Charlene Choi takes a big pay cut and strips for her new movie Sara

Actress Charlene Choi was so keen to play a feisty journalist that she took home a tenth of her usual pay

Charlene Choi was so eager to take on the skin-baring role in her new movie Sara that she took a 90 per cent pay cut, according its producer Chapman To.

Reportedly, Choi, 32, earns about HK$5 million (S$880,000) for one film, which means she would have taken home only about HK$500,000 for Sara.

At a press event, To, 42, tells Life! in Mandarin: "Actors typically go through two stages - one is when they're doing anything they can for money and the other is when they do anything they can to look for good roles."

"Charlene falls in the second category, so she readily took only 10 per cent of her usual pay. But maybe that's because she already has too much money to spare," he adds in his usual deadpan fashion.

In Sara, which opens in Singapore tomorrow, Choi plays a journalist who attempts to rescue a teenage Thai prostitute.

The Hong Kong star, who is one half of pop duo Twins and is known for her sweetie-pie image, is also seen in several intimate love scenes with a much older man (played by Simon Yam).

While the public may have some reservations about the wholesome actress taking on such a provocative role, To reveals that she was the only one he considered for the part.

"Ever since she entered the enter-tainment business, people have seen her as a little girl. But given the number of years she has been in this industry, she should have attained the maturity required of such a role," he says.

"I also feel that her acting skills have been greatly underestimated by the public. It's about time she be given a role that can showcase her talent."

To, who is better known as an actor, is Choi's long-time friend and also co-star in films such as The Midas Touch (2013) and Let's Go For Love (2014).

He was fielding media interviews from the Emperor Motion Pictures booth at annual entertainment market Filmart in Hong Kong, where he was promoting the movie.

Not that Sara needs any more publicity in Hong Kong, where it has been topping local boxoffice charts since it opened in cinemas three weeks ago. To date, it has earned HK$16 million, considered a huge amount for a Category III film restricted for viewers aged 18 and older.

Choi has also been gaining acclaim for her role and has taken home a Best Actress award at the Macau International Movie Festival as well as garnered a Special Mention at the Osaka Asian Film Festival.

At the Hong Kong Film Awards next month, she is up for Best Actress against veterans Sandra Ng, Zhou Xun, Tang Wei and Vicki Zhao Wei.

Does To think Choi stands a chance of winning? "She did a great job, I'm confident she has a good shot. At the very least, the role is a huge breakthrough for her and for her career and that's something," he says.

Sara is the fifth film for which he acts as producer, following Isabella (2006), Trivial Matters (2007), Ex (2009) and Diva (2012), and he has every intention of expanding his producer resume.

"I choose to produce because I want to watch films that are not readily available in the market.

"When I was young, the Hong Kong industry was filled with all sorts of genres of films, but these days, that's not true. So I might as well do something to make these movies," he says.

Given his power as producer to oversee even casting decisions, you ask if he ever plans to cast his actress wife Kristal Tin, 37, in any of his future projects.

"No, I think it's better if we do our separate things, so the most I'll do is get her to make a cameo. We should have our own personal space."

The famous comedian adds with a chuckle: "Besides, the film set always has so many pretty girls. She needs to give me personal space to look at all these girls."

yipwy@sph.com.sg

Sara opens in Singapore tomorrow.