Rui En, in retrospect

The All-Time Favourite graduate puts her 14-year acting career in perspective

Rui En at Star Awards 2005, 2011 and 2014
Rui En at Star Awards 2005, 2011 and 2014
01 Apr 2016

Rui En at Star Awards 2005, 2011 and 2014

Text: Joanna Goh
Photos: Toggle, Mediacorp


The class of 2016: this year we will see two actors, Rui En and Qi Yuwu, graduate and ascend to the much-acclaimed ranks of All-Time Favourite Artiste after picking up 10 Star Awards Most Popular Artiste awards over the years. Like Ah Wu, who has come a long way from being a foreign face in Singapore to the face of marital bliss, Rui En has matured and grown from her salad days to become the fine young woman she is today.

Her growth from a tomboy to a girl and now a woman is, according to Rui En, the biggest change she has undergone since joining show business in 2002, after her burst with fame eons ago as the “running girl” in a SingTel hi!Card advertisement.

For someone who questions and second-guesses herself a lot, none of her insecurities are shown on the outside. Instead, Rui En comes across as an assertive individual who clearly knows what she wants – and does not want—to be doing at this stage of her career today: she welcomes mature roles with arms open wide, she is unafraid of putting her foot down on body shaming and ageism, and she hopes to be able to empower women and young girls through word and deed.

She also doesn’t subscribe to the belief that awards should define one’s acting career, despite having three Best Actress wins (from Star Awards 2011, Asian Television Awards 2012 and Star Awards 2013) on her resume. While she sees awards as “encouraging” and “motivation to go on, and go on harder”, they are things that she tries not to concern herself much with - much less define her.

Perhaps, that explains why, during the course of the interview, each time the word ‘award’ is brought up, she twitches her nose ever so slightly and repeats herself like a broken tape recorder: “I don’t think awards define careers… Awards, y’know, do not define me…”

(Continued on next page)

Rui En at Star Awards 2015, 2013 and 2011
Rui En at Star Awards 2015, 2013 and 2011
01 Apr 2016

Rui En at Star Awards 2015, 2013 and 2011

That being said, the All-Time Favourite Artiste award which she will be receiving on the night of April 17 is considered a milestone to her –– “A milestone that represents a lot of blood, sweat and tears,” said Rui En, during an interview with Toggle on her hallmark achievement this year.
“I’m just glad for all the support that has come along my way all this while to be able to reach this milestone.”

While cherished, she politely rejected the idea that it marks the dawn of a new era in her acting career. Instead, she said, “Whether it is at a new level or not depends on myself – how much I improve and how much I mature as a person.”

Rui En holds an equally pensive view over her future as an actress too, when asked about what motivates her to keep on going, even in her toughest times – when the only showbiz topic people were concerned with was the competition between the seven princesses on the hill.

“It’s just a thing I love to do, it’s a job that I’m very thankful I get paid for doing something that I love to do. (Have you ever thought of giving up?) No, but at this point in my career, I am looking for some answers as to what’s going to be up ahead, when I’ll retire…? But not giving up.

“I don’t give up.”

Spoken like a true fighter.

We go back in time with Rui En and revisit her ups and downs as an actress, from the years before she had a fanclub and her days as an underdog to her gradual ascent with roles that helped define and shape her career. Also, find out why RBKD means everything to her today.


Visit the official Star Awards 2016 microsite for the full nomination list and more information.

Catch the Star Awards 2016 Prelude starting in April, every Friday, 10.30pm on Ch8.
Catch Star Awards 2016 Part 1 Walk of Fame on April 17 (Sun), 5.30pm, LIVE on Ch8/ChU or Toggle.
Catch Star Awards 2016 Part 1 Awards Ceremony on April 17 (Sun), 7pm, LIVE on Ch8/ChU or Toggle.
Catch Star Awards 2016 Part 2 Awards Ceremony on April 24 (Sun), 7pm, LIVE on Ch8/ChU or Toggle.
Catch Star Awards 2016 Part 2 Post Show Party on April 24 (Sun), 10.30pm, LIVE on Ch8 or Toggle.

