updated 2 Jun 2012, 15:15
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Mon, May 28, 2012
The New Paper
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Don't label her China's 'TV Queen'
by Tan Kee Yun

China's Queen of Television.

That's what critics and netizens have been calling Chinese actress Betty Sun Li, the lead star of period drama Empresses In The Palace.

While the 29-year-old Zhejiang native has dutifully chalked up several outstanding big-screen performances over the last few years - from the supernatural fantasy flick Painted Skin (2008) and hilarious slapstick comedy Just Another Pandora's Box (2010) to swordfighting epic The Lost Bladesman (2011) - it is Empresses In The Palace that looks set to be her definitive piece of work.

Not that she is letting her skyrocketing fame and status as the new media darling get to her head.

"Actually, I'm pretty nonchalant about labels people give me," said Sun in a phone interview with The New Paper from Shanghai, where she is based.

"To me, I derive satisfaction simply from the thrill of acting.

"My character in Empresses In The Palace went through emotional highs and lows... Playing her was challenging, yet incredibly gratifying."

The 76-episode series - currently airing on Jia Le Channel (SingTel mio Ch 88) on weekdays at 7pm - has become one of China's highest-rated and most talked-about shows ever since its premiere in March.

Sun plays the protagonist Zhen Huan, an ill-fated concubine who has to endure the endless rivalry, backstabbing and scheming among different cliques and factions in the palace.

She may have earned rave reviews and praise for her dramatic portrayal of Zhen Huan, but it is the insanely long filming schedule that she will never forget.

"Years down the road, I think I will probably remember Empresses In The Palace for being the longest production I've participated in," said the mother of one.

"We shot for a total of five months in the town of Hengdian and I had 1,000 scenes, more than any other cast member.

"Having to always be the centre of attention on set was a little stressful initially, but everything went smoothly... I've always been the type that fares better under pressure."

Filming Empresses In The Palace also gave her a chance to bond with her co-star, celebrity mum and Hong Kong veteran actress Ada Choi.

Sun has a six-month-old son with her husband, fellow Chinese actor Deng Chao.

Choi, 38, has a one-year-old daughter with Chinese actor-stuntman Max Zhang.

"Ada discovered she was pregnant halfway through the filming process," recalled Sun.

"While all of us (referring to the cast and crew) were happy for her, we were quite worried for her health as the weather was very chilly then."

As fate would have it, shortly after filming wrapped up, Sun found herself pregnant too.

The two actresses have remained friends and Sun readily admits that Choi is a good source for "advice on baby matters".

"Besides sharing stuff about our kids, we also talk about work... She's a wonderful person."

Many female celebrities, from the likes of Cecilia Cheung to Gigi Lai, have chosen to have their showbiz careers take a backseat after giving birth.

Not Sun, however.

"So far, I'm doing fine when it comes to work-life balance... Every day, I'm learning to be a better mum," she said.

"Even before our son came along, my husband and I weren't the super ambitious and aggressive sort.

"Both of us prefer to view our acting careers as a marathon, not a sprint...We make sure we work hard, but we'll always make time for our loved ones."

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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