From small-time TV host to variety superstar: Wong Cho Lam's long climb to success

8 March 2016 / 7 months 3 weeks ago

It was a long climb to success for Wong Cho Lam.

According to Jaynestars, the 36-year-old Hong Kong entertainer, who is now one of China’s most sought-after variety superstars, worked behind-the-scenes for many years before he was asked to face the camera for a children’s TV show.

“I studied performance at The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts,” said Cho-lam as he recalled the years prior to his onscreen debut.

“I started voice acting when I was 17.”

Cho-lam, who had some years of voice acting experience for radio dramas during his time with the HKAPA, shared that he was actually the Cantonese voice actor for Takeshi Kaneshiro in 2004’s House of Flying Daggers and Jay Chou in 2008’s Kung Fu Dunk.

“I didn’t want to tell anyone that because that would just ruin the picture! How can you imagine Takeshi Kaneshiro’s face with my voice? It’s horrible!”

Cho-lam found his love for singing and opera when he turned 18.

He took a leave from school and went to Beijing, where he met the 90-year-old Peking opera Dan master, Yu Yuheng. While studying under Teacher Yu, Cho-lam had the privilege to become acquainted with Mei Lanfang’s son, Mei Baojiu. “I still have the photo I took with Teacher Mei,” he said.

Cho-lam loved Peking opera so much he was close to quitting his education at the HKAPA so he could continue his lessons with Teacher Yu. However, the untimely death of his father in 2002 brought Cho-lam back to reality.

Unable to afford his lessons, Cho-lam returned to Hong Kong and joined TVB.

Cho-lam’s early years with TVB was confusing and chaotic, but it nonetheless trained him to be an adaptable and efficient artist. Originally a small-time TV host for children shows, Cho-lam’s flexible voice acting caught the attention of director Patrick Kong, who casted him in the movie Marriage With a Fool in 2005.

In 2006, TVB transferred Cho-lam to the acting department, and he made a small appearance in Glittering Days as Roger Kwok’s singer.

Cho-lam earned his first major role in the 2007 sitcom, Off Pedder. His popularity spiked in 2010 when he hosted Fun with Liza and Gods, a variety show featuring the main hosts doing various impersonations. The series was so successful it spawned several sequel series, including a television drama and a film.

Before he could actually begin to process its impact, Cho-lam was already receiving pages after pages of casting offers. 

But being popularity did not make his life any easier. “If I never had that experience, I probably wouldn’t be around today,” said Cho-lam.

“During those days, I had to come up with my own ideas myself. One new idea every week. Clothes, hairstyle, makeup… I had to manage everything myself. Sometimes, I even have to do the video editing myself. If I wanted to get famous celebrities on my show, I had to call them personally. I literally didn’t have time to do anything else.”

His endless list of projects to do practically gave him no time for himself. The money was piling before his eyes, but it was at the expense of his health. “There was one time when I didn’t sleep for three days and three nights. I trained myself to sleep like a guerrilla warrior.”

Every passing minute was precious. Cho-lam said he would always use that five minute break in between takes to sleep. He would use his lunch time for a 30-minute power nap. He could even fall asleep while sitting in an uncomfortable position during a long car ride.

A single performance in a popular Chinese variety show made Cho-lam one of the fastest-rising stars in the Chinese entertainment industry.

In 2012, Cho-lam became a regular guest in the Mainland Chinese variety show, Your Face Sounds Familiar. Cho-lam found instant fame overnight after his impersonation of Huluwa from the Chinese animation Calabash Brothers went viral in 2013. Since then, Cho-lam has become a familiar face across many Chinese variety platforms.

After leaving TVB management in 2015, Cho-lam signed with TVB’s partner, Shaw Brothers, and started his own personal studio to produce his own works. While his days at TVB were tiring, his days now as a boss are “mentally exhausting.”

“I can’t not do well,” said Cho-lam. “As a boss, not only do I have to take care of myself, I also have to take care of others. If I have no jobs, what would happen to them [his staff]? I am a very disorganized person. I wouldn’t exist without them.”

“When we were younger, we treated the celebrities as people who have halos above their heads. But nowadays, celebrities are expected to interact with fans more frequently and closely, such as through social media. There are pros and cons to this. While this makes the celebrities more approachable, it’s also harder for idols to achieve that Leslie Cheung aura.”

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