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Fri, Feb 27, 2009
The New Paper
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From sex siren to auntie
by Tan Kee Yun

IF there was an award for best transition from sex symbol to heartlander auntie, we say Ann Kok, 36, would stand a good chance of winning it.

The MediaCorp actress reached the peak of her career in the 1990s, with her sex puss image and string of daring, revealing outfits.

Her infamous see-through, cleavage-showing top (right) at the 1995 Star Awards still remains a talking point for many television viewers today.

Now into her 16th year in show business, Ann is taking the plunge into new territory - auntie-hood.

In the new Channel 8 drama series Housewives' Holiday, which debuts on 4 Mar at 9pm, she plays a middle-aged housewife and - prepare to gasp now - mother to a 15-year old rebellious teenager.

Her fellow 'auntie clan' members in the ensemble cast include veteran actresses Xiang Yun and Hong Huifang.

Of the trio, Ann is the only single in real life.

That fact alone makes her performance highly anticipated, as viewers are waiting to see if she can pull off her character convincingly.

She admitted in an interview with The New Paper that this was undoubtedly 'one of the most difficult roles' she has taken on so far.

She added: 'I don't have the first-hand experience of being a wife, or a mother, so yes, I must say it was quite tough to grasp the full range of emotions at first.'

After all, she is often known for her babe roles on-screen, such as a kind-hearted KTV mamasan in The Night is Still Young (1996) and in the cop drama Dare To Strike (2000), where she played Hong Kong hunky actor Julian Cheung's girlfriend.

Sizzling wardrobe

Off-screen, at the Silver Screen Awards in 1997, she made heads turn with a silver dress that exposed her shoulders, as well as the sides of her midriff.

When she released her debut album that same year, Ann gave fans a more titillating reason (besides her vocals) to buy it - she went 'braless' in an outfit she wore on her album sleeve.

Even when she later clarified that she 'did wear a bra, but it was skin colour and the strapless sort', the impact had already been felt.

Affirming her sexiness was her third place in FHM Singapore's 2004 list of sexiest women in the world.

Hollywood star Angelina Jolie took pole position.

No doubt, of the three 'aunties' in Housewives' Holiday, Ann's character is still the most glamorous.

Her character, Alice Zeng, is pompous, materialistic and clamours to be a tai-tai.

Though she didn't have to dress shabbily and wear dowdy clothes like Huifang and Xiang Yun, she said it was still 'a challenge' to get into Alice Zeng's shoes, as 'I've never been a tai-tai in my life too!'

The toughest scenes were those with her on-screen son.

Ann tried to immerse herself into character as much as possible by observing and 'collecting images of mother-and-child-interaction on the streets, talking to my friends who are mothers'.

She recalled a particularly memorable scenario in which she had to whack her 'son' after a heated argument, and he had to subsequently push her back.

'It was a bit awkward for us (referring to herself and the teen actor) at first, because I really had to hit his hand to make the scene realistic. I couldn't fake it.

'Plus, off screen, he's a quiet and shy kid, so I felt quite bad transforming into this fierce, scary woman in front of him.'

Turning auntie seems to be an inevitable rite of passage for most actresses who have hit the big 3-0.

Queen of Caldecott Hill Zoe Tay and a few others started out as hot babes too, but have since made the smooth transition to motherly figures on the small screen.

Ann relishes the challenges ahead and is even prepared to push the limits of 'auntie-ness' further.

For example, give her a true blue, roughneck character any day and she'll take it on gamely.

'I certainly don't mind playing an uncouth, un-glam auntie next time!' she said, with a laugh.

'To me, that's what acting is all about, to try different, interesting characters. So even if the roles require me to be downright evil or scheming, I'm not averse to accepting them.'

She takes on older characters with grace and shared with us candidly that in her next drama series, My School Daze, slated to air in May, she plays a mother, too.

Still single

Away from the limelight, though, she has no plans to settle down.

Known to be tight-lipped and fiercely protective of her love life (the only relationship she had ever admitted to was with former MediaCorp actor and wushu expert Vincent Ng, back in 2000), Ann said she is 'currently single'.

'My top priority is still work, I want to focus on acting while I can,' she said.

Indeed, unlike in the past where people tend to pay attention to her cup size rather than her talent as an actress, she has been getting more recognition for her acting abilities ever since her return to MediaCorp four years ago.

She left the station in 2000 for a brief stint in the Hong Kong entertainment scene.

At the 2006 Star Awards, she was nominated for Best Actress for her villain role in Love Concierge, her first nomination in a lengthy television career.

Over the next couple of years, she also put in stellar supporting performances in Kinship (2007) and La Femme (2008).

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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