The ugly truth about beauty

In the real world, good-looking people often edge out those with less attractive features, says director Aubrey Lam Hong Kong film-maker Aubrey Lam does not mind celebrities undergoing plastic surgery, so long as it does not get in the way of their work.

The soft-spoken but refreshingly straightforward director tells Life! over the telephone in Mandarin: "I'm neutral about the issue, so it's okay if they want to do it. But if they want to do something like inject Botox on their face, can they do it while on their break, when they're not filming?

"It's very hard to work with people who inject Botox because their faces can no longer emote."

She says she has come across such cases in the past and that the only way to deal with them is to change her camera angles.

"If they just injected Botox, then I will shoot only their side profile for that week. Then in the following week when they haven't had fresh Botox done, I can properly shoot their actual face from the front," she says with a laugh.

She adds that she can tell if stars have undergone plastic surgery as soon as she looks at them. "I've been in the industry for so many years, so I can tell if something's different about them.

"More and more actresses, especially in Hong Kong, are having plastic surgery. It's a little sad because I think they used to look pretty enough without it. Sometimes, plastic surgery makes them look worse."

However, her newest leading lady Bai Baihe, who stars in her comedy The Truth About Beauty, does not have such problems. The director says: "Bai Baihe is a very natural, fresh beauty, which is what we were looking for. She hasn't had any work done."

Questions about plastic surgery and physical enhancements are very apt for the film-maker, given that her latest film is all about this very subject.

The Truth About Beauty, which opens in cinemas tomorrow, is about an average-looking girl (Bai) who looks to plastic surgery after she is overlooked in the competitive job market in China.

Her obsession with improving her looks is heightened after she develops a crush on her new employer (played by Ronald Cheng).

Lam says: "I've wanted to do a movie about this topic for a few years already, but when I first came up with it, plastic surgery wasn't that big in China. Who knew it would become such a hot topic now? Already, I know that it has gotten people talking online."

Last year, Lam wrote the screenplay for Peter Chan's hit movie American Dreams In China (2013), which made big bucks at the Chinese box office for its spot-on observations about Chinese people learning the English language.

To better understand what it takes to go through plastic surgery for her new movie, the director went undercover as a nurse in two Chinese aesthetic clinics - one in Shenzhen and one in Beijing.

"I couldn't talk to the patients because they'll be able to tell immediately that I'm not a local nurse and that I'm from Hong Kong. But I stood by the side and watched the doctors interact with the patients, and even went into the operating theatre to see a girl get her chin done.

"It was really quite scary. As the doctors smeared this yellow liquid over her face, I just felt she looked like a corpse."

She adds that her movie, although exaggerated for comedic effect, is steeped in reality, where good- looking people edge out the uglier ones.

While filming a scene for her movie, an unattractive actress was treated slightly unfairly by the crew, she says.

"There is a scene set in a formal party where an ugly girl is supposed to step in, but no one bothers to even look at her.

"At the time, we were filming until three or four in the morning, so everyone was getting very impatient and tired, and this actress in the role of the ugly girl kept getting scolded for walking too fast or doing things wrong.

"I felt so sorry for her. Already, it takes a lot of guts for her to agree to play this role of an ugly girl and still she kept getting scolded. I told everyone to stop scolding her. Poor girl." She also says repeatedly that her film is not meant to be a moral lesson of any sort.

"I just want it to reflect what is happening in society, which is that a lot of things are now fake. We hear about fake food and fake medicine, and now even physical appearances are fake."

This article was published on April 9 in The Straits Times.

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