Singapore—Comedy king Mark Lee has made waves as a drag queen in the movie Number 1, a dramatic comedy about a retrenched middle-aged man who unexpectedly finds success sashaying about in a night club. The movie opened last month.
Mr Lee has been nominated for Best Leading Actor in Taiwan’s prestigious 57th Golden Horse Awards, scheduled this Saturday, Nov 21. The film received only one other nomination, for Best Makeup and Costume Design.
According to Vice, Mr Lee was told of his nomination as Best Leading Actor by famed Taiwanese-American director Ang Lee, who chairs the awards.
“This is our version of the Oscars and I was being recognized for a film which I’m so proud to be part of. How could I not take up the chance to be here in Taiwan to celebrate the film — win or lose?”
The role was somewhat of a stretch for the “ah beng made good,” who’s had a long and storied career as a comedic actor and host.
One of the most challenging parts of his drag queen role was walking in six-inch stiletto heels. “I actually thought walking in high heels would be easy. You can imagine my surprise when my manager came up to me and said that I had to undergo ‘intensive training’ for this movie,” he told Vice.
Regarding his character in Number 1, Chow Chee Beng, he said, “Just like Chow, I was trying to learn the ways of this strange, exciting, and colorful unknown world of cabaret. The bras, feather boas, dresses, high heels, and don’t forget my leg hair. I came up with many poses, movements, and body language on stage from scratch.”
Mr Lee has received rave reviews for the role, even though critics have called the film itself “predictable” and “stuff we have seen before.”
The Straits Times film correspondent John Lui wrote, “Lee breaks out of the casting box that has pegged him as Loudmouth Bully for much of his career and turns in a confidently restrained performance – you never feel he has overstayed his welcome on screen.“
Film news portal sinema.sg said that the film “represents a strong step forward for the destigmatisation of drag culture in Singapore.”
“Despite the holes in character development, how Number 1 remains affecting – and even tear-jerking at times- is with the starring performance of Mark Lee. While the humour and passion he injects anchors the film’s light-hearted tone, there are also moments that demonstrate his dramatic range. One standout sequence sees him defend the quartet from verbal abuse.
Lee delivers his lines and performances with such intensity and authenticity that audiences are hard-pressed not to root for Lee and his friends. It is showstopping moments like these – and there are a few throughout – that solidifies the film’s earnest heart and soul,” sinema.sg reviewer Mattaeus Choo wrote.
And while the film may center around Singapore’s drag culture, Mr Lee believes it can serve as an inspiration to everyone, especially at this time.
“This may be a movie that looks at drag culture but it’s also one about love, humility and sacrifice — rising up to new challenges and being able to look beyond certain stereotypes to see the common humanity in people.
It doesn’t matter how much money you earn or what title you hold, it’s always a shared and humbling experience when someone loses a job. Everyone has to survive and provide. This story will be relevant to Singaporeans and so many others during this trying time,” he told Vice. —/TISG
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