Multi-talented is the obvious word for Lawrence Cheng, but even that barely conveys the full range of professional skills he has displayed during the last 30 years. He has written or starred in dozens of TV series, produced and hosted Hong Kong's most popular radio programmes, acted in over 50 films, and had multiple credits for screenwriting, directing and producing. Not content with that he has also held management roles in the broadcasting industry, worked as a newspaper columnist, and has written several highly-acclaimed novels.
"I wouldn't label myself as an artist and I don't need a high profile," Mr Cheng says. "I simply enjoy my work and never had an assistant or manager to arrange things for me." He describes himself as a "creative worker" and has always regarded job satisfaction as more important than chasing material rewards. This outlook is reflected in his current interest — giving seminars for the younger generation as a way of making a further contribution to society.
Ups and downs
Despite the many successes, Mr Cheng is modest about his own achievements. "It's ironic," he says. "I've done a lot, but don't feel as if I've had a career." Many people are disappointed that he is no longer in the film industry and were surprised when he left Commercial Radio Hong Kong (CRHK). He attributes these and other changes of direction to his preference for a "restless" life and the feeling of freedom that goes with it.
"I spent seven years in an office environment at CRHK, learned a lot and felt I had to move on," he explains. "That's my usual pattern; I'm always looking for something new." If something doesn't work out as planned, he no longer lets it bother him.
In his early days with Radio Television Hong Kong, that wasn't always the case. At one point he was transferred from prime time to late night programmes and complained about it as a "disgraceful" incident for the next 10 years. "I finally realised it wouldn't have happened if I had been doing things well," he admits. "Nobody ever wanted to move me when I was doing the Three Fairy Spirits or Yuppie Fantasia; they were the most popular radio programmes of their time and the shows were very good."
Now working on a popular TV sitcom, Mr Cheng says he is enjoying the time of his life. Though he has to work on the production for 10 hours a day, he can call the evenings his own and, more importantly, knows he has reached a point where he can choose to do only jobs which interest him.
"I have created many options for myself, which is the secret to surviving in the entertainment industry," he says. This viewpoint lies behind his usual advice to people who want to get into broadcasting: study hard. Not because that will guarantee success as a DJ or actor, but because it will create more opportunities. "Nothing's better than having options in life; and nothing's sadder than having none," he says.
In recent seminars and campus talks, Mr Cheng has also focused on the need to have the right attitude to work. He tells his audiences that knowledge and hard work get you only so far. Success depends on having the attitude that you will give 300 per cent if that is what it takes to make you better than others. He says that is what helped him become one of Hong Kong's three most popular DJs and to have one of the highest-rated radio programmes.
Mr Cheng has been taking an active part in Baptist University alumni events and, in particular, internship briefings and career talks. He advises young people not to be afraid of making mistakes and to give themselves a chance to shine. "Making mistakes is all part of learning, provided you don't keep repeating the same mistakes," he says.
This willingness to act as a mentor is more than practical. Mr Cheng also sees it as a way of "paying back" the many people who helped him over the last three decades. For example, he is still grateful to Siu Yuek-yuen who read and immediately threw away the first script he submitted many years ago as a new recruit in Rediffusion Television's creative department.
"He said it was no good and told me to try again, even though other people had approved it," Mr Cheng recalls. After several rewrites, it was eventually accepted and made into an episode of a TV drama. "It was tough, but also a real privilege to get that help," he says. "Whatever talent I have now, I owe it all to the good training I received then. It's sad that not many young people get that kind of guidance nowadays."
During his more recent time with CRHK, there were other lessons to learn. As chief operating officer, Mr Cheng learned from his boss, Winnie Yu, that no management issues were black or white. This advice caused him to examine things in more detail and look for different patterns in events. Since many of the ideas were universal, they could be applied in the workplace, as well as for broader personal development.
Nowadays, time with his family is what Mr Cheng enjoys most. "Perhaps I'm old-fashioned in that respect, but nothing gives me more pleasure than fulfilling my family commitments. Even the chance to have a fight with my wife makes me happy!" He has come to appreciate the way people change and says that nothing changed him more than being presented with his first daughter when he was 35.
For the first 10 years of his career, Mr Cheng was intent on building up his network of contacts and rarely missed a social event. Now, he prefers to head straight home after work. "Nothing beats the feeling of being at home surrounded by your family," he says. "I have become a simple person who enjoys a simple life."
|Photos: Courtesy of Hong Kong Economic Times