Singapore's connection to Wonder Woman

Actress Mayling Ng, whose father is Singaporean, plays a female warrior in the superhero movie

Mayling Ng’s background as a former fitness instructor has come in handy in action movies such as Blood Hunters, in which she plays a vampire. PHOTOS: ONG WEE JIN, BLOOD HUNTERS
Mayling Ng’s background as a former fitness instructor has come in handy in action movies such as Blood Hunters (above), in which she plays a vampire. PHOTOS: ONG WEE JIN, BLOOD HUNTERS

If you look carefully at the cast list for the highly anticipated superhero flick Wonder Woman, you will find a name with a familiar ring to it - Mayling Ng, who plays Orana, a member of the female warrior Amazon tribe.

It turns out that there is a Singapore connection here as her father is Chinese Singaporean and her mother is British.

Her father was a sailor who travelled around the world before settling down in Liverpool and starting a Chinese restaurant there called Mandarin. Back in Singapore on a personal trip, Ng, 42, tells The Straits Times at bar and restaurant Ce La Vi at Marina Bay Sands on Wednesday evening: "He's a very good chef and he was very famous back in the day. All the Liverpool football folks used to always go; Ian Rush, Kenny Dalglish, they loved him."

Ng was born in the United Kingdom and moved to Tenerife, the largest of Spain's Canary Islands off north-west Africa, when she was 13. Her five brothers are still there and her family now owns several eateries there.

The former fitness instructor quips: "I get everyone fit, they get everyone fat. I'm the black sheep."

Maybe because she has five brothers, she grew up watching Bruce Lee movies and would rather play with a stick than with dolls. She says: "It was my dream to be in a martial arts movie."

Her mother took her to a gongfu class with her brothers when Ng was eight. Most of her siblings stopped after a while, but she continued. She later spent some time in Singapore in her 20s when she lived with her aunt, picked up taekwondo and travelled.

In 2003, she went to Hong Kong, "just as the movie industry had crashed", she adds wryly. But she stayed and trained and got into the fitness business, travelling around the world as a personal trainer and nutritionist.

She was an instructor and fitness blogger in a whole array of disciplines. She says: "I've done a lot of different styles from muay thai to (Filipino martial art) Kali to stick fighting, depending on where I am and who the teacher is. I'm a jack of all trades, master of none."

And if she needed to motivate her clients, she could always point to a time when she was overweight.

Although she did not divulge details on her transformation, she says: "I was so overweight because my family does restaurants so our thing is to eat. I love to eat, that's why I love Singapore."

She won silver in the Singapore Bikini fitness open in 2011 and placed fifth in the first Singapore Federation of Body-building and Fitness championship.

Her versatility has opened doors for her in film.

She plays a Russian convict in a joint American-Hong Kong production called Lady Bloodfight (2016), where she fought "like a brawler, aggressive and strong with punches and headbutts". She just wrapped up Blood Hunters, in which she plays a Filipino vampire who has viciously sharp claws.

And yes, her mixed parentage means that she can pull off a variety of ethnicities.

"People look at me and they don't know if I'm Brazilian, Asian, Mongolian or Russian. My father is a fivefoot-four Chinese guy and my mum is a five-foot-two white woman. I'm 1.75m and taller than all my brothers."

Being mixed has its advantages and disadvantages. She adds: "I look more Asian when I don't have a tan. I can play around and my look can change and I do a lot of accents, including a Singlish accent. I can be everything but because they can't put me in a bracket, I miss out on a lot of stuff."

The fact that Ng, who holds a British passport, does not have a Westernised name has also proven to be a conversation starter when she meets people. "I'm very proud of being Chinese and especially growing up in Europe, I wanted to show I was Chinese."

Regardless of how she might be seen, the one thing that remains constant is her toned physique, which she maintains by working out at least an hour every day.

It was a perfect fit for her role in Wonder Woman and it seemed fated in a way as she was always being described by people as Amazonian and called a gladiator. Though Ng, who is single, says: "I'm only a UK 10 and a US 6, size medium in Zara. I'm not like on steroids or massive."

While she is unable to share more about the movie before it opens here on June 1, she does say that director Patty Jenkins (Monster, 2003) was "a delight" and adds: "She's all for woman empowerment and very open and giving." And as for lead actress Gal Gadot who plays Wonder Woman: "She walks into a room and there's an aura."

The Los Angeles-based Ng is fully committed to action movies despite the physical toll they exact. And it is tougher for women as they wear "smaller clothes" which means they get more scrapes and cuts and bruises. It took a year for her to recover from a whiplash injury after she had to perform a headbutt more than 30 times for a scene in Lady Bloodfight.

She is currently sporting the remnants of a bruise around her right eye from learning Kali, which includes stick fighting and knife fighting.

But she says: "To do an action movie is so cool and you get paid for it. It's amazing."

Ng would love to land a role on the fantasy television hit Game Of Thrones or in a James Bond movie. She says: "I find being the villain probably easier than being the girlfriend."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 10, 2017, with the headline Singapore's connection to Wonder Woman. Subscribe