Digital cover: Kenneth Lai and Suey Kwok x Calvin Klein

2024 is going to be the year for Kenneth Lai and Suey Kwok. David Ho speaks to the two model turned artistes who are on the cusp of breaking out

A new year means a new crop of stars emerging on the local entertainment scene. Kenneth Lai and Suey Kwok are some of those who are set to make waves in the Year of the Wood Dragon.

Of course, getting to that position in the first place is already preceded by years of hard work. Both Lai and Kwok have already put in the hard work to transition careers before signing on as Emperor Entertainment artistes.

Suey: Logo Underband Tee, Straight Jeans; Leather Trainers _ Calvin Klein Year of the Dragon Capsule Collection 
Kenneth: Monogram Sweater, Straight Jeans, High Trainers _ Calvin Klein Year of the Dragon Capsule Collection

Despite childhood aspirations to be a doctor, Lai found himself in the beauty industry initially as a makeup artist. “I was quite fortunate to have parents that never pressured me to go into any type of ‘traditional’ careers like being a lawyer or even a doctor, which was what I wanted to be as a kid. Instead, they allowed me to follow my heart and I found myself drawn to cosmetics. It’s like magic to me to transform someone and it gives me so much satisfaction to do so!” he declares.     

That magic was evident early in his beauty career as Lai recalls visiting a retirement home where he did the makeup for the residents. A visually impaired woman whom he gave a makeover to told him that she hasn’t felt so beautiful in so long, despite not being able to see the end results. That incident remains one of his fondest memories of that era in his life.      

Lai ended up working as a makeup artist for a solid seven years. During that time, he was so popular at the Harbour City cosmetics shop where he worked that he became an attraction of sorts there. We have no doubt his idol-like good looks and easy charm have just as much to do with that popularity as his skills with cosmetics. But Lai laughingly attributes it to just “good customer service” and the fact that he became friends with many of his customers.

Reversible Bomber Jacket, Sweater, Pants, Leather Trainers _ Calvin Klein Year of the Dragon Capsule Collection

Working as a makeup artist on photoshoots soon led him to be in front of the camera as a model, which snowballed into work on TV commercials and such. But Lai soon realised that going into acting opened more opportunities than modelling alone.

Since then, Lai has racked up some acting credits in supporting roles on TV shows like Food Buddies, and movies like Customs Frontline and Everything Under Control. He has also worked in several upcoming films so we will be seeing more of him on the big screen soon.

Surprisingly, Lai reveals himself to be quite sentimental as he shows a preference for shows with romantic storylines, both as a viewer and actor. Naturally, we are intrigued and press Lai for details on his own romantic streak. “The most romantic thing I’ve done was to bring the person I was dating to the beach at night, where I had laid out a gift within a circle of candles. Inside it was a music box,” he reveals.

Suey: Monogram Cardigan, Bralette _ Calvin Klein Year of the Dragon Capsule Collection
Kenneth: Unisex Tee, Denim Overshirt _ Calvin Klein Year of the Dragon Capsule Collection

While Lai’s early acting roles were characters that were already like him, he now wants to challenge himself when it comes to his acting chops. More specifically, he aspires to flesh out roles with more dimension and depth. “I’ve played villains before, but I don’t want to do it as just a black-and-white ‘bad’ person thing. I want to make them complex characters with understandable motives,” he says.

Lai recently overcame another performing challenge – singing live. He performed at a countdown concert and found it to be a nerve-wracking experience. Luckily, his performance appeared to be very well-received on social media. That works out as Lai is “currently in talks” to work on music. To prepare, he has been learning to play the piano, in addition to his recent debut live performance.

His fellow cover star for this shoot already has dipped her toe in the music pond. Suey Kwok released a duet called Girlfriends with Stella Ho three years ago.

Monogram Cardigan, Bralette _ Calvin Klein Year of the Dragon Capsule Collection

She recalls it being a real “eye-opening” experience. “Though we kept it pretty low-key without too much promo, it’s very different to go from being someone who just likes to sing to being a singer,” Kwok says. But that’s not to say she is ruling out putting out more music in the future. Though she listens to more up-tempo materials (citing Post Malone, Faye Wong and BTS as her musical favourites), Kwok has a soft spot for ballads as she feels they are a good medium to express her emotions and tell a story.

Kwok’s journey in entertainment began when she started modelling part-time a decade ago while studying for a degree in I.T. After winning multiple accolades as a model, she began branching out through appearances on variety shows. That then snowballed into acting parts in music videos, TV shows and films.    

Much like Lai, Kwok yearns to show she can do more with her skills in front of the camera. “I’m usually cast as the sunshiny, girl-next-door types, even when I was modelling. As a model, I know how to deliver what’s required. But acting is a good challenge for me and I want to break away from the typecasting,” she says.

Suey: Monogram Cardigan, Bralette, Knit skirt _ Calvin Klein Year of the Dragon Capsule Collection
Kenneth: Unisex Tee, Denim Overshirt, Straight Jeans _ Calvin Klein Year of the Dragon Capsule Collection

However, good scripts with meaty acting roles can be hard to come by. Thus, Kwok is keeping her eyes out for the right opportunity to deliver a breakout performance, like her acting role models Kim Tae-Ri of Twenty-Five Twenty-One fame or Emma Stone.     

Meanwhile, Kwok intends to keep her passions alive. She reveals that longboarding (a variation of skateboarding with longer boards that have longer wheelbases and softer wheels) is her hobby, and she can often be found practising at the M+ Museum playscape. A quick look at her Instagram shows that Kwok does indeed possess formidable skateboarding skills, as she glides, turns, and poses with remarkable fluidity and ease. She appears to be one athletic gal, whether she’s shooting hoops or pulling off perfect splits in yoga classes.

That active lifestyle is one she intends to continue, whether professional plans are in place or not. “This year, I want to do more of the things I am passionate about. Even if I don’t release music, I want to keep singing and dancing simply because I love it,” she says.

Suey: Logo Underband Tee, Straight Jeans _ Calvin Klein Year of the Dragon Capsule Collection
Kenneth: Monogram Sweater, Straight Jeans _ Calvin Klein Year of the Dragon Capsule Collection

Kwok reveals that the Year of the Wood Dragon is a good chance for her to assess her priorities. “I’ve had so many goals and so many things packed into 2023, I felt a bit lost in all of it,” she admits. “This year, I want to be a bit more discerning in what I do and take a bit of time for some soul searching.”

During the shoot, Lai and Kwok pose and preen around in their Calvin Klein wear with an ease that puts them in good stead for any future projects in front of the lens. We ask the fellow Emperor Entertainment signees separately how they would describe the other and surprisingly, they both overlapped in their description of each other as a “jokester” and “fun to be around.”

It’s great to know even as these up-and-coming entertainers climb the ranks, they know how to have fun. This sense of humour and fun energy is exactly what we need to bring into the new year with us.

Also see: Digital Cover: Kenji Fan x Canada Goose & Carl F Bucherer

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