A familiar face in Cantonese serials, veteran Hong Kong actor Ha Yu has been making his presence felt on Singapore TV.
He returns for his third local drama serial, playing a soccer coach in World At Your Feet, which airs on Channel 8 on weekdays at 9pm.
Speaking to Life! after the drama's press conference here earlier this month, he said: "The TV station MediaCorp gave me a chance to act in this drama, so I decided to come back. I heard the response to my first drama here, Love Thy Neighbour, was not bad."
"Not bad" is an understatement, considering that Love Thy Neighbour was the most-watched Channel 8 drama in 2011 with an average viewership of 941,000.
Ha has also starred in local productions, drama It's A Wonderful Life (2013) and telemovie When A Child Is Born (1995).
"I had a good time filming here. Besides, I'm familiar with the crew and cast," added the amiable actor, who has clearly formed a bond with the local actors.
Midway through the 30-minute interview, his World At Your Feet co-star Dennis Chew stopped by to inform his "da ge" (Mandarin for big brother) that he was leaving and would contact him later.
"I haven't seen enough of your Chow Yun Fat hairstyle," quipped the humorous Ha, referring to Chew's trendy slicked-back undercut hairdo.
The 68-year-old actor got his start in acting in the 1970s. After the Guangzhou native snuck across the border to Hong Kong in 1962, he joined acting classes held by Shaw brothers and later signed on to Rediffusion Television, the predecessor of Asia Television (ATV).
He became a star when he switched to rival station TVB in 1974, acting in sketches on the now-defunct long-running live variety show, Enjoy Yourself Tonight.
He was TVB's leading man in the 1970s and 1980s, and starred in pugilistic drama The Sword Of Romance (1979).
Audiences today know him from his various appearances in TVB dramas. At the annual TVB anniversary awards, he won the Best Supporting Actor award for drama My Family in 2005 and the Best Actor award for hit drama Moonlight Resonance in 2008.
He quit TVB in 2012.
The straight-talking Ha said the low pay was a factor but his lessening workload played a part in his departure too.
He said: "Since I had offers from outside TVB, I thought why not go out to earn some money. It's more flexible this way.
"TVB is where I grew up, it's like my home; of course, the management was a little upset that I was leaving. If TVB ever needs me for a drama, I'll go back."
He is putting on the producer's hat. He is working on a movie ATM (automated teller machine) with mm2 Entertainment, a production and distribution company with its headquarters in Singapore. The comedy is expected to be released this year.
His oldest son Dixon, 24, has showbusiness ambitions and is a host with Hong Kong station, now TV.
Ha said: "Dixon loves to sing and is into taekwando too. He told me he wanted to go to Hong Kong to have a shot at showbiz. I guess he's somewhat influenced by his dad."
Ha is married to former TVB artiste Ma Hui Ling, who is in her 50s and lives in Vancouver with their 16-year-old daughter Emily. They have another son Wilson, 23, who is a kindergarten teacher in Hong Kong.
1 Was it your childhood ambition to be an actor?
When I was in secondary school, we once had to write an essay about our ambition. My classmates wanted to be engineers, pilots or doctors. I was the only one who wanted to be an actor.
Since I was in elementary school, I have acted in school plays and theatre groups. I had an older friend who took me to musicals, plays and ballet, and I soon got hooked on these shows. I really longed to be a professional actor one day.
2 What made you pluck up your courage to sneak over to Hong Kong at the age of 16?
Life in China was tough back then. I wanted to be an actor and I felt Hong Kong had plenty of opportunities for me to pursue my dream.
Together with a few young people, we paid a smuggler to bring us over. It was a period when migrants were not repatriated as long as they reached the urban area in Hong Kong. Who would have thought that decision would change the entire course of my life?
3 How did you support yourself when you arrived in Hong Kong?
I did all sorts of odd jobs. I recall doing night watch duty at a construction site during a signal 10 typhoon, the strongest.
I will always remember that night as I was alone at the site and I had never experienced such strong winds. I wasn't scared though. What was there to be afraid of when I had made it safely to Hong Kong? I had to make a living.
4 What was life like in Canada when you emigrated there with your family in 1997?
I relished the thought of taking life easy at first, playing golf and just doing some gardening. The first two weeks were so relaxing but one month later, I felt obsolete. I'm so used to working. I returned to acting in Hong Kong in 2000.
5 Was there a point in your acting career when you felt disillusioned?
I won a Best Supporting Actor for My Family (2005) but when I took on the role, I was told it was a leading role.
I loved my role in Heart Of Greed (2007) and I put in a lot of effort into portraying the character. The drama was a hit and swept many awards but I didn't win any awards. I didn't feel good about it.
I lost heart and even told the producer that maybe I wouldn't do the indirect sequel Moonlight Resonance (2008). The producer said that acting was my greatest love and it would be a pity to give it up. In the end, I took on the sequel.
6 What did you take away from those experiences that made you feel sidelined?
I've come to realise that showbusiness is a game and there are many factors at play. Everyone is a contestant in the game, and I had to reflect on why I wasn't given the award. I know the TV station management has to take into account the marketability of the stars that they want to promote.
7 It was a good decision for you to take on Moonlight Resonance. You went on to win the award for Best Actor, which you said you had waited 40 years for in your acceptance speech.
When I was young, I used to think that with my smarts and my acting chops, I would be able to get an Oscar in 10 years. After 10 years, I realised that an Oscar was impossible. I thought getting an acting award in Hong Kong would be more plausible. (laughs)
Maybe it's because I have already won the award and I'm now older, but I'm not so stubborn anymore when it comes to winning awards. For me, as long as you work hard, I believe that you will bear the fruits of your labour one day.
8 How would you like to be remembered?
I'm not your typical hunk and I'm not good-looking. I'm an example of how if you put in hard work and persevere, you will find that show business has space for different kinds of talent.
World At Your Feet airs on Channel 8 on weekdays at 9pm.