In the middle of our chat, held in the Mirage Suite of the Luxe Manor hotel after four hours of shooting, Fiona Sit grabs my printout of her film titles in English (from www.lovehkfilm.com, the essential accompaniment for a non-Chinese speaker interviewing a local celebrity) and writes the following notes beside two movies that she shot in 2009: “Crazy but dunno yet” (La Comedie Humaine) and “On medication” (Break Up Club). She is laughing, but the period in her life she is referencing is not funny in the least – Sit suffered from serious depression, to the point that she was suicidal. It took her, she confides, up to 18 months to get well.
It’s surreal to have a conversation about despair with a young (Sit is 32), popular and attractive singer-actress who leads what many would consider an enviable and glamorous life, especially as she sits nonchalantly, bare feet up and legs crossed, on the sofa beside me in a hotel room replete with bizarre decor details – an oil painting at waist level, an overturned table lamp; the Luxe Manor is a rich feast for the eyes at every turn.
Turning on her charm, Sit talks articulately about herself, her former illness and her career direction; she is self-assured and, she stresses, “a strong person” – traits apparent during the shoot when she insists of making her own wardrobe choices from the dozen dresses we have brought along, and poses expertly and adventurously – standing on the desk, lying flat on the carpet. She is supremely confident in her own skin - though she sighs that she’s too thin – and endearingly candid: “I’ll talk to you and be nice [in this interview] but actually I’m very anti-social.”
When she left Warner Music last year, the record label that took her under its wing nine years ago, she claims there wasn’t a single industry person listed in her address book to call about a new contract: “I never liked to socialise in order to make contacts.” Thus, she turned once again to her uncle, Peter Wong, who as a senior manager at Capital Artists had made the initial introductions for her back in 2003 when she wanted to become a singer. Thanks to Wong’s recommendations, Sit is now co-managed by his friend Anita Chung and Paco Wong’s company Sun Entertainment Culture. Amusingly, she shares how her uncle has told her “not to call him again” – having quit the music industry three years ago the devout Buddhist now concentrates on spiritual rather than material pursuits.
Paco Wong, whom she jokingly mimics when donning a pair of round mirrored shades for one of our shots (the boss’ daily attire apparently), is an expert at grooming artists, but one has the impression that Sit, if you’ll pardon the pun, does not sit idly by while others call the shots in her career. She knows her own mind and acts accordingly.
"The last person I needed to forgive was myself and that was really difficult and painful. When at last I was able to blurt out those words, I cried for ages." - Fiona Sit
Three years ago, though, Sit was not in control of her life or happiness. Her severe depression stemmed from personal issues, not work – indeed she still accepted film and theatre projects despite being “on medication”, as it provided an escape from “Fiona – it was a relief to be Sarah, Melissa or whatever character” she had to play. She does not go into the specifics – she may be sitting on a couch, but I’m no psychiatrist and the clock is ticking; she has already generously extended our allotted interview time – though there is mention of her cat dying and illness in the family. (An only child, Sit now supports her parents, who are divorced. They used to be fairly well off – she attended an international school – but then encountered financial difficulties and according to entertainment press reports her father developed a serious heart condition).
To get better, she found strength through prayer and later a Christian healing course. A devout Christian, Sit believes that God has guided her hand throughout her career and in the initial months of her depression she was desperate for his help. “Some time before when I had a serious back pain he had healed me in an instant, so this time I was like I’m dying, where are you? I prayed for him to change the situation, but he didn’t; then I prayed for him to change the way I viewed things, but again he didn’t. Turns out I was asking God for the answer behind door A and B but in the end he showed me door C.”
"If people compare me to Miriam Yeung, if they say we both seem very happy souls, I take it as a compliment."
