Whatever you do, please don’t light up in front of Joey Leong. Otherwise she will make the fastest disappearing act you have ever seen.
This is because the actress was literally on fire along with 31 people who landed in hospital due to burns suffered from a fire scene gone wrong while shooting the movie Amazing Spring in Bandar Bukit Puchong, Selangor last September.
Even though the pretty lass continues to smile bravely in the face of adversity, she ruefully admitted the traumatic memories of the fire still haunts her till this day.
“I was standing right in the front. There was nothing blocking my view. So, I could see the fire coming at us. The blue flames just rushed right through us. Everything happened so fast. In just a few seconds, the flames reached up to chest level and the fire was so hot that it even singed my eyelashes,” said the petite actress who was glad her lashes eventually grew back long and thick.
The second-degree burns on her legs, however, were more serious and took longer to heal. So much so that she has to pull up her socks to conceal the angry scars that cover the lower part of both her legs.
Leong, who turns 25 in July, said she was just raring to get back into action again after spending weeks in hospital. In fact, she initially wanted to resume work almost immediately after the incident.
“In my mind, I thought that it was only my legs that were injured, and that the rest of my body was strong and healthy,” said the tough cookie who reasoned that it would still be fine for her to continue to shoot scenes that did not require her legs to be seen.
What she didn’t realise was that her energy level was not like before. “I wasn’t completely aware yet, but my energy level had dropped drastically. I got very tired so rapidly that I could not continue working at the fast pace that I was accustomed to,” she recalled.
One step at a time
Despite putting up a tough front, Leong admitted that she often finds herself beating a hasty retreat any time she sees a fire, regardless of the distance or the size of the flames.
However, she thought it would be fine as long as she is at an indoor event – going for a movie in a cinema, attending wedding dinners, etc.
“But, as it was, I was caught unprepared. Facing fire instantly brings tears to my eyes. There were fire scenes in the movie. There was a fire under the hot pot. There was a fire eater performing at the wedding. They lit the candles for the birthday cake.”
At each event, Leong recalled herself recoiling from the sight of flames.
Watching her twirl around in a sparkly tassel dress while singing on stage during a dinner show, one might think that she has put the traumatic experience behind her.
Leong said that was not the case. After a series of panic attacks and nightmares, Leong said she became concerned that she may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“So I did a test and the results indicated I was on the red side, meaning the condition was quite serious. But I realised it would take time to get over the trauma, and I reasoned that it would not be in my best interests to push myself too hard. So, I will just have to pace myself,” she added.
Leong said it took some time for her to come to terms with the scars on her legs. When the bandages first came off after two weeks, she was so shocked to see the large scars and the extent of her injuries.
The tears just couldn’t stop flowing as she sat staring at her legs, Leong recalled. “I cried the whole day. I couldn’t help it. The memories came gushing back. I was so stressed out,” shared the Kuala Lumpur-born actress, who was also worried that having such visible scars on her legs would limit her roles.
Courage and optimism
To boost her spirits, Leong found inspiration from Selina Jen of Taiwanese pop group S.H.E. Jen suffered third-degree burns on more than 50% of her body in an explosion on the set of Chinese TV drama I Have A Date With The Spring in 2010.
“To me Selina is an icon of strength, courage and optimism. I only had burns on my legs, and the pain is already so unbearable that I had to rely on painkillers. I cannot even begin to imagine what she must have gone through with burns all over her body,” Leong said.
Now that Leong is back at work, her schedule is fully packed with dinner shows, movie shoots, promotional roadshows and other commercial projects.
“I’m very thankful to everyone who still wants to work with me. I’ve got some magazine shoots, and they actually prepared socks for me to match my outfits.
“I feel touched that they make such an effort,” said the actress, who manages her own career, with the help of her mother.
Leong has recently filmed some scenes for a China-Malaysia joint production action movie titled Stormbreaker. “I just wanted to try working with actors from China. And they’re good. I learnt new things and we did a lot of sharing, which I love.”
In the Chinese New Year flick Amazing Spring, Leong plays a feisty young woman named Joyce, who lives with her mentally challenged brother Happy (Jack Lim) in an isolated village which is full of energetic old folks. Then, a city dweller named Max (Cedric Loo) stumbles upon the village.
“We are the only young people in our village, and we are very fierce. The first time I met Cedric, I had to beat him up. It was very tough for me to hit people,” Leong laughed about the rough character she plays.
“It was also great to have veteran Hong Kong actors on the set. Law Ka Ying helped us with the Cantonese script. And, Sharon Yang made sure we knew how to keep safe and protect ourselves from injury.
“It’s my first Chinese New Year movie, so I’m very excited. I get to sing and dance in the movie as well.”
Amazing Spring opens at GSC cinemas nationwide on Chinese New Year.