Sook-Yin Lee Biography
Sook-Yin Lee is a Canadian broadcaster, musician, filmmaker, and actress. She is a former MuchMusic VJ, and, since 2002, has been a host on CBC Radio.Lee was born in Vancouver, British Columbia. The second daughter of a Hong Kong father and a Chinese mother, Lee was raised as a devout Roman Catholic. Her father was a post-World War II orphan from Hong Kong, and her mother an escapee from Communist China who remained in and out of psychiatric institutions when Lee was young. She grew up within a strict, secretive and unstable family. When Lee was 15, her parents split up and Lee ran away from home, for a time living on the street before eventually living with a “community of lesbians and artists”.
Sook-Yin Lee Career
In the late 1980s, sook became the lead singer for Bob’s Your Uncle, a Vancouver alternative rock band. Lee often incorporated performance art techniques into the band’s melodic rock. When that band broke up, Lee pursued a solo music career, releasing several solo albums and performing as an actor in theatre, film and television projects. She was the lead singer for the band Slan. Neko Case covered Lee’s song “Knock Loud” on her 2001 EP Canadian Amp.
She has been in a relationship with writer and musician Adam Litovitz, who is also her frequent artistic collaborator, since 2007. They occasionally perform improvised musical sets under the name LLVK, short for Lee/Litovitz/Valdivia/Kamino, and have formed the band Jooj, which is slated to release its debut album in 2015.
In 1995, Lee became a VJ for MuchMusic, bringing her theatrical and musical background and her unique creative perspective to the channel. She was best known as the host of MuchMusic’s alternative music show, The Wedge. Lee is openly bisexual. In 1995, on the day that sexual orientation was held to be protected under s. 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by the Supreme Court of Canada in the Egan v Canada case, Lee celebrated the decision by kissing a woman on the air. She later appeared on the cover of Xtra! in 1997. She left MuchMusic in 2001. During her last appearance as a MuchMusic VJ, Lee and her co-host turned their backs to the camera, and mooned the audience on live television. The following year, she was named as the new host of CBC Radio One’s Saturday afternoon pop culture magazine Definitely Not the Opera.
In the fall of 2004, she produced and hosted a documentary celebrating Terry Fox as part of the CBC Television series The Greatest Canadian. Fox finished second in the voting to Tommy Douglas, whose advocate was another ex-MuchMusic VJ, George Stroumboulopoulos. DNTO completed its run in 2016. Lee immediately hosted the summer series Sleepover for CBC Radio,and remains in talks to develop another permanent program for the network.
As a feminist, Lee specifically works on films that discusses feminist and/or racial issues. Escapades of One Particular Mr. Noodle of 1990 was her debut as a feminist film director. This film was produced by Studio D, a primarily feminist film production company, as one of the short films in their segment Five Feminist Minutes 1990.
Lee played the lead character, Alessa Woo, alongside fellow Canadian actor Adam Beach in Helen Lee’s 2001 film The Art of Woo. In the Canadian Romantic Comedy The Art of Woo in 2001 Sook-Yin Lee plays Alessa Woo who is a Chinese painter seeking rich men to provide for her while simultaneously developing a sexual relationship with an Aboriginal painter who lives in her building. This film explores issues of poverty and interracial couples.
Lee also has a smaller part in Mitchell’s film Hedwig and the Angry Inch, directed by John Cameron Mitchell, playing Kwahng-Yi, a guitarist in Hedwig’s rock band made up of Korean-born army wives. Hedwig and the Angry Inch explores issues of sexuality and gender identity. In this film Hedwig, formerly known as Hansel, is forced into a sex-change from female to male in order to legally be considered married in Germany. Hedwig becomes drag queen is a famous punk rock singer who is a now male, but a cis female who still identifies as female. The film is about her coming to terms with her gender identity within this “sex-crazed” music scene. The film explores discrimination of both same sex couples as well as the discrimination of trans people.
In 2003, she became the centre of controversy when John Cameron Mitchell first announced that he was casting Lee in his film Shortbus released in 2006. Due to Mitchell’s announcement that the film was to be sexually explicit in nature – Lee and other cast members perform non-simulated intercourse and masturbation on screen – the CBC initially threatened to fire her. In making Shortbus Mitchell sought to make a film about love and sex without censoring itself. Celebrities such as director Francis Ford Coppola, R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe, actress Julianne Moore and artist and musician Yoko Ono, as well as the CBC’s listening audience, rallied behind her, and the CBC ultimately relented. The movie premiered at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival. Her performance in Shortbus earned Lee the 2007 International Cinephile Society Award for Best Supporting Actress. This was not her first film that explores a sexually explicit nature. She acted in 3 Needles (2005), a short film about HIV and Aids. The film takes places in various locations around the world – Canada, China, and South Africa – demonstrating the universality of STDs/STIs.
In 2012 she was chosen to play Olivia Chow in the CBC biopic Jack, alongside Rick Roberts as Jack Layton. The film aired in 2013. She subsequently won the 2014 Canadian Screen Award for Best Performance by a Lead Dramatic Actress in a Program/Mini-Series.Lee stars in, wrote and directed The Brazilian segment of the 2008 film Toronto Stories.Her feature film directorial debut Year of the Carnivore premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2009. Lee, Litovitz and Buck 65 also collaborated on the film’s soundtrack, which garnered a Genie Award nomination for Best Original Score at the 31st Genie Awards.
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Sook Yin Lee Theatrical work
In 2013, Lee wrote and starred in a theatrical performance show, How Can I Forget? at Toronto’s Rhubarb and Summerworks theatre festivals. She and Litovitz also staged Morrice Fled: Two Paintings Talk to Each Other, a pop-up performance at the Art Gallery of Ontario based on the art of James Wilson Morrice, in January.
Sook Yin Lee Filmography
- Five Feminist Minutes (1990) (segment “Escapades of One Particular Mr. Noodle”)
- Green Dolphin Beat (1994)
- Bad Company (1995)
- Sliders (1995, TV series)
- Boy Meets Girl (1998)
- Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)
- The Art of Woo (2001)
- 3 Needles (2005)
- Shortbus (2006)
- Toronto Stories (2008)
- Year of the Carnivore (2009)
- Jack (2013)