The days of being the ‘seven princesses’
The days of being the ‘seven princesses’
01 Apr 2016

The days of being the ‘seven princesses’

The ‘Seven Princesses’ term was coined in December 2006 when a local magazine crowned a septet of then up-and-coming nubile actresses in vein of the Magnificent Seven. It changed the lives of those who were associated with this celebrity sorority, including Rui En, who was then dubbed as the ice princess and usually ranked as one of the bottom few too.

So in hindsight, 10 years on, how did it feel to be labeled as part of the pack?

“You know,” Rui En said matter-of-factly after a long pause, “It’s sometimes good to be at the bottom, it’s sometimes good to be the underdog and the last because that’s where you get your motivation to work harder, push harder, and go further. So I’m actually thankful for that. I mean, I hated it. I still hate it. I still think it’s just to group people in groups (even) when we have our own identities. We’re not a girl group, we’re not a K-pop girl group.”

“As hard as it is, as many tears I have cried, I’m always thankful for lows because that’s where you find yourself and your strength.”

Stronger than before, with the days of comparison put far behind her, it seems, being left in the cold – or nicknamed as the “ice princess/queen” – never bothered her anyway.

“What’s wrong with being the ice queen?” Rui En replied coolly, before she gave a knowing smile, “Doesn’t everyone love Elsa?”

Photo: I-Weekly

Pre-2008: Before having a fanclub
Pre-2008: Before having a fanclub
01 Apr 2016

Pre-2008: Before having a fanclub

Before RBKD came into the picture in late 2008, Rui En shared that most of the support, during her early debut years, came from her family. “Before I had a fanclub I don’t think I had any fans. It’s true actually (chuckles). I’m brutally honest. I don’t think I had any fans… I don’t remember having much support at all.”

Calling it a period of time where she simply did as she was told, Rui En’s memories of those years are somewhat fuzzy too: “At that point you don’t know anything. You don’t even have the expectations of having a fanclub… You’re just being led around.”

The prospect of having a fanclub of her own felt like a dream to her initially, she shared. “When it first happened, you’re like ‘Oh, really? Someone wants to support me?! Wow, OK! Thank you!’ You don’t know how it feels [to have a fanclub], you see. It’s only when they started that you know these people are willing to do and go to such extents for you. I was flabbergasted when I received any form of support from anybody or anyone.”

Pictured above: Rui En in My Mighty In-Laws, A Promise for Tomorrow and Love at 0°C

A role that got her on everyone’s radar: Metamorphosis (2007)
A role that got her on everyone’s radar: Metamorphosis (2007)
01 Apr 2016

A role that got her on everyone’s radar: Metamorphosis (2007)

After years of playing the girl-next-door in dramas like You Are The One and Love at 0°C, she finally stepped out of the stereotype with her role as An Xiao Qian in Metamorphosis – her first CID role out of the many which she’d eventually come to play in her career.

While she didn’t list it as one of her three career-defining roles, Xiao Qian definitely turned things around for Rui En and proved to everyone that she’s more than just another pretty face on TV. The attention she garnered also led to the birth of her fanclub a year later.

Post-2008: When RBKD came into her life
Post-2008: When RBKD came into her life
01 Apr 2016

Post-2008: When RBKD came into her life

When RBKD was formed in November 2008, everything changed, said Rui En.

“They are the ones doing the voting, they are the ones calling the telephone lines, and they are the ones on social media – because I’m very famously the last person in Singapore to not have social media… They are everything to me and I’d not be where I am without them. That’s just as simple as that.”

“Everything they do touches me immensely – even simple things like sabotaging me with egg tarts,” Rui En quipped cheekily, throwing a furtive glance at the boxes of freshly-baked egg tarts RBKD had sent to Mediacorp for their idol on the day of the interview, as she said, with a small disapproving huff, “I’m supposed to lose weight, you know.”

But if there’s one thing that touches her particularly, out of everything they have done for her – including their overseas set visits and knowing exactly what her Starbucks drink order is and buying it for her— it’d be their avid participation in charity projects.

“I’m very proud of them for that (the charity projects), and very, very thankful for that. That’s the kind of spirit [I hope to foster]. I don’t want to be idolised and just be idolised for the way I look or how I act. I’d like to actually help them grow up, help them become young women of integrity, help them become young adults of strength and hope.”

Ed’s note: In case you’re wondering, the egg tarts went home with her.

