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"I'M DYING TO GAIN SOME WEIGHT," SAYS KAREN MOK AS SHE NIBBLES ON SCONES AND TEA AT HONG KONG'S FANCY SHANGRI-LA HOTEL. THE STRESSOF HONG KONG STARDOM IS KEEPING HER QUITE SCRAWNY DESPITE HERLACK OF A SPECIAL DIET AND EXERCISE.

No wonder. Still in her mid-20s, the performer has acted in 19films and has released several CDs after only four years in the industry. And although she can't complain about where her career is now, she has been fielding other opportunities. Her perfectEnglish is a disadvantage to her getting work outside of HongKong, where filmmakers look for more "ethnic" types and more "typical" Chinese. She hopes they get over their myopia, because "I wouldn"t want my career to end within the boundaries of Hong Kong."

She can tell them off in Cantonese, Mandarin, English, French,and Italian. Born in Hong Kong (her birth certificate and passport read "Karen Morris," but she goes by Mok Man-Wai), she earned a scholarship to an international college in Trieste, Italy, whenshe was 17. Then she majored in Italian Literature at London University.

Citing Ella Fitzgerald as her only idol, Karen entered show business through singing. She recorded some demo tapes "for fun" before auditioning and winning a part in Miss Saigon. She rejected the London production to accept a Hong Kong record contract. Her 1993 debut album wasn't a huge success, but it got her foot in the door. She went back to London, finished her studies, and returnedto Hong Kong for good to get into movies.

Her first film, a low-budget comedy, was released in late 1994.Her second, A Chinese Odyssey, was anything but minor. An ambitiousand expensive retelling of the Monkey King legend, Jeff Lau's two-part epic gave her the opportunity to film in Mainland Chinafor three months and work with Stephen Chow for the first time.Karen and Steven have co-starred in two comedies since then. The Hong Kong press has linked them romantically, but she will not discuss their personal relationship.

Next came Fallen Angels, her artiest effort. Even though she appeared in less than one-third of the Wong Kar-Wai directed film, it took"forever" to shoot. (Actually, it filmed on and off from January to July 1995.) She remembers, "He didn't say much about the character.He would give you a lot of slack. You could interpret it yourway and do your own thing, but I think he has in mind what willwork and what won't work. He has very specific ideas of what he wants." Wong's direction paid off, because her hyper and screechy acting earned her Best Supporting Actress at the 1996 HK FilmAwards.

Perhaps even more interesting was her goofy yet poignant performance in Stephen Chow's God of Cookery. She played an ugly woman witha lazy eye and protruding teeth who helps and reforms the arrogant title character. "A lot of actresses wouldn't risk such roles because they think they always have to appear pretty. I thought,"What the heck, it's only a movie." Stephen, [co-director] AlexLee, and I sat together and tried out many things. Originally,I was going to have a harelip, but that turned out to be too difficult."Laughing, she says, "I like weird things." The film took a long two months to shoot because the actors and crew cracked up constantly.The finished cut included "NG" (no good) takes that were just too funny to be left out.

Mok also had a notable role in Viva Erotica, a comedy about Hong Kong's softcore film industry. In the stylized credit sequence,she has a humorous and rather gymnastic (but not explicit) sex scene with the respected actor and pop star, Leslie Cheung ...which she did with a painful sunburn! Since then, she has performedwith Leslie in several of his concerts. She loved it, and revealed that she was actually on stage with Leslie when he won the singingcompetition that started his career in 1977. Karen was a "flowergirl" because her mother was a judge at that contest. "I remember vividly seeing him singing his song. It made a very strong impression,"she recalls. "God knows that twenty years later I'd be in thesame movie with him and singing with him onstage!"





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