Once in a while, we get an actor or actress that’s seemingly larger than life. Think Robin Williams’ memorable character in Jumanji, Alan Rickman’s haunting role as Severus Snape and Carrie Fisher’s take on Princess Leia in Star Wars.
Yet, perhaps it’s because they are so prominent, so capable, so adept at breathing life into their breakthrough roles, that it makes us sad beyond belief when they pass on.
Really, it’s almost like we all have a Snape in us, begrudging and admiring when they’re present, but sad and broken when they are gone.
And it seems that we are about to lapse into that same bout of despair yet again, as another accomplished actress has passed on.
Although this time, it’s one located considerably closer to our shores, that doesn’t make her achievements any less remarkable.
I’m talking, as you’ve probably guessed from the headline, about Lai Meng, the prolific actress who’ve made many a Singaporean weep heartfelt tears.
And in tribute to this amazing actress, we have compiled 10 facts about her you probably weren’t aware of in the hopes that apart from being a memorable one, her passing would also be one that highlights the individual golden scenes of her long career.
Without further ado, let the screening begin.
1. Time of passing
According to Sinchew Daily, Lai Meng, whose real name is Lai Kwai Yoon, passed away peacefully on Sunday night (6 May). She was 90.
The late actress leaves behind one daughter, two sons and four grandchildren.
2. She was actually hospitalised prior to that
Last Tuesday (1 May), the entertainer was admitted to hospital due to a critical illness. Once the media caught wind of it, her godson Bjarne Wong said:
“We may hold a press conference later because there are some things she wants us to complete on her behalf.”
Well wishes and support soon poured in, courtesy of Netizens. But as it turns out, the wishes never quite physically manifested, as Lai Meng breathed her last just five days later.
3. She’s not Singaporean
Contrary to popular belief, Lai Meng(also known as Aunty Meng) is not of Singaporean nationality despite her track record of local film hits.
Instead, she actually hailed from our neighbouring land Malaysia.
And this leads to the next point…
4. Empat Sekawan
Singaporeans might have loved Lai Meng for her heart-wrenching portrayal of Mrs Yang in Money No Enough 2, but Malaysians loved the actress for another series she did long before MNE2. In the 1960s, to be exact.
Malaysian TV series Empat Sekawan.
Featuring the day-to-day lives of four friends in classic multi-dialect style (Mandarin, Hakka, Hokkien and Cantonese), the show ran for two decades and catapulted Lai to stardom in the Malaysian Entertainment Industry.
Even till this day, the words Empat Sekawan still strike a chord on any Malaysian street. But I honestly wouldn’t expect anything otherwise; it truly was a classic.
Feeling nostalgic yet?
5. But she actually debuted even before that
As crazy as it sounds to the young ‘uns out there (including me thanks), Lai Meng first started performing as far back as the 50s.
Yah, colour TV wasn’t even mainstream then.
6. Mrs Yang
As mentioned in a previous point, Lai Meng shot to local (Singaporean) fame when she played Mrs Yang in the Jack Neo film Money No Enough 2.
Depicting the role of Mrs Yang, a mother afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease, she nailed the role (in my totally non-biased opinion) to perfection.
In fact, no scene has touched me as deep as two in the same film (no spoilers intended): one where she’s asked to consume her meals atop a toilet bowl, and the final scene wherein she sacrifices her life for her granddaughter.
While there’s no specific video showcasing those overly depressing scenes, this MV does a good job at expressing the main gist of the movie.
And of course, just how phenomenally Lai Meng performed her role in the movie.
Goddamn, who’s cutting the onions?
And the critics acknowledged her efforts. She scored a nomination at Taiwan’s prestigious 45th Golden Horse Awards (2008) with the role, a feat achieved by only two other Malaysian actresses: Datuk Michelle Yeoh and Lee Sinje.
Later on, she would appear in a mini-sequel to the film in the movie Where Got Ghost? Reprising her role in the prequel, she comes back as a ghost and starts haunting her sons when they started complaining about not doing well financially.
And incredibly, even the end had a touching edge (which I will come to know as the Jack Neo touch).
7. Malaysian Book of Records
In 2011, the lifetime performer also made history by entering the Malaysia Book of Records as the ‘Longest Performing Artist’ for more than five decades of participation in the entertainment industry.
But even then she wasn’t satisfied, taking part in countless commercial and stage, radio, television and film projects. It was only in Jan 2018 that she consented to step down and embrace retirement.
In 2013, Lai Meng was conferred the title of Datuk by the Sultan of Pahang Sultan Ahmad Shah himself.
This honourable title has also been awarded to Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and Star Trek Discovery star Michelle Yeoh.
9. She’s a diverse performer
Do not be fooled by Lai Meng’s overwhelming popularity in Singapore and Malaysia, for the talented actress has also lent her skills to overseas productions in Hong Kong, Taiwan and China!
Talk about a diverse performer!
10. As well as a true performer
Back in the old days, performers didn’t earn much. According to Lai Meng, the salary could range from RM120 a month for accompanying (and performing) with a travelling singing troupe to RM10 each for a 30-minute recording session for the radio programme Empat Sekawan.
But she never minded the fluctuating salary cuts.
“Entertainment work didn’t pay much in those days, but we never cared about the money,” Lai said. “We really enjoyed performing, and being paid to have so much fun was truly a bonus.”
Kudos Lai Meng, you were truly a wonderful actress, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to watch you perform, alongside many other Singaporeans.
Wherever you are, please be in peace, and if there’s an audience, continue doing what you love so much.
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