Photo: RBKD

The role that proved naysayers wrong: Happy Family (2010)
The role that proved naysayers wrong: Happy Family (2010)
01 Apr 2016

The role that proved naysayers wrong: Happy Family (2010)

We’ve seen her morph into a cool cat on Metamorphosis and play bubbly girl on a handful of local dramas, but Happy Family’s Xiao Dong is the first time Rui En had to shed layers of complexity to play a simple “Forest Gump-ish” character. It was her first lead role that saw her go home with her first Favourite Female Character award at the following year’s Star Awards ceremony.

Remember how she bought cheap Michael Jackson and Barack Obama t-shirts from Chinatown for her character to wear as part of looking the role? 

The role she gained ‘acting enlightenment’: With You (2010)
The role she gained ‘acting enlightenment’: With You (2010)
01 Apr 2016

The role she gained ‘acting enlightenment’: With You (2010)

Other than it being the first drama which she got recognised acting wise with a Best Actress win at the 2011 Star Awards, Rui En’s role as a woebegone widow pining over her dead husband in With You was also the first time she “really immersed and felt very strongly” for a character.

“I think I was in a daze and I didn’t get out of it for a while,” said Rui En on her memories of her winning (and shocking) moment on stage. “It was just like… what just happened?!” 

The role that left everyone shell-shocked with her transformation: A Tale of 2 Cities (2011)
The role that left everyone shell-shocked with her transformation: A Tale of 2 Cities (2011)
01 Apr 2016

The role that left everyone shell-shocked with her transformation: A Tale of 2 Cities (2011)

It was a makeover that nobody saw coming: “tomboyish” Rui En underwent her most feminine makeover yet for her character, Zhang Ya Le, a “ditzy princess” who is always seen in in frilly frocks, sky-high heels, gel-manicured nails and perfectly-coiffed hair.

A Tale of 2 Cities made a strong debut on Valentine’s Day in 2011 – hitting the million mark in viewership figures for its first episode – and the audience identified with Rui En’s dolled-up character so much so that she went home with her second Favourite Female Character award at the following year’s Star Awards ceremony too. 

The role in which she won her second and third best actress wins: Unriddle 2 (2012)
The role in which she won her second and third best actress wins: Unriddle 2 (2012)
01 Apr 2016

The role in which she won her second and third best actress wins: Unriddle 2 (2012)

For someone who gels with police roles and who has played three different cop roles in productions for Metamorphosis, Unriddle and C.L.I.F., Rui En calls Xiao Man “the defining role” of her career, mostly because the sequel gave her a chance to show a darker side to herself and a “different side” the audience hadn’t seen before, she said.

“It’s memorable for me because it’s the first time I lost control on set and completely went into that mood, which is the finale of Part 2.”

If given a chance to remake one of her dramas in a sequel, it’d hands down be a chance to do a part 3 for Unriddle. “A lot of people ask me about it, a lot of people want it even though it isn’t blockbuster ratings. It’s the first time, I think, the audience saw a show of that genre and level of writing on Channel 8. Until now I still get asked if there’s a part 3.”

So how’d the story continue if it picked up from where it left off in part 2? ”Of course it’d be difficult to do a part 3 since this cop has gone rogue. But I’ve told the EP and director that from the way I see it, Da Bao has to hunt Xiao Man down because Xiao Man has gone nuts and she’s bent on revenge… I’d choose to make her the evil one – from the righteous cop to the evil one.”

However, chances of an Unriddle 3 happening is slim to none, given the fact that there are certain budget cuts in the whole organisation. “It’d be challenging for them to keep in budget for an action movie,” she admitted, “It is not simple, pretty time-consuming and capital heavy.”

Ed’s note: All we can say is cross your fingers and toes, and in the meantime relive the good memories of Unriddle 1 and Unriddle 2 on Toggle.

The first time people saw her in a comedic role: The Dream Makers (2013)
The first time people saw her in a comedic role: The Dream Makers (2013)
01 Apr 2016

The first time people saw her in a comedic role: The Dream Makers (2013)

After Ye Si Qi in With You and Xiao Man in Unriddle, Rui En’s third career-defining role, according to her, would be playing Fang Tonglin, the production assistant-turned-A-lister actress in The Dream Makers.

“It’s the first time people saw me in a comedic role and people assumed that I couldn’t do it before that,” she grinned, “And it was very well-received lah by the public.”

