience on a journey to experience things from your perspective. There’s a lot more of ‘Mandy’ in it.”
The ‘Mandy’ stamp will be all over her latest television venture, a 10-episode travel show made by Lieu’s newly formed company, De-mand Productions. It will be shot in two three-week sessions in Italy, a country she fell in love with during a visit three years ago. Lieu has interviewed people in either Milan, Modena, Venice or Tuscany; in November, as you read this, she returns with her crew to capture scenes of life in Rome, Naples, Sicily and the Amalfi coast. “When you travel it tends to be voyeuristic, you set foot in a country, take some pictures of moments and leave very quickly,” she explains. “The idea of this programme is to show the other side of travel – the people who live there, their lifestyle, their vision, their success stories.”
Of running her own company (and show) she notes: “I’m very hands-on, but I’ve got a good crew with me. It’s all about finding people with the same passion as you and then collaborating.” She adds, with quiet confidence: “I like challenges; the only way to improve is to push yourself. It doesn’t matter if you make mistakes, it’s about learning from them.”