Vicki Zhao might play the quintessential strict, scary Tiger Mum in her new TV series of the same name.
But in real life, the 39-year-old Chinese actress doesn't call the shots at home.
Instead, "the tigress in the family" is her five-year-old daughter, Huang Xin, who was born in Singapore.
In town yesterday to promote the 45-part contemporary drama Tiger Mum with co-star Wang Sen, Zhao told local reporters in Mandarin: "My daughter's position in our household is definitely higher than mine.
"I listen to her a lot. I guess you can say that's my parenting style. Whenever we plan for an outing, she's the one who decides on the places to go."
With a laugh, Zhao, one of China's biggest movie stars, continued: "I enrolled my daughter for piano lessons, but she quit after just two lessons, citing a lack of interest.
"Then, she told me flatly: 'Mum, I've found my favourite hobby - playing.'"
In Tiger Mum, Zhao plays goal-oriented Type A personality mum Bi Shengnan, who goes into frantic mode upon learning that her pre-schooler daughter is lagging behind her peers in class.
Conflict soon arises between Bi and her docile husband Luo Su (Tong Dawei) when they discover the vast differences in their parenting methods.
While Luo is more laissez-faire in his approach, Bi goes to extremes. She makes decisions such as moving house to ensure their kid goes to her choice school, and even takes a year off from work to tutor her at home.
Wang plays Zhao's younger brother, who gives her additional headaches with his troublemaking ways.
Zhao said that she has "not made a single decision that is similar to Bi's".
"Honestly, I've learnt a lot about parenting from doing this drama," she said.
"As you all know, I've been pretty busy the last few years with filming and directing, I wasn't so hands-on with my daughter.
"When I do interviews for Tiger Mum, I am especially guilt-ridden, because I know all the questions you ask will revolve about parenting and I really don't have much to share." One thing's for sure - Huang Xin is precious to Zhao and her husband, Wuhan property tycoon Huang Youlong.
"I think the people behind (animated flick) Frozen must have earned a bomb from us! My daughter is crazy about the movie and we have bought a lot of Frozen merchandise.
"Without a doubt, my daughter loves daddy more, because he pampers her way too much," said Zhao, who made her directorial debut in 2013's coming-of-age drama So Young.
"Although I often give in to my daughter, she is fully aware that I am the only one at home who will discipline her if she is naughty."
When asked if she intends to have another child, Zhao said half-jokingly: "Not for now. Even with one child, I feel I haven't been responsible enough as a mother."
Tiger Mum, currently showing on weeknights at 9pm on Star Chinese Channel (Singtel mio TV Ch 507 and StarHub TV Ch 822), marks Zhao's return to the small screen after six years.
Her last TV drama was A Lady's Epic (2009), a heavy Cultural Revolution drama based on writer Yan Geling's same-titled novel.
To many couch potatoes, Zhao is still best remembered as the lovable, bubbly Little Swallow in the popular 1997 period drama My Fair Princess.
"I was drawn to Tiger Mum's script. It's rare to find a storyline that is so closely associated with today's important societal issues," she said.
"That is why I decided to take on this project and not some wuxia or time-travel drama."
Last month, at the Hong Kong Film Awards, Zhao beat off stiff competition from the likes of Tang Wei and Charlene Choi to win Best Actress for her role as a child kidnapper in Peter Chan's tearjerker Dearest.
However, she said she is not resting on her laurels as the darling of Chinese cinema.
Instead, her second directorial effort is in the pipeline.
"To prepare for my second movie, I'm planning to halt my acting activities for the next couple of years," she said.
"I've already turned down a lot of film roles."
This article was first published on May 9, 2015.
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