Believe it or not, Hong Kong celebrity-host Spencer Leong claims he sees dead people. The veteran 47-year-old emcee has been putting his so-called psychic abilities to use by hosting the long- running paranormal TV series Unbelievable over the past decade.
Sounding chirpy over the telephone from Hong Kong last week, he tells Life! he was initially terrified of the idea of helming a supernatural- themed show.
"I started out as an actor but someone from the senior management in the TV station recommended me for this hosting stint. I protested in fear, saying I was afraid of ghosts," recalls the bachelor.
"They promised me it was just a three-month stint but ratings were so good that they asked me to carry on hosting."
He proudly adds that he has hosted more than 500 episodes of the Hong Kong cable TV show, which has seen him visiting supposedly haunted locations in Hong Kong with spiritual experts. He has also travelled to Malaysia to seek out the spirit of a murder victim.
"I used to be scared of the unfamiliar but now, I think they are harmless. If spirits appear before you, they usually want to seek your help," says Leong, who is also a radio DJ and owns a four-outlet dessert chain in Hong Kong.
No subject seems too taboo for him to tackle in a bid to boost ratings. He has gone through the rites of lying in a coffin in his own fake funeral for a special on the afterlife.
The show attracted flak when "wedding plans" were announced between him and the late Hong Kong actress Barbara Yung Mei Ling, who committed suicide in 1985. The media and public blasted it for being disrespectful to the dead and the "celebrity wedding" was indefinitely postponed.
Leong was in town to promote his programme Unbelievable: HK Mysteries. It is a 10-episode reality show under the Unbelievable series now airing on cable TV SingTel mioTV's channel cHK here.
Unbelievable: HK Mysteries banks on a gimmicky formula straight out of a B-grade horror movie where pretty women are sent to purportedly haunted sites including a cemetery and an abandoned police station to carry out tasks.
In one episode, the participants, who include models and customer service officers, are tasked to clean a tombstone at night.
1 Your show is titled Unbelievable. What's your response to critics who say the paranor- mal encounters are unbelievable and staged?
We don't make things up on the show. There are times during filming when ghosts don't appear. We show it as it is. If ghosts appear every single time we go for a shoot, it means our show is a fake. I believe the realistic scenes in our show are the living proof.
2 How do you go about connecting with the dead?
You cannot go out to provoke the spirits. I will tell the ghosts that I'm here to help them redress their grievances and help them with whatever is within my ability.
If you approach them in a sincere manner, you will be able to communicate with them.
3 Some believe that paranormal encounters are bad luck. How do you protect yourself ?
I'm a Buddhist. I make it a point to recite a chant that will encourage ghosts to let go of the grudges that they have in this world and go in peace.
4 You have visited Malaysia to shoot Unbelievable. Would you film here in Singapore?
When I came here last month to promote my show, the cable TV staff told me all sorts of Singapore ghost stories. We are thinking of coming back to shoot next year. We can seek out ghosts in the famous haunted and abandoned hospital in Changi.
In fact, I hope to make Unbelievable global and introduce paranormal sites of the world to audiences.
5 How would you rate the make- believe ghosts in horror movies?
Based on my many paranormal encounters, I've realised the ghosts that appear in movies are not realistic. There's the one exception though, Hollywood supernatural thriller The Sixth Sense (1999), starring American actor Bruce Willis. The ghosts in The Sixth Sense are exactly like the ghosts I've seen in real life.
6 You have released a smartphone app titled Ghostly Encounter in July (the app, which uses augmented reality technology, serves as a guide for people seeking out ghostly encounters at haunted sites in Hong Kong and Malaysia). Are smartphones available in the afterworld too or is the app for the benefit of the living?
We know that we laugh and cry to release stress. I've heard that watching horror movies is also a way to relieve stress. Similarly, I hope people can get some stress relief when playing with my smartphone app.
7 You are a popular radio DJ, a dessert chain store-owner and you have been called Hong Kong's top paranormal show host. Successful career aside, how are things on the personal front?
Over the past decade, I've been busy with my business, TV and radio shows. It's pretty tiring and now, I hope to start my own family. I love kids. I hope to get married and have my own kids within the next three years.
8 How would you like to be remembered?
I hope viewers can see the effort I've put into my shows. I want them to remember me for the good- quality TV programmes I have done.
Unbelievable: HK Mysteries airs on cHK (SingTel mio TV Channel 510) at 10pm every Wednesday.