Sook-Yin Lee

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Sook-Yin Lee
Year of Carnivore and Kolysanka press conference - Odessa International Film Festival - 18 July 2010 - 3.jpg
Lee at the Odessa International Film Festival in 2010.
Background information
BornVancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Occupation(s)Musician, actress, filmmaker, broadcaster
Years active1990–present

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.[1] The second daughter of a father from Hong Kong and a mother from Mainland China,[2] Lee was raised as a devout Roman Catholic.[3] Her father was a post-World War II orphan from Hong Kong, and her mother an escapee from Communist China[2] who remained in and out of psychiatric institutions when Lee was young.[4] She grew up within a strict, secretive and unstable family.[2] When Lee was 15, her parents split up and Lee ran away from home, for a time living on the street[5] before eventually living with a "community of lesbians and artists".[2]

In the mid-1980s, she became the lead singer for Bob's Your Uncle, a Vancouver alternative rock band.[6] 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.[7] Neko Case covered Lee's song "Knock Loud" on her 2001 EP Canadian Amp.

She was in a relationship with writer and musician Adam Litovitz, who was also her frequent artistic collaborator, since 2007.[8] They occasionally perform improvised musical sets under the name LLVK, short for Lee/Litovitz/Valdivia/Kamino, and have formed the band Jooj, which released its debut album in 2015.[9]

MuchMusic and CBC[edit]

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.[8] 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.[10] 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.[11]

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,[12] and remains in talks to develop another permanent program for the network.

Film work[edit]

As a feminist, Lee specifically works on films that discusses feminist and/or racial issues. Escapades of One Particular Mr. Noodle (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 (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 John Cameron Mitchell's film Hedwig and the Angry Inch, 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 body-altering surgery to change her physical sex from male to female in order to legally marry a man. Hedwig, a punk rock singer, explores her gender identity in the island of freedom represented by her music scene against the background of the complex sociopolitical environment presented near the fall of the Berlin Wall. The characters suffer discrimination against same sex couples and trans people.

In 2003, she became the centre of controversy when Mitchell first announced that he was casting Lee in his film Shortbus (released 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.[13] In making Shortbus Mitchell sought to make a film about love and sex without censoring itself.[14] 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.[15] 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.[16] 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 place in various locations around the world - Canada, China, and South Africa - demonstrating the universality of STDs/STIs.[17]

In 2012 she was chosen to play Olivia Chow in the biopic television film Jack, alongside Rick Roberts as Jack Layton.[18] The film aired on CBC Television in 2013. She subsequently won the 2014 Canadian Screen Award for Best Performance by a Lead Dramatic Actress in a Program/Mini-Series.[19]

Lee stars in, wrote and directed The Brazilian segment of the 2008 film Toronto Stories.[20]

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. Her second feature film as a director, Octavio Is Dead!, is slated to premiere at the Inside Out Film and Video Festival in 2018.

Theatrical work[edit]

In 2013, Lee wrote and starred in a theatrical performance show, How Can I Forget? at Toronto's Rhubarb and Summerworks theatre festivals.[21] 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. In 2014, Lee choreographed a dance solo for Syreeta Hector as part of On Display for Toronto Dance Theatre. From 2015-2017, she created and directed Sphere of Banished Suffering with dancers Jenn Goodwin, Mairi Greig, and Charlie McGettigan with Litovitz developed in residencies with LUFF art+dialogue, Dancemakers, Artscape Sandbox, and premiered at the Festival of New Dance 2017.




  1. ^ MacPhee, Hayley (17 February 2003). "profile: Sook-Yin Lee – Definitely more than a VJ". The Fulcrum. Archived from the original on 24 October 2008. Retrieved 23 August 2008.
  2. ^ a b c d Denise Balkissoon (11 June 2010). "Sook-Yin Lee: Candid with the camera – except for one thing". Toronto Star. Retrieved 2010-06-13.
  3. ^ Bruni, Frank (24 September 2006). "'Shortbus' Cast Didn't Study for This in Acting Class". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-01-08.
  4. ^ Leah McLaren (9 September 2006). "'There Was One Day When I Couldn't Take My Clothes Off, So I Asked Everyone on Set To Take Their Clothes Off.'". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2010-06-13.
  5. ^ Sook-Yin Lee, comment on Definitely Not the Opera, CBC radio, 2 November 2010
  6. ^ "Sook Yin-Lee and Adam Litovitz are JOOJ, Jury, and Executioner". Noisey. 2015-06-08. Retrieved 2018-03-23.
  7. ^ Sumi, Glenn (31 August 2006). "Sook-Yin Lee (profile)". Archived from the original on 18 February 2007. Retrieved 31 August 2006.
  8. ^ a b "Sook-Yin Lee: Candid with the Camera — Except for One Thing". Toronto Star, 11 June 2010.
  9. ^ "Sook-Yin Lee’s sorority of naked women". Daily Xtra, May 8, 2015.
  10. ^ Sheppard, Denise (30 October 2001). "VJ looks back on her MuchMusic days". Retrieved 2007-03-11.
  11. ^ Hughes, Fiona (10 December 2001). "The art of Sook-Yin Lee". Vancouver Courier. Archived from the original on 15 January 2004. Retrieved 2007-10-22.
  12. ^ "CBC Radio One to Launch ‘Social Experiment’ Radio Show". Broadcaster, June 21, 2016.
  13. ^ Stone, Jay (22 May 2006). "Sook-Yin Lee's film debut definitely not CBC fare". The Ottawa Citizen. Retrieved 2006-07-24.
  14. ^ Mitchell, John. "Shortbus Official Trailer". Youtube. Indie Wire. Retrieved 30 March 2017.
  15. ^ Johnson, Brian D. (2 June 2006). "Sook-Yin Lee shocker in Cannes". Archived from the original on 30 May 2012. Retrieved 14 April 2007.
  16. ^ "2010 ICS AWARD WINNERS". International Cinephile Society. Archived from the original on 15 March 2012.
  17. ^ "Sexually Transmitted Diseases : Also called: Sexually transmitted infections, STDs, Venereal disease". U.S. National Library of Medicine. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Institutes of Health. Retrieved 30 March 2017.
  18. ^ Annette Bourdeau (7 August 2012). "Sook-Yin Lee To Play Olivia Chow in Jack Layton Movie". Huffington Post Canada.
  19. ^ Kupferman, Steve. (10 March 2014). "David Cronenberg name-checks Dilbert at the 2014 Canadian Screen Awards". Retrieved 2014-03-14.
  20. ^ R.M. Vaughan (11 December 2008). "Sook-Yin Lee: Culture creator with a naughty rep". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2010-06-13.
  21. ^ Corrigan, David (2013-08-09). "'It's not Shakespeare': Sook-Yin Lee on exploring memory in 'How Can I Forget?' at Toronto's SummerWorks festival". National Post. Retrieved 2017-12-16. It went on to be performed in conjunction with her solo art show We Are Light Rays at the Ottawa Art Gallery.
  22. ^ Canada, Government of Canada, National Film Board of. "National Film Board of Canada". Retrieved 2017-03-23.
  23. ^ Baker, Marie Annharte; Blain, Kim; Boschman, Lorna; Browne, Christene; Burns, Alison; Cole, Janis; Dempsey, Shawna; Fleming, Ann Marie; Gagnon, Angèle (2000-01-01), Five Feminist Minutes, retrieved 2017-03-23

External links[edit]