Former VJ Sook-Yin Lee has starring role in The Art of Woo by Tom Lyons, Canadian Press
TORONTO (CP) - Former MuchMusic VJ Sook-Yin Lee appears in her first starring role in a movie this weekend, playing a gold-digger from suburban Scarborough who tries to land a rich husband by passing herself off as an Asian heiress.
The film, Helen Lee's The Art of Woo, was dismissed by one critic as a derivative piece of fluff when it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.
But Sook-Yin Lee, who defends the romantic comedy as a re-examination of gold-digger movies of the past, says playing Alessa Woo was a rewarding challenge-not because it involved lying, conniving, and living in a fantasy world, but because it meant looking somewhat like a conventional woman.
"I had to physically change the way that I walked, and the way that I looked. I'm more of a rough and tumble person, and Helen would often say 'Lighter on your feet, Sook-Yin!' And finally I'm wearing like dresses and barrettes in my hair. You know, fancy things like that," says Lee, who is more at home in jeans and combat boots.
After playing Alessa for a while, however, Lee, who is in her early 30s, came to realize that she shared more than a few underlying traits with her flirtatious alter ego, most notably Alessa's fabrication of a new identity for herself.
"It seems like we're total polar opposites. But what I had to work on was, like, Alessa's formula and power have been about being demure, kind of attractive to men," she says.
"And my power in the world has been-I know I've had to compensate by, like, yelling. And I was in bands so much with guys I became like a guy. You know, like a little tomboy. So I really had to recognize that I constructed this thing as much as she had constructed a thing. I constructed a thing that helped me get by in the world easier. And that was to be a scrapper."
Lee adds that she discovered yet another aspect of herself in Alessa, whose shame that her parents, immigrants from southeast Asia, run a convenience store fuels her desire to become somebody else.
"I think it's very common with first generation Canadians, especially if you come from a poverty-stricken background, you are really running from the poverty you were borne into.
"With my parents, they just wanted to succeed in North America. My mom became extremely materialistic. And it was like to succeed materialistically was security and getting away from her past which was fraught with poverty and difficult times."
But Lee, who left home at fifteen to become a musician, says she rejected the pursuit of wealth when she saw how much pain it caused her mother.
But though Lee now realizes just how much she differs from her cartoonish TV image, she says she still meets people who expect the two to be identical, and are disappointed to learn otherwise.
"There's this kind of assumption that what you are on TV is how you are. But it's just not. It's boosted up a couple of notches. Or it's much more distilled, like a shrunken wool sweater. And you don't get to see a lot of me.
"Because in the TV medium, you have to be like, 'OH MY GOD! THIS IS AN AMAZING LATTE! WOW!' It's kind of like 'oomph!' more. You don't see me when I'm being a total deadbeat," she says.
"So I think it's bogus when people say that how they see me on TV is how I am. It can never be that way."