Since leaving showbusiness in 2007, Rosamund Kwan hasn’t looked back once. She opens up to us about her former life, lost loves and lessons learned – and why she isn’t quite done yet.
Rosamund Kwan, the badass drum-playing, aerial yogi entrepreneur who just so happens to be a pretty huge deal in Hong Kong cinema is, at 57 and looking as stunning as ever, living the life she’s always wanted. Begs the question: does life, in fact, begin at 50? Kwan’s Instagram account, where she has an impressive 99,000-plus followers – let’s add influencer to that list, shall we? – allows us a peek into her life after she retired from showbusiness years ago. From images of Kwan in her 3,000-square-foot luxury apartment at the Peak – reportedly valued at HK$150 million – sitting by the window that looks out to stunning views of Hong Kong’s skyline, adorable clips of Whisky, her white Shiba Inu, to casual gatherings with old celebrity friends and fancy galas that show that the ’90s It girl most definitely still has it, it’s clear to see why she hasn’t looked back since.
Her success story, however, was not without its challenges. Compelled to enter showbusiness at 18 to support herself and her parents after their divorce, Kwan was forced to grow up sooner than most. “It got very busy even during my first year in show business,” she says. “I was working at ATV, and found myself doing six TV shows within that year, on top of filming my first starring movie and a Disney show. For a young girl it was a lot, especially for someone just starting her career.” That debut film was The Head Hunter, in which she starred opposite then-rising star Chow Yun-fat. Kwan would later appear alongside other prominent Hong Kong actors, including Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Andy Lau, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao.
The 1990s proved to be a particularly prolific decade for Kwan. From age 25 to 32, she estimates she made some 50-plus movies and TV shows. During this time she took on what would become her best-known lead role, as the “Thirteenth Aunt” in the critically acclaimed series Once Upon a Time in China, which ran for six years from 1991 to 1997, playing actor Jet Li’s love interest.
In 2000, Kwan worked with Chinese director Feng Xiaogang in the comedy Big Shot’s Funeral, in which she starred opposite Hollywood actor Donald Sutherland. “It was quite an experience, working with a Hollywood team,” Kwan says. “It was very easy compared to what I’m used to. You come on set and are expected to know all your lines, and well! That’s because you get your script at least a month before. It was all very professional. Also, they have a union that protects actors. For instance, if we started at 9 in the morning, we’d wrap up at 5 in the afternoon; we’d work within a set time – that’s Hollywood.
“In Hong Kong, it’s very different and can be very brutal. We have to work almost round the clock, and sometimes we don’t get the script until we arrive on set! They’d give it to us maybe an hour or so before filming and we need to learn it right then and there. It was tough but that’s the Hong Kong style of doing it and, just maybe, we’re tougher for it,” she says, laughing.
And indeed, Kwan harbours no ill feelings towards an industry and community that has embraced her, and afforded her many good breaks.
“I never plan things – in that sense you can say I’m lazy,” she says, smiling. “But I also feel that I’ve been quite lucky in life, especially in my career. Things seem to fall into place. I’ve had the privilege of meeting directors who taught me the craft, and actors who’ve inspired me, opening up a lot of doors so that I was able to enjoy the kind of success that I had. For that I’ll always be thankful; I never take that for granted.”
After her 26-odd years in showbusiness, with more than 60 films and TV shows to her credit, Kwan is considered a legend in Hong Kong’s film industry. She’s one of the most respected actresses of her generation, whose commendable work ethic we witness for ourselves at the shoot; she arrives earlier than scheduled, focused and prepared, and breezes through the shots like a pro.
What I find particularly admirable about Kwan is that with every single project she pursued – or didn’t, for that matter – she did on her own terms. “Through the course of my showbiz career, amid the frenzy of it all, I knew when to stop for a break and I had no reservations about doing so. After that very busy first year – I was 18 then – I took a break the following year, because the work was overwhelming and it scared me, frankly. I quit and got married, at 19, and then divorced at 20,” Kwan says with a mischievous grin.
“And in the ’90s, after working for about seven years straight doing about 50 films, I stopped again and stayed out of the limelight for 10 years, during which time I was just enjoying my life – living easily and simply – and I dated a little. I worked, then I broke off from it, and then went back to work, then dropped it when I felt it was time – that’s the way I’ve always been. Whenever I come across something that’s suitable for me, I grab it and do it – why not? I never overthink things.”
Kwan retired from showbusiness in 2007 to pursue other interests. Asked if she misses it, she says without hesitation: “Not at all. I think showbusiness is a young person’s game and, to be honest, I feel it’s no longer for me. I don’t miss it, because what I’m doing now is far more interesting. And I think it’s just time for me to pursue my interests and ambitions. Acting is interesting and exciting, but it’s enough for me.
“I started my show business career very early. When my parents got divorced when I was young, one went to the United States, the other to Taiwan and I was alone in Hong Kong. I also had to support them, which is why I entered the industry. If that wasn’t the situation and I’d had the chance to lead a ‘normal’ life and go abroad, I think I may have studied design,” she says.
