HIGH SOCIETY ON CELLULOID
Sheena Liang interviews Jessey Meng
TWISTS OF FATE
WHEN JESSEY MENG steps into a room, her presence is felt. At 177 cm, it's hard for her to stand out, but it's her intellect, dazzling beauty and natural magnetism that leave a searing impression. Clasping my hand warmly, we sit down to talk. A conversation marked by extreme candor, raw emotion and the revelation of a boyfriend who swindled her out of life's saving, it's not what I'd expected.
Born in Taiwan, Meng needed NT$5000 (now HK$1250) to pay for parking while at college. Strapped for cash, she figured modeling was a great way to earn a quick buck.
Gifted with the requisite height and good looks, Meng quickly made an impression on the fashion world. For six years she dominated runways in the world's fashion capitals. Contrary to popular perception, she declares, good models aren't vacuous beings what double as mannequins, but rather intelligent individuals who have connection to the designer and give life to the garments they're wearing.
Ironically, her height became the barrier to her dream job as a television host. Male co-anchors disliked standing in her shadow. But by the age of 27 she had grown weary of modeling and the travel required."At the very peak of this madness, I had 29 boarding passes. This was in January, which had 31 days. I was literally going home just to change suitcases. But in a way, it was a blessing, as models don;t have fixed salaries."
At the time, Phoenix TV in hong Kong was casting for a weather-girl
and Meng jumped at the opportunity. Undeterred by the lack of holidays-
"Like a postman, come rain or shine, typhoon or earthquake, the
weather-girl has to work"- she relished the opportunity to take
her presenting career forward.
So she packed her bags and moved to Hong Kong. It was a rocky start, she recalls."I only spoke Mandarin and had to squeeze myself into a 150-sq-ft apartment." But slowly at first, then in droves. As she made an impact with her insightful presenting and affable personality,a one-off role as a guest host turned a full-time gig, with more programmes turning to Meng.
Her days as a nascent presenter also marked her first foray into film. She was in the middle of a fur show when her manager called to ask whether she'd like to attend a casting in Hong Kong for a Hollywood movie starring Richard Gere. Meng dismissed him,; she had no time for jokes.
But she found the time between shows to strut into The Pennisula "looking like a panda". Seriously, I had smoky eyes and hair that looked like it had exploded." To her surprise, the casting team adored the look and dispatched her to L.A. There her outstanding chemistry with Gere won her a role in 1997 Red Corner.
Smiling at the memory, Meng muses, "During the three weeks shooting, I felt like I was Richard Gere's girlfriend. We had flirting scenes, even a love scene." She was hesitant about doing the nude scene, so a body body double was brought in. But the day the scene was shot, the director approached her to do it after all. Why, she asked, when the double had such a stunning body? His answer was convincing, "She's too professional and makes the whole thing look like a porn flick. You don;t want people to think that's you now, do you?" Another influential factor was Gere, who "said it felt lie he was being raped." Confident it was the right decision, Meng did the scene and pulled it off with aplomb.
Her dalliance with Hollywood lasted for a month before she returned to Hong Kong, but the bond she shares with Gere remains strong."It's not what people think," she states, while admitting that their connection is stronger than friendship. A smile creeps onto her face as she reminisces," Richard and I shared a love scne and there was kissing and e enjoyed that."
Magazine Gap Road posed anew and exciting challenge. Meng relished the role of Samantha, her first as a led actress. A spirited character, Samantha afces many dilemmas, makes tough choices and eventually crosses a moral line for a friend. Laughing, she says, "I didn't get paid very much for it but I enjoyed making the film."
She followed that up with a minor role,as Anthony Wong's hench-woman in the Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. Working on a film costing US$145 million, was "an eye-opening experience". On the other hand ", Magazine Gap Road which had a cast and crew of 30, had a lot of heart."
Off screen, Meng admits frankly, "Life is a roller-coaster. I'm feeling so down right ow. it feels hellish." For a smidgen of a second, it looks as if tears are welling before she says, "I like to look forward and not back."
On a roll now, the whole sordid story spills forth. her life, she divulges, is a lonely one. "Three months ago, my boyfriend took all my money and left. I had four beautiful years with him. he brought me to heaven, then he threw me into hell. To cut a long story short, I'm starting fro zero. If you ask me what kind of lifestyle I had in the last four years., I travelled around the world at least 20 times. I'v seen the best and the worst. I've stayed at the Presidential Suite at Burj Al Arab. I've experienced a lifestyle that was absurd and hard to explain to people."
Her voice dips, "in the end I lost 90 percent of my savings and I person I really loved and have known for 11 years. But it's not only me; we had 30 people who had invested 40 million euros. It's not a matter of financial damage, but the emotional." She speaks with no trace of bitterness in her voice, only melancholy. There's nothing disingenuous about her either. She's just a woman trying to move on.
Meng is thankful for the friends who've rallied around her, and is now on the road to recovery, out of pure necessity. "If he had left me half of my saving, I could have stayed at home and licked my wounds, but he left me nothing I still have a family to take care of, so I've detached myself and poured myself into work."
At the end of the conversation, I'm in awe of Meng. To speak of her heartbreak with such brutal honesty takes guts. It's this gritty determination that convinces me she'll prevail again when she faces the next big thing life has in store for her.