Malaysian actress Lee Sinje will do anything for her mentor, Sylvia Chang

Malaysian actress Lee Sinje was bitten by jellyfish during the filming of Murmur Of The Hearts

Whatever Taiwanese director Sylvia Chang wants from Malaysian actress Lee Sinje in the making of the movie Murmur Of The Hearts, Chang gets.

"It's as if I've handed myself over to her altogether," says Lee, 39, of her long-time mentor and friend, whom she has known for two decades and calls "big sister Chang".

"I trust Zhang jie completely. So if she asks me to do something, I know I'm in good hands."

This means that even though Lee felt "a little anxious" at first, she readily agreed to shoot a challenging underwater sequence without the help of a stunt double.

The shoot lasted an entire day in the open waters of the Pacific Ocean. She was fully dressed and had to dance gracefully underwater without any breathing apparatus.

She says: "That was a really tough shoot. The weather was really cold and my eyes were swollen and infected by the end of it. My entire mid-section was attacked by jellyfish. My waist became really lumpy and red, but you can't see that in the film because the postproduction team used special effects to blot it out."

She was talking to Life! in a recent interview in Hong Kong to promote Murmur, the third of Chang's films that Lee stars in after Princess D (2002) and 20 30 40 (2004).

In the new film, Lee plays an emotionally scarred mother who will do anything for her two children (Isabella Leong and Lawrence Ko). When she decides to leave her husband, she makes the difficult decision of taking custody of only her daughter.

In a separate interview, Chang, 61, tells Life! in jest that Lee should not have anything to complain about, even with painful jellyfish stings.

She says with a laugh: "Yes, it was a very difficult shoot for her, but Sinje should do it for me, no matter what, as a way of showing gratitude for how I've brought her up."

Chang is widely known as Lee's mentor, having plucked her from obscurity at a movie audition in Malaysia when she was 19. Chang signed her on as an artist and opened the doors for her to have a singing and then an acting career in Taiwan.

Lee says with a grin: "In many ways, Zhang jie treats me as if she were my mother. She's always been very warm and caring towards me."

Reportedly, Chang was the first person Lee called when news broke of her director-husband Oxide Pang's infidelity in May last year. Pang, 49, was photographed hugging and kissing a young model, Liddy Li, at a shopping mall and many speculated it would be the end of Lee and Pang's marriage.

But the couple, who married in 2010, released a joint statement saying they would "face the future together". At another press conference a few months later, she reiterated to reporters: "We have let it go. It's over. Now we go forward."

Questions about the scandal were off-limits for the interview. In any case, Lee's answer would have been clear - the couple appeared hand-in-hand at Murmur's premiere at the Hong Kong International Film Festival later that night.

However, she alludes briefly to being a stepmother to Pang's 14-year-old daughter Yan Yan from a previous marriage. Being a mother in real life helped her get into her movie role easily, says Lee, who is playing a mother for the first time and has no children of her own.

"I've been a mother for quite some time now, so the emotions required of my role in the film came very naturally.

"I didn't understand at first how this mother could leave her son behind like that, but as I got into the role, I realised she has her own troubles and we shouldn't judge her from an outsider's perspective."

yipwy@sph.com.sg

Follow Yip Wai Yee on Twitter @STyipwaiyee

Murmur Of The Hearts opens in cinemas tomorrow.