With her vibrant personality and radiant smile, Lim Mei Fen obviously belongs on stage.
Tossing her sleek black tresses while perched on a high stool, the Malaysian actress effortlessly exudes rock star vibe with her black fringe mini dress and knee-high lace-up gladiator sandals.
She has been spending many weeks promoting her latest project, a made-in-Malaysia Mandarin-language horror film titled Two Sisters, which was released in April.
When the spotlight is on her at an event to promote the movie, Lim’s eyes shine bright as she engages her eager audience, and entertains them with personal anecdotes.
But when she steps off the stage and retreats into the shadows, the Penang-born artiste returns to her pragmatic self.
“I want to give up after this. I want to quit showbiz. This will be my last film project,” the petite lass repeats to herself wistfully after another long and tiring day.
And yet, it is impossible for her to let go, as she is doing what she loves best.
“I know I keep saying that but it is so difficult to (quit). Because, there are so many friends who sayang (love) me in the industry. When things get tough, I keep getting so much support from so many people,” shares the actress.
“Even Abang Joe (Istana Budaya’s director-general Datuk Mohamed Juhari Shaarani) keeps asking me why I haven’t been acting on stage or in Malay films or dramas.
“I can only tell him that there aren’t that many parts that call for a Chinese actress and even if there were, a lot of them are very stereotypical,” she whispers.
Lim, 32, is a multifaceted talent. Whether acting on stage or in front of the cameras or doing behind the scenes work such as writing scripts and producing plays, she has done it all.
Model, actress, theatre performer, assistant director, scriptwriter, producer, Lim has assumed many different roles due to her fascination with all aspects of creative arts. However, she says she prefers to be known as a storyteller.
“Since young, I’ve always loved stories – from reading books to listening to people sharing their life’s journey. I’d feel so inspired.
“It is only through these that I have dreams. I want to share stories. I love brainstorming. When I see things happening, I get inspired and I want to convey my story. This calling, it’s like a little seed in my heart.
“I never really planned my career path. I never thought that I would start off as a model and then go on to be an actress. But my passion in storytelling has led me on this journey.”
Lim made her showbiz debut when she participated in the first season of the 8TV talent search show I Wanna Be A Model in 2006.
Then she spent two years as the girl holding suitcase No. 1 in the ntv7 game show Deal Or No Deal (2007-2009).
She remembers those times with particular fondness: “It’s pretty cliche to say this. But I was only at the modelling show to accompany a friend who was very shy.
“And I got in, probably because I was more dramatic and expressive.”
She said her stints on the reality show and game show were exciting. “People were still excited about watching local reality shows then. It was the time before YouTubers took over as mainstream entertainers,” she mused.
After that, she went into scriptwriting and behind-the-scene work in a production house.
“I brainstormed and wrote the story concept of the first Hokkien drama in Malaysia, and I pitched it to my boss. It was a story of the early immigrants from Taiwan and how they settled here in Nanyang (South-East Asia), and blended in with the nyonya.
“It was a true story based on my grandfather who opened a belacan factory,” shared Lim.
Astro produced the drama entitled Home but sadly Lim never got to be involved in it as she had to go back to Penang and help out in her family’s LED lighting business.
More than three years later, Lim shifted her family business to KL. She jumped back into showbiz with her debut role in Malaysia’s first reality movie The Cage (2014), a groundbreaking experimental film with no script, no plot and filmed live with no retakes.
These days Lim is making headlines for her theatre projects; her most recent being the staging of Tanah Akhirku, her final-year student project for her three-year course at Aswara (National Academy of Arts Culture and Heritage), at Istana Budaya during the Merdeka celebration last year.
Tanah Akhirku saw the patronage of Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and his wife Tun Dr Siti Hasmah, making it one of the most significant milestones of Lim’s showbiz career.
Yet, she is best known for portraying Hang Li Po in Takhta 3 Ratu (2014), which was also her theatre debut.
Lim says she was thankful to have been invited to share the role with her friend, the beauty queen-turned-pop star Soo Wincci.
Soo also introduced Lim to another new experience last year: Taking part in the popular reality show in China, Perfect Dating.
“I was initially hesitant. Because, I was very shy and had never dated before. But, Wincci managed to convince me by suggesting that I could take the opportunity to observe how they produce reality shows in China and learn something new along the way,” she said.
For the talent segment, she dressed up in opera garb and performed a colourful ribbon dance.
The Chinese were very intrigued when she revealed that she was a newbie performer who had only taken three lessons from 86-year-old Kuala Lumpur-based Chinese opera legend Choy Yim Heong.
“我不要你的一分钟、我要你的一辈子“爱需要勇气！感谢 #贵州卫视非常完美 让我认识到聊得挺投缘的大男孩 – DJ 蒋珅玮及让我脸红耳赤的小男孩 – 童子沩. 虽然无法牵手成功但希望你们幸福快乐，能够找到属于自己的真爱。 谢谢私讯鼓励我的网友们, 你们令我很感动。么么哒❤️～～爱需要勇气，我们一起为真爱加油! #PerfectDating China's dating reality show full video @ https://youtu.be/X-qxj33yfeQWearing CASSEY GAN
Posted by Mei Fen 林美芬 on Sunday, 30 December 2018
Working like every project is her very last appears to have paid off well for Lim.
In the film Two Sisters, Lim portrays an emotionally disturbed young woman named Mei Yue who is reunited with her sister Mei Xi (Emily Lim) after being released from a psychiatric institution and insists on seeking the truth behind her memory loss.
If she looked convincingly distracted and depressed, Lim said it was because during filming, she was also caught up with producing Tanah Akhirku and was facing lots of problems.
“I didn’t even have time to prepare for the role. And yet, that situation actually put me in a suitably appropriate frame of mind to play the character.
“So, I didn’t even have to try very hard,” she recalled.
Describing herself as a scaredy cat who can’t even bring herself to watch horror movies, Lim admitted that she only took on the role in Two Sisters because she didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to work with her filmmaking idols (director) James Lee and (producer) Amir Muhammad.
“Where others idolised pop groups like (Taiwanese boy band) F4, my personal F4 are Amir Muhammad, James Lee, Liew Seng Tat and Tan Chui Mui.
“So, I accepted the role even though I really cannot watch horror movies. I even spooked myself watching this movie although I already knew what was going to happen. I actually screamed so loud that Amir and James shook their heads.
“I must say that Nick Davis did a really great job with the music. It’s something very different from the typical horror films that we’ve been watching,” said Lim, heaping praise on Davis who won Best Original Score for Two Sisters at the recent Malaysia Film Festival.
After all the talk about wanting to give up and quit the industry for good, it is apparent that Lim is not ready to throw in the towel just yet.
The storyteller in her is raring to spin another yarn – this time, she wants to tell her version of Hang Li Po, which is parallel to her own life experiences.
“It’s actually my true story, about a Chinese girl who doesn’t speak Malay or have any Malay friends when she enters Aswara. She goes to Istana Budaya and plays Hang Li Po.
“At the beginning, she feels rejected but eventually falls in love with the land and its people.”
Her lecturer at Aswara had encouraged her to take the script she developed in her scriptwriting class and submit it to the content pitching centre at Finas (National Film Development Corporation Malaysia).
The script has since caught the eye of a local producer who wants to explore the idea.
Now MM2, a production company and film distributor, is working on the project with her in view of submitting it to Hong Kong Filmart or Taiwan Filmart to be considered for the film development fund.
Looks like quitting is not an option for this lass.