Good girl gets a hug on the street

Ya Hui was once hugged by an auntie on the street who adored her role as wonton mee seller Hong Jinzhi in the drama 118.
Ya Hui was once hugged by an auntie on the street who adored her role as wonton mee seller Hong Jinzhi in the drama 118.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Singapore actress Ya Hui received a hug on the street, thanks to her loveable turn as down-to-earth wonton mee seller Hong Jinzhi in the long-form drama 118.

"An auntie gave me a hug and told me, 'If no one sayang you, auntie will sayang you'," she said, referring to the Malay word for love.

The character's kind nature coupled with her being diagnosed with a brain tumour made her a hit with audiences.

The 29-year-old actress said: "Many people can connect with Hong Jinzhi. She's a simple girl who does not hanker after material needs. She's contented with leading a simple life. Passers-by call me Jinzhi when they meet me. People tend to like good-girl characters."

She is versatile and has tried her hand at roles ranging from a tough cop in Channel 5 drama Point Of Entry (2012) to spoilt rich girl in Channel 8 drama Gonna Make It (2013). But it is the amiable role as the noodle seller that has really struck a chord with the public.

 

Audiences were not the only ones who took to Miss Nice. Industry players and advertisers also took notice.

Ya Hui earned her first Best Actress nomination at this year's Star Awards in her nine-year show- business career, though she did not win. She also snagged an endorsement deal with blackcurrant drink Ribena, where she smiles sunnily in television and bus advertisements.

Fans will be pleased to know that she reprises her role in the sequel to the popular heartland drama 118, which begins filming later this year.

Hong Jinzhi's easy-going attitude is something the actress can identity with as she enjoys daydreaming on bus rides home and chowing down hawker fare.

She said: "I'm just being myself. Being the girl-next-door is not an image that I created. I've always been one since I was young."

Speaking to The Straits Times on the phone while standing in line at the bank, she said she is in her default outfit for filming days - T-shirt and shorts. She had just wrapped up shooting for the upcoming cop drama C.L.I.F 4, in which she roughs it out as a policewoman for a change of pace.

"Since we are going to change into our characters' outfits, I usually chin chai (Hokkien for in a careless manner) wear clothes.

"If I go to town or meet friends, I'll dress up a bit, but I won't overdress. I'm very much a T-shirt and jeans girl. Singapore's weather is so hot, stars are humans too and we need to be comfortable in what we are wearing," said the youngest of three children of retiree parents who are in their 70s.

She is just as comfortable in her own skin when it comes to her acting career. She has yet to win an acting award and has made it to the Top 10 Most Popular Female Artiste category only once, in 2014.

She once likened the feeling of not getting into the popularity polls to failing school examinations.

Now she seems to have come to terms with the lack of awards and is focused on the intangible rewards of acting. She said: "My biggest dream is to move audiences with my acting, I want them to feel the emotions and be able to understand what is going through my character's mind. That's the most important thing for me as an actress."

Drawing a parallel to her character in 118, she added: "We will do things to the best of our abilities. There will be people who like my acting, there will be people who don't. What's most important is that I'm true to myself and I've put in my utmost effort. I'll have no regrets."

Gwendolyn Ng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 08, 2016, with the headline 'Good girl gets a hug on the street'. Print Edition | Subscribe