SINGAPORE – Chinese actress Vicki Zhao used to be a huge fan of local veteran actor Li Nanxing.
The 43-year-old said: “When I was in primary school, I would watch (Li’s) dramas like Paint A Rainbow (1986) and I really liked him.
“In recent years, Singapore dramas aren’t really aired in China, so even the youngest people in China who have watched his dramas would be (around) my age.”
Zhao, who was in town on Tuesday (Sept 24) for a launch of wines from vineyards she owns in France, has since gone from fan to friend. She now manages Li’s acting engagements in China.
But when Li, 54, who was also present at the launch at The Fullerton Hotel, called Zhao his boss, she quickly refuted: “I’m working for him! I’m just there to facilitate his activities in China, to let more people know about him.”
Their close friendship was apparent during a group interview with Zhao, who was accompanied by Li.
They bantered easily, joking about Zhao’s alcohol tolerance.
“She can drink three bottles of wine,” Li remarked, before Zhao quickly rebuffed: “If I drink three bottles, I won’t be able to catch my flight home tomorrow.”
Their friendship, which began when Li met Zhao and her husband at a dinner function more than 10 years ago, has helped Zhao, a fervent wine lover, expand her wine business to Singapore.
Wines from her vineyards will now be available here via Grand Cru, Wine Concierge at The Fullerton Hotel and on the menus of the hotel’s restaurants.
The actress, who married Chinese billionaire and entrepreneur Huang Youlong in 2008, began buying chateaus after the birth of her daughter in 2010 in Singapore.
She now owns four vineyards in France, which sells wines in markets like China.
Li recalled: “We were filming a drama in China earlier this year when I drank her wines on set. I found it so good that I told her she should consider bringing it to Singapore.”
Zhao is best known among local audiences for her portrayal of Little Swallow in the 1990s period series My Fair Princess.
She is one of the executive producers of Shei Dou Ke Wang Yu Jian Ni (Everyone Wants To Meet You), a romance drama which will feature Li in a supporting role. It is set to air on Chinese streaming platform iQiyi later this year.
“Nanxing was such a charmer on set – so professional, so well-mannered. He’s a favourite among all our female staff,” says Zhao.
While she now wears many hats – she has also directed two films, including her debut, the 2013 hit movie So Young – she is still an actress at heart.
“My priority is acting and producing. Wine is a side gig, if anything,” the savvy Zhao says, adding cheekily: “Of course, when I produce any films or shows, I will give my wines product placement.”
A new film starring her and Chinese actor Ge You is slated to screen in China later this year and she will be singing the movie’s theme song.
Zhao, who is also a singer with seven albums under her belt – the last release was in 2009 – says this does not signal a return to singing: “I have no plans to ever release an album again. That’s all in the past for me now. When I do sing now, it’s more for fun.”
Her third directorial movie is also in production.
Zhao, who often works with actors younger than her, says: “I think right now it’s very easy to be famous, perhaps because of social media. Someone can just be very pretty or very handsome and be famous for that. But it’s (also) very easy to lose that fame.
“Actors have to be backed by their professional abilities and work – that’s the advice I’ll give to young people.”