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Hollywood or Chem 10?

Irene Ng '97: Joy and Luck at Harvard

By Sunah N. Kim

In Chem 10 lecture, you may have seen her calmly taking notes. But on the silver screen, you saw her writhing in feigned agony in her bedroom.

We speak of none other than Irene S. Ng '97, who played the adolescent Lindo in "The Joy Luck Club."

A "100% Chinese" native of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and more recently, of Allentown, PA, the actress who played the adolescent Lindo in Wayne Wang's movie made her debut at Harvard this year--as a student, that is. Fresh from the glitz and razzmatazz of Hollywood, the 18-year old Ng has swapped her scripts and jet-setting lifestyle for good old-fashioned text-books and the coziness of 29 Garden Street. Drama has been placed on the backburner while she devotes herself to her studies. "It's too bad that I'm not honing my craft, but I have so much work to do," Ng said.

Ng has been surprised by Harvard's response to her presence here. She did not expect the "random e-mail," the knocks on the door at 2:30 in the morning, and the letter to "Norma Knows" soliciting advice on how to ask out a certain Harvard movie actress. (Her mother told her the letter-writer sounded "psycho.") One night at an event held at the Sheraton Commander, she was barraged by hordes of curious partygoers. "I had to run to the bathroom to hide," she said.

"Fortunately, I don't really look like I do in the movie, so people don't usually recognize me," Ng added. "Some people say that I look vaguely familiar. But I have some friends who saw the movie, but didn't even know it was me!"

Before "The Joy Luck Club," Ng played a small role in Oliver Stone's "Heaven and Earth," and sang in an opera cleverly titled "All My Children." She was discovered at a local beauty contest, and landed a commercial and the contract for "Heaven and Earth" shortly thereafter. These roles ultimately paved the way to "The Joy Luck Club."

Ng looks back with nostalgia on the role of young Lindo. "It was a great role--there was a lot to memorize, and I had to be crazy and neurotic all day, but if fit me because I'm hyper and it's easy for me to be that way. It was challenging, though, to have to cry--I had to force myself to do it."

She enjoyed working with the cast and the director, although she did have a few qualms about the boy who played her husband in the movie, she said. "He was a brat in real life, too," she remarked.

Although Ng has put her acting career on hold to pursue academia, she still converses regularly with her manager and agent, and has to be prepared to "fly out at a moment's notice." Ng said that it is becoming increasingly difficult for Asian actors to find jobs, especially since the movie industry is being inundated by Asian-motif films.

"Right now, things are slow in L.A. and New York, especially with all the Asian movies out there--"M. Butterfly," "Farewell My Concubine," etc. But I think this is only in the short run. In the long run, l see a lot of roles opening up for Asian actors," Ng said.

In the meantime, she's keeping her options open by following the medical school track. "I don't feel any pressure to find a [n acting] job," she said, although "the prospect of getting into med school is scary."

Even if the future seems foreboding, Ng can take comfort in the success of "The Joy Luck Club." "I'm so proud, so happy, so honored to have been a part of it. It really does something for the Asian community--we've always been passive, and I feel that this movie has vindicated us for our silence. We have spoken."

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