Christopher Lee returns to his working class roots in comedy-drama Workers

Teng Yong Ping
·Lifestyle Editor
·3-min read
Malaysian actor Christopher Lee as Ming-qi in HBO Asia's comedy-drama series Workers. The character is an iron welder looking for a quick way to get rich. (Photo: HBO)
Malaysian actor Christopher Lee as Ming-qi in HBO Asia's comedy-drama series Workers. The character is an iron welder looking for a quick way to get rich. (Photo: HBO)

SINGAPORE — You don’t often see Christopher Lee in a funny role. But he’s been flexing his comedic acting chops in HBO Asia’s dramedy, Workers, which will premiere on Sunday (10 May).

Workers is a show filmed in the Mandarin and Minnan languages. Lee co-stars with Taiwanese actors Alex Ko, Yu An-shun, Hsueh Shih-ling and Miao Ke-li. The series centres on three friends who are blue-collar construction workers. Lee’s character, Ming-qi, keeps on leading the other two into hare-brained plans to make a quick buck.

Yahoo Lifestyle SEA has watched advance screeners of the first two episodes of this six-episode mini-series, and we can attest to the fact that Lee is really funny in his role as an iron welder who constantly thinks of get-rich-quick schemes.

Lee is really committed to portraying his working class character, warts, and all. Although he is used to playing suave leading-man characters, he’s not even afraid to flaunt his paunch and generally behave in a very coarse manner in this role. This reporter really liked his performance as an uncouth but immensely likeable character who struggles to make money for his family.

Lee spoke to reporters during a video conference interview last week to promote the show.

The Malaysian actor relates very well to the blue-collar character, as he came from working class origins himself. Speaking mostly in Mandarin, Lee said, “I was raised in a small kampung (village) in Melaka, and my family wasn’t well-to-do. Many of us in the village, including myself, entered the workforce at a very young age. We took on mostly odd jobs or manual labour jobs. I've worked in a warehouse, I’ve sold meat and I was also a waiter. So these different experiences helped me to relate well with my character.”

(From left to right) Christopher Lee, Yu An-Shun, Miao Ke-Li, and Hsueh Shih-Ling star in HBO Asia's Taiwanese comedy-drama series, Workers. (Photo: HBO)
(From left to right) Christopher Lee, Yu An-Shun, Miao Ke-Li, and Hsueh Shih-Ling star in HBO Asia's Taiwanese comedy-drama series, Workers. (Photo: HBO)

48-year-old Lee began his acting career in Singapore but now regularly appears in Taiwanese and mainland Chinese productions. He even won the Best Actor award at Taiwan’s Golden Bell Awards in 2014. Workers, however, is his first role where he had to speak so much Taiwanese Hokkien, or the Minnan language, as the locals call it.

When Lee was offered the role in Workers and received the production notes, he was really drawn to the story and characters. But he was worried that his lack of proficiency in the Minnan dialect would delay the production schedule. Thankfully, the producers were supportive and provided him with a language coach.

Lee said, “I’m a Teochew, but all my childhood friends spoke Hokkien. So I grew up learning to speak Hokkien. But the Hokkien that we speak and Taiwanese Hokkien is quite different. So I had to spend a lot of time in the two months before filming to learn my lines.”

Well, Lee’s hard work in learning his Minnan lines paid off. To this reporter’s (admittedly untrained) ears, his Hokkien speech in the show is very fluent.

How is Lee coping with staying at home with his wife, actress Fann Wong, and his young son, during the coronavirus pandemic? The actor, who lives in Singapore, is managing OK with the partial lockdown “circuit breaker” measures. “My son is very happy because it's rare for my wife and I to be at home with him every single day, to spend every minute and every second with him. As for me, I get to spend more time with my family and I have been cooking more than usual. At least one dish a day.”

Workers premieres on HBO GO on 10 May at 9pm with two back-to-back episodes followed by one new episode at the same time weekly.

Here’s the trailer for Workers: