Issue 127 | Oct-Dec 2021

Leaps of Faith

One of Singapore’s most familiar faces, actor Mr Tay Ping Hui (Arts and Social Sciences ’95) has no interest in the tried-and-tested.

An NUS economics and political science graduate may not be the first person that comes to mind when you’re casting someone to play Genghis Khan in a Chinese drama. But that’s precisely what happened to Mr Tay Ping Hui (Arts and Social Sciences ’95) a few years ago, when he decided to venture into the lucrative Chinese entertainment scene. “On the first day of filming, I found myself wearing 20kg worth of armour, brandishing a golden sword in one hand, controlling my horse with the other and leading a cavalry charge of 100 horses,” says the veteran actor. 

The role was quite a departure from those that won over local audiences in the 1990s and 2000s. But, as he tells The AlumNUS, it was important for him to take it on. “I’ve never been one to just be contented with whatever I have achieved,” explains the 51-year-old. “I’m the sort of person who constantly questioned ‘What’s next?’. So what if people said I was number one? It doesn’t matter to me. I am more interested in challenging myself as an actor and as a person.”

Taking up a challenge was what brought Mr Tay to Caldecott Hill in the first place. Shortly after graduating from NUS, he became the General Manager of a global American franchisee and was preparing to pursue an MBA when executives from then-TCS (now Mediacorp) came calling. “They had actually approached me right after graduation but I turned them down because I wasn’t interested in acting,” he shares. “But after I quit my job, I had a bit of time so I accepted a role.” Before he knew it, he was getting the top billing on local television, winning the Best Supporting Actor award at the 1999 Star Awards for his portrayal of a gang leader in Stepping Out (出路). 


“The pandemic has definitely changed so many things for the movie and television industry,” says Mr Tay. “Everything is more difficult and complicated in terms of logistics and casting.” Still, he is soldiering on, with the following projects in the pipeline:
  • Starring as the main antagonist in《南洋女儿情》(Sisterhood) to be shot in China.
  • Filming《狮城山海》(The Contenders) at the end of the year and then the final part of the Nanyang Trilogy《南阳英雄泪》(Nanyang Transport Volunteers) next year. 
  • Working on a script for a feature film he will be directing in collaboration with Clover Films and iQiyi which is slated to be filmed next year.
In the years since, he has become a regional star, appearing in over 60 dramas, theatre performances, stage musicals, concerts and live entertainment shows. He gave all that up four years ago when he was invited to sign with Chinese media company Perfect World Pictures to try his hand in China, despite being relatively unknown there. Still, he has no regrets. “I was hoping to try something I had never done before, to have my passion reignited, to be pushed more than I had ever been,” he says. Fortunately, his gamble paid off and Mr Tay is now a growing presence in China, with a slew of projects in the months ahead.

22 years into the game, he says that he has learnt more from his failures than his successes, which is a lesson he wants to share with the NUS community. “The old and well-trodden paths of life might sound safer,” he observes. “But if you are constantly wondering if there is more to life than what people are constantly telling you that you should do, I would strongly recommend that you try something that you want to do.

“At least you will not be wondering 10 years later whether you would have, could have, or should have done something. If you fail, so be it, learn from it and move on. Maybe next time you will succeed.” And in Mr Tay’s case, he certainly did.  

Text by Keenan Pereira

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