Indeed, while she might be best known as an actress she refuses to be defined by it. Since her self-imposed retirement, Kwan pursued a number of business ventures including her luxury-lifestyle fashion brand Rosamour.
“This idea started when I had the chance to get some funding and support from Tsing Hua University. I established Rosamour, a skincare line that I started to develop six months ago. I work with a factory in Shanghai, which makes all the products. The name is a play of my name and amour, which means love and rose, a flower. It’s romantic, feminine,” she explains.
On the sidelines of this new project is a collaboration with jewellery brand Boghossian. The first collection to result from this partnership is Merveilles Rosamour, comprising a pendant, ring and earrings set with pink sapphires and white diamonds. “It’s the first time I worked with jewellery. I’ve always loved jewellery, but didn’t know much about it. I mean, every girl loves jewellery! After I met Boghossian and I really liked their designs, I met their creative designer, Edmond Chin, and the rest is history. This is just the start and I hope it’ll lead to more things. It’s definitely all very exciting.”
Kwan is set to go to China later this month, and will stay there for three to four months to set up Rosamour. “For sure, the world is suddenly not what it was, and the economy has slowed down, but life has to go on. I’m still trying my best to work out this new venture. China will be the main market for Rosamour, then maybe down the line other parts of Asia. It was just natural that I target Asians because I’m more familiar with what our skin needs. The prices will be very reasonable, and the products will later extend to eyeliners, perfume, candles and more.”
It’s hard to miss the sudden change of tone when we start to talk about her business ventures – the enthusiasm is evident. “What I love most about being a businesswoman is the creative process, the design aspect and, of course, seeing the entire project through. It’s very rewarding. Sometimes I’m not entirely sure what I’m doing, but I embrace what I learn, I embrace the experience, and I appreciate the feedback. I don’t look at anything as failures, but as a chance to learn and be better.”
At 57, Kwan shows no signs of slowing down. She confesses, “I want to do everything! I don’t know. Of course, I recognise that I’ve been fortunate enough to meet the right people along the way, and they’ve enabled me to follow my passions. These are people who give me a chance to try my hand at things I’m not exactly familiar with, to collaborate. Stars align for me, luckily.”
I tell Kwan I feel she’s being modest; that she’s underplaying the hard work she actually puts into everything she does. She defers, “I suppose while I feel I’ve been lucky, I can take credit for the fact that I don’t let anything go past me. I take on every opportunity that comes my way. Even in my previous life as an actress, I always believed that you should do it because that chance will just slip away and it might never come back.”
When it comes to matters of the heart, however, Kwan says she’s all but thrown in the towel.
“Men are too complicated; I don’t believe in marriage and love any more. I’m not a pessimist, but I am coming from a place of experience. This realisation comes from being in not exactly successful relationships. Right now, I choose to spend time working on my projects and I live a leisurely life, on my own. Maybe someday ‘he’ will come, but if not that’s perfectly fine by me, too. I’m not looking. I’ve learned first-hand what it’s like to be in an unhappy relationship, so at least for now I’m done with love, done with men, done with marriage.
“Life’s too short to insist on a relationship where you’ve obviously grown apart and no longer see eye to eye. Why force yourselves to stay together? So better to move on, no point in staying miserable – and tired. Looking back at my life – the ups and downs – I absolutely have no regrets. There’s nothing I’d have done differently. I really believe that you must live your life leisurely, easily, happily.” And with her youthful glow and an excellent physique that puts my sluggish bum to shame, I’d say Kwan is right on the money.
“I just want to live my life to the fullest. My mom would often ask me why I’m busy all the time, moving as though I’m always running out of time. ‘Where are you going this time?’ she would scream as I’m headed out the door. I’d say, I’m having my lesson! I have my air yoga, after that I have a shower then I have my drumming lessons!”
Kwan sees the disbelief on my face and then says, “I’ll show you,” as she scrolls through her Instagram account for a clip of her drumming. And sure enough, there she is, killing it – and in pyjamas, of course.
“I love drumming because it’s great exercise – you can dance, too, and it’s all about hand and feet coordination. And I find it very therapeutic,” she goes on, bobbing her head ever so elegantly. “I had to stop for a bit after I moved apartments and couldn’t quite find the space for an entire set, but I’ve just started to drum again. But now I want to learn something else, like guitar or something. And I don’t want those acoustic guitars, they’re far too tame for me. I want a rocking, electric guitar!”
Will I ever be this cool, I wonder?
As we’re wrapping up the interview, a good portion of which she offers to hold my phone closer to her to ensure a decent recording as the hair-dryer blasts in the background, she asks me about my children, their ages, how I’ve come to live in Hong Kong and how long I’ve been here. And then goes on to tell me and her stylist, who she’s known and worked with for more than a decade now, of a beautiful resort she visited in Xiamen two years ago, which she said she’s certain my two girls would love. In between sharing hard-learned life lessons, she reveals a candour that’s delightfully endearing, and a genuineness that makes you want the conversation to go on longer – and, of course, all while looking so painfully beautiful. Kwan truly is the real deal.