Forgiveness was fundamental to the healing process. “Eventually, I was able to forgive all the people I thought had brought on my depression, but the last person I needed to forgive was myself and that was really difficult and painful. When at last I was able to blurt out those words, I cried for ages.” Sit’s tone is light, even jokey as she tells her story; she now sees this period of darkness in a remarkably positive light, heralding the emergence of a better person. “I remember another artist telling me at the time that if I got over it I would see the experience as a present. I now view everything differently – what happiness is, what love is, what true love is – it changed me a lot.”
Although Sit believes she is a good dramatic actress, her illness – and another artist’s encouragement – taught her the value of comedy. “I’m an entertainer, and at the end of the day a lot of people just want to laugh,” she reasons. With the exception of Nightmare, a Herman Yau horror flick with a mainland cast, five of the last six films she has made have been comedies. The most recent was the Chinese New Year ensemble outing, Hotel Deluxe, and all five have paired her with Chapman To.
“He’s a very important person in my career and my life,” she says of her frequent co-star. “I’m Christian and he’s Buddhist, but his [spiritual] teacher told him he should do more comedies, and he was the first person to convince me to do likewise.” To observed that there are few comedic actresses of Sit’s age and she had the skill to make people happy: “He opened the door to his comedy world for me.” Her recent best actress nod at Australia’s Golden Koala Chinese Film Festival (for The Bounty) attests to the wisdom of To’s words.
Some critics have likened Sit to a young Miriam Yeung, especially since one of her earlier comic turns was in Joe Ma’s Love Undercover 3 (2006), taking over the character Yeung had played in the original movie. “If people compare me to Miriam Yeung, if they say we both seem very happy souls, I take it as a compliment,” says Sit, who was once too sensitive for her own good. “Before I would cry about the things they wrote [in the entertainment press] – and [Warner] would be like, ‘gosh, get over it’. Now I’ve learned not to care what other people say or think about me. I don’t waste my precious time and happiness on such things. I’ve grown up.”
Persistent innuendos that she is romantically involved with singer Khalil Fong are a case in point. She says they have never dated, but Fong is one of her closest friends. Or, in her words: “He’s one of my presents from God. Though he’s Baha’i and I’m Christian, we have similar views about life, love and materialism. He has very strong morals and so do I – and it’s hard to find this in show business.”
Derek Yee, director of her critically acclaimed debut film 2 Young (2005) who taught her to be confident and trust her instincts when stepping into character, is another person she respects in the industry. She would also like to work with Teng Huatao, whose romantic comedy, Love is Not Blind, she admits to watching three times. As it happens, though, acting will take a backseat to Sit’s singing this year.
"I've learned not to care what other people say or think about me. I don't waste my precious time and happiness on such things. I've grown up."
In January, 2013 she released Music Book, her first CD under Sun Entertainment Culture, which doubles as a limited-edition 98-page art book, packed with her drawings “even some I did in primary school” as well as photographs she has taken over the years and some of her writings. When she was an Island School student, Sit wanted to be an artist not a singer – she particularly loved installation art. Acknowledging that this first venture for her new record label “is more about selling my book than my EP”, she is now busy with two albums, a Cantonese recording out this summer and one in Mandarin to follow by the end
of the year.
“Fans like their idols for a reason,” she says sagely when asked if the new albums will differ in style from her earlier releases. “So I will still have the same sound for some of the songs, but I’m also collaborating with different producers and composers, so you’ll hear the new Fiona too.”
Sit enjoys a broad range of music. “I can be slow and romantic – so R&B – and also very extreme, fast, crazy, upbeat; I’m embracing a freedom of expression [with Sun Entertainment Culture] that some companies would not allow.” She shares that her concert at the Coliseum last year “showed all my sides in one night – dreamy, love songs because I believe in fantasy and hope; sad, romantic songs, and also powerful, in-your-face songs with attitude”. As the star, who has come back strongly from a tumultuous 18 months that could have ended her career and indeed her life, says: “I have a ton of faces – and I like them all – but if I had to pick one at the moment it would be my happy face.”