The Queen of Huadan –
Celebrating the Stage and Screen Career of Fong Yim-fun
Queen of Huadan! Fong Yim-fun was a renowned and beloved actress on screen as well as on the Cantonese opera stage (huadan is an opera term meaning ‘young female'). First winning accolades for her gentle and dignified portrayal of virtuous heroines on stage, Fong further enhanced her stardom with eclectic and often colourful turns in film. 20 years ago, the Hong Kong Film Archive presented the screening programme ‘Fragrant Screen – The Exquisite Fong Yim-fun', offering a meaningful review of Fong's work. Since then, the Archive has added more of her films to our collection. The time is thus ripe to take another look at Her Majesty!
Fong Yim-fun (1928 -), born Leung Yin-fong, began learning Cantonese opera at the tender age of ten. So outstanding was her skills and star quality that she had reached the status of principal huadan (female lead) by sixteen. So accomplished was her artistry that her signature vocal approach was brand-named ‘Fong style'. And so popular was Fong with audiences that she was voted ‘The Queen of Huadan' for two consecutive years—1952 and 1953—in ‘The Three Champions of the Opera World' contest organised by the Hong Kong newspaper Amusement News. Fong entered the film world in 1949, debuting with The Flower Drops by the Red Chamber (1950). Before retiring after her 1959 marriage, Fong had performed in nearly 150 films.
Ever versatile, Fong had played many different characters in film, but with the distinction of never having played a villain. She is perhaps most beloved and revered for playing the good woman who has suffered from fateful misfortunes or the unkindness of humankind, but who manages to rise above the hardships with courage, strength and determination, all the while holding true to her own genteel femininity. Such a persona is very much an embodiment of the spirit of her time, finding heartfelt response and ready resonance among contemporary audiences, especially women. She is attractively modern in city clothing and elegantly beautiful in period costume, excelling in a wide range of dramas, sometimes as a songstress, sometimes as an impoverished daughter, other times a pretty maid or an upstanding wife. By turns subtle and explosive, she is funny and vivacious in comedies. At once mournfully sad but reserved with dignity, she is sorrowful and sympathetic in melodramas, even tear-jerkers. After her retirement, Fong reappeared on stage only for charitable causes, in several Cantonese opera performances in the 1980s. Her compassion and kindness shone through behind the scenes too, establishing the ‘Kwan Fong Charitable Foundation' in 1984.
Fong's ten-year tenure in film was a period of vigorous development for Hong Kong cinema. In the Cantonese sing-song films that flourished after the war, Fong croons in almost every one of her appearances, many of the numbers going on to become popular hits, some of them cherished classics. In films with contemporary settings, she embodies the modern women, negotiating life in the mid century climate of ever-changing mores, realising performances seldom seen on the opera stage. Starting in the mid-1950s, big-name opera stars began adapting their stage work to film, enthusiastically applauded by the audience. Fong jumped on the bