Man at His Best

Wisdom: Sam Lee

How the actor, DJ, and founder of streetwear label Subcrew stays grounded with his cinematic experiences.

BY Tan Guan Lin | Jan 27, 2017 | Film & TV

Photograph by Ronald Leong.


I believe in fate.

I dare not say that experience is a universal currency across all industries.

I didn’t learn anything from my roles. I merely played human beings from different walks of life, but the roles, they made me feel. 

There’s a chasm between their lives and my life. 

Life remains the same after marriage. It’s your responsibilities that change. I have a sense of family now, and I have a new state of mind. A marriage with children, and one without, is vastly different. Children alter the structure of your life. 

The director is the actor’s greatest resource. 

We are tools used by a director to reveal his or her inner mindscape. Actors can be blank slates, or vividly saturated ones.

An actor plays many lives, but mine were all thugs. [Laughs] I played either cops or thugs. It’s funny how there aren’t any ambiguous roles in cinema.   

Acting is a taut web of relationships—between director and actor, actor and actor. 

The industry today lacks a distinctive, opinionated director like Fruit Chan was. There are a handful of interesting youngsters, but even if they were to write a good script, there won’t be enough funding for them. 

Society and its problems are reflected in every single film. In comedy, you’ll find societal issues as the butt of all jokes. 

Is fame detrimental to a person’s character? I won’t speak for others, but it did change me to some extent. 

After a drink, I go [acts out a rage]. I used to be like that, but only because I didn’t know how to decompress. The morning after, I would hear of my “rampage”. I realised that my decisions pained my loved ones. 

Cinema has taught me how to be human.

So it is true, that there’s always someone watching your every move, but the world also turns a blind eye when you do good. 

Designers shoulder a massive responsibility—to err and find a precise balance between the market’s needs and their creative language. 

It took a while to gain traction with manufacturers, and this was the most significant step for me. My designs used to be lost in translation. 

Design plays a similar role to that of DJing in life. You take the things that you enjoy, like a song that you’ve just heard, and you [gestures excitedly] share it with everyone around you. You’re giving more than a song; you’re sharing your emotions. 

My role as a son to my parents was to be mischievous. 

When I came of age, I understood what it meant by—have you heard of this saying?—yan qifan ren (Chinese for “the ones you see”).

I was the youngest in my family. I have two elder brothers and two elder sisters, and they are older than me by over a decade. I played the errant child of every household. I couldn’t communicate with them, the generation gap felt insurmountable. As I grew older, I found myself inching closer to them. It was only then did I realise they loved me so much that they punished me. They didn’t know a better way to communicate with me, and so resorted to desperate measures. 

They’ve suffered an entire lifetime. It’s time for them to relax. What I can do now is the simple things. [And] the simplest things are often the most rewarding.

Life? Life in comparison is simple and flexible.

My role as a grown-up son is to be filial [and] to be filial is to go home and drink soup. Why is this wooden shelf juxtaposed against this material? 

Why? You’ll find somebody’s opinion in every object. 

I’m seldom in Hong Kong because I travel so much. As soon as I’m back in town, I head straight home to my family.

I enjoy fishing. When there’s a catch, I bring it home for them.