IT took just two visits by Singapore paddler Li Jiawei to the set of the film Dongbei Master in Shenyang for Chinese actor-turned-director Zhao Benshan to decide that she has star potential.
After her second visit on Monday, reports surfaced in China that Jiawei had been offered a role.
'Jiawei definitely possesses star quality. It's something only a keen eye can uncover,' Zhao, a veteran comedian, told The New Paper in a telephone interview from Shenyang.
Jiawei, who is in Beijing, could not be reached. She is expected to return to Singapore tonight.
But Ms Nelly Poa, her personal friend and manager, told The New Paper: 'Even if Jiawei is really keen (on acting), it's something that will likely take a while to happen.'
Ms Poa explained that Jiawei had accompanied her to visit Singaporean starlet Chen Meixin on the last day of filming for Dongbei Master, a new TV series.
'She's already a star'
Zhao was impressed by the way Jiawei carried herself, Ms Poa said. 'When Jiawei was at the set, she kept a low profile as she wanted to avoid drawing attention to herself.'
Given Zhao's status and popularity in China, the media was there to report on the wrap-up of the filming of Dongbei Master.
And the reporters recognised Jiawei.
Ms Poa said: 'When they approached her, Jiawei just smiled at them and did not reply.'
Then, Zhao took a group photo with his entire crew, and called out: 'Jiawei, come over and join us.'
The reporters pounced on that at once and asked if Zhao - who is known for his desire to groom new artistes - had a plan for Jiawei.
Ms Poa said Zhao admitted that he had asked if Jiawei was interested in appearing in films.
'Jiawei's reply was non-committal, though she told the director she was concerned that time may not permit her to do so,' said Ms Poa.
'But I could tell she was quite interested.'
The bigger question is: Can Jiawei really make it as an actress?
Ms Poa said she had previously encouraged Jiawei to consider an alternative career in showbiz. 'Jiawei has that kind of presence that commands attention. Heads turn and people take a second look at her,' she said.
Zhao, who runs his own arts institute, Benshan Art Company, agreed with Ms Poa. 'I've always reminded my students and the artistes I work with that a successful actor is not one who 'acts',' he said.
'Success comes only when the actor slips into his role like it's his second skin - and to do that means he must first be his natural self.
'So if you ask me, yes, I feel that Jiawei has a good chance of making it. She's already a star - albeit in sports - in her own right.'
Jiawei has indicated that her favourite shows on TV include Village Love I and II, directed by Zhao, in which he also plays the lead. As Zhao is preparing for the third instalment, will he create a role specifically for her?
He said: 'It's really too early to comment now. Work will commence only some time middle of next year.
'From now till then, anything can happen.'
Ms Poa said: 'I don't think Zhao Benshan was thinking of signing on Jiawei as an artiste or that he wanted her to give up table-tennis completely.'
Instead she felt it was more like an opportunity for the paddler to dabble in something fun - 'like a recreation, a good experience'.
She added: 'Seriously, I don't think Jiawei will give up her sports career in the near future.
'And in any case, any development will probably only take place next year. Right now, she's focused on training for major competitions and most importantly, the 2012 London Olympics.'
Ms Poa also mentioned other plans but would not give details. 'I have some plans lined up for Jiawei but it's not convenient for me to provide any details as we're still working on some loose ends,' she said.
This article was first published in The New Paper on Nov 15, 2008.