The actress said she even had people come up to her on the streets and praise her for the role, which was very surprising, to say the least. “At first they were like: ‘Is that a bit over?’ But as it went along they just fell in love with the role because she’s adorable.”

The first time she crossed over to the dark side: Against The Tide (2014)
The first time she crossed over to the dark side: Against The Tide (2014)
01 Apr 2016

The first time she crossed over to the dark side: Against The Tide (2014)

Against The Tide is another collaboration with Metamorphosis and Unriddle 1 & 2’s writer, Peng Kaiyi, but what makes it different this time is she plays a demure psychiatrist, Xueqing  with the ability to read and “enter” people’s minds. This project was widely-anticipated for a couple of reasons: it was a collaboration between the 2012 Star Awards Best Actor winner Christopher Lee and 2013 Star Awards Best Actress winner Rui En and it marked the first time she ever took on a villainous role on TV.

One of the key episodes in this drama would be episode 19 when Xueqing transforms from good to evil. Remember that line she said to Di Sheng (Chris) during their final showdown in episode 22? “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, hate cannot drive out hate, only love can.” That gave us the goosebumps. ‘nuff said.

Where to from now: Rui En’s progression to mature roles
Where to from now: Rui En’s progression to mature roles
01 Apr 2016

Where to from now: Rui En’s progression to mature roles

After playing a plucky Tonglin, Rui En will be seen in two back-to-back motherly roles on TV in If Only I Could and C.L.I.F. 4. While some actresses approach mature roles with trepidation, Rui En, who just turned 35 in January, tells us she relishes and wants the mature roles. In fact, nothing about aging fazes her.

She brought up a concern raised by reporters, at the C.L.I.F. 4 lensing ceremony, and opined, “I keep getting reporters asking me these questions (about aging) and I don’t know why they are so worried that I do mother roles because I don’t want to continue to do idol roles – there’s a new generation of artistes to do that and there’s a time and place for everything and everyone.

“People always think that when you play mother roles, you become an aunty and everything, but life doesn’t stop at 30, you know? To the surprise of a lot of people, life doesn’t stop at 25.

“Acting is about life, it’s about portraying real life events,” she surmised, “So if I’m gonna get older, then I jolly well do older roles. But it’s totally fine and I’m looking forward to it.”

So what motivates Rui En and keeps her going today?
So what motivates Rui En and keeps her going today?
01 Apr 2016

So what motivates Rui En and keeps her going today?

In the business for 14 years and counting, there are plenty of times where she just wants to stop for a while (especially since she has been working non-stop of late) but like a well-oiled machine, she just keeps chugging along. 

Apart from the fan and family support, it’s the little things in life, we learn, that gives her the motivation to go on, on a day-to-day basis.

Smothering her two cats (Muffin and Mr. Meow-gi) with kisses to take away the stress of filming, watching everything she can possibly watch (“binge-watch Netflix!” she chirped), and reading interviews of actors and actresses that she respects to keep her flame burning bright.

Looking back on how far she’s come, is there anyone special she’d like to thank?

“Gosh, it'd be too long a list. But I'd say that the people who have helped me they know who they are… There have been many benefactors, many angels sent from God, many protectors, many inspirations, but I’d say the #1 I want to thank is the entire company of Hype, because they have stood by me at my lowest points, stood by me in the worst times, and still believed in me.”

Pictured above: Rui En at Star Awards 2011

Rui En’s legacy: To be able to empower women and young girls
Rui En’s legacy: To be able to empower women and young girls
01 Apr 2016

Rui En’s legacy: To be able to empower women and young girls

At the end of the day, just like how she hopes to touch the lives of people through her shows and wants to help her young fans grow up and become young women of integrity, Rui En hopes, if anything, for her legacy to be something as simple as being someone who inspires others to be better.

“I try, I try every day, and I’m still trying. [I hope to inspire them] through acting – and everything – and whatever messages I have to my fans and to the public. I hope to be able empower women and empower young girls.”

If her fanclub’s efforts to give back to society are anything to go by, we believe Rui En’s on the right track.

Watch: Special video compilation of Rui En's career-defining roles

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Style Evolution: Rui En
Rui En smiles at award ceremonies
What should Rui En do next?


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