By FRANCES GRANT



Here comes trouble. Two new characters have burst on to our sudser this year and wasted no time in stirring things up at Shortland Street, the medical clinic where love never dies.



Medical student Li Mei Chen first had the mumsy Waverley all in a tiz, has bulldozed her way through the clinic, harassing the embattled Adam into being her mentor, bedded a hapless Matt caught in a weak moment and dragging a lovesick Marshall in her wake.



Physiotherapist Dominic Thompson is a rather more ingratiating sort but he's come and loudly rattled yet another skeleton out of the Warner dynasty's capacious closet.

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Not to mention setting young Delphi's heart all aflutter.



Li Ming Hu plays the aggressively studious Chinese homestay student, Li Mei — a welcome and overdue return of an Asian face in a soap set in a city where a fair proportion of us now hail from that part of the world.



But is the ambitious and career-obsessed Li Mei little more than a cultural stereotype? Yes and no, says Li Ming Hu, who came to Shortland Street after playing the receptionist on satirical comedy Spin Doctors.



The 25-year-old actor says her character's ambition and work ethic are stereotypical but undoubtedly true to life and indeed, part of her own upbringing.



Hu, whose parents are from China and Singapore was born in Auckland.



Like Li Mei, she has an academic bent, was encouraged to work hard and has a masters degree in history.



But there is more to Li Mei than this, says Hu.



For one thing, her rather unfortunate manner is far from typical.



"Most homestay students would be smiling all the time, they wouldn't dare be so rude.



And the fact that's she's sexually active — that's not a Chinese stereotype."



Li Mei's dragon lady character was fun to do at first, says Hu.



"But after a while it does get hard when she does quite awful things — I have to justify it to myself, like why is she doing this? Because when you play someone you have to accept everything about them in a way."



But there's a down side.



"When you spend all day playing a bitch you come home and you realise that you haven't put that away ."



The up side is that there's a strongly comic aspect to Li Mei's character at times — something Hu seems to have a natural gift for.



"That's a side of her that I have been trying to bring out and I think it's in the character."



Fashion is another area where Li Mei has set the Shortland Street set alight.



Her character's outrageously styley outfits do cause a sharp intake of breath at times, says Hu, but "I just have to let go".



Letting go is the last thing on the mind of the show's other new character this year, Dominic Thompson, nurse Toni Thompson's brother who's suddenly turned up back home from Britain and straight into a major soap storyline.



This is a man on a mission - to gain his rightful place as a Warner son and heir.



It's a role that actor Shane Cortese came halfway round the world for.



A New Zealander, 36-year-old Cortese had been living in the England for the past decade, working in theatre and touring musicals.



But he was hankering to come back.



The job on the soap provided the reason - and a sought after break into television acting.



Despite his theatre accomplishments, being a new face on a long-running soap was nerve-racking at first, says Cortese.



"It's like jumping on a fast-moving train that doesn't stop at the station."



One of the first challenges was a medical one - a little physiotherapy for Annie Whittle's character Barb's hurt ankle.



"You'd make a crap physio," one of Cortese's friends noted helpfully.



As for Dominic's personal life, Cortese says that while Dominic's a "noter" seeking acceptance from others and envious of Chris, the Warner golden boy, he's also insecure and keeps people at arm's lengths.



The physical resemblance between he and Michael Galvin, who plays Dr Chris, is uncanny.



"It's really good casting," says Cortese.



"I've had a bit of hair lightening — but there are certain physical factors that are quite similar."



His affection for the 16-year-old Delphi is Dominic's saving grace, says Cortese, who felt uncomfortable with the age gap in that storyline at first.



But the attraction is one of kindred spirits and his character doesn't "cross the line".



"Dom sees Delphi as his soul mate, she affects him in a way no one has before because he's always been suspicious of relationships.



He doesn't have to pretend to be anyone else for her to like him."



"I was very worried about the age difference but the way it's been done and written is really respectful."



So calling his character "trouble", says Cortese, is a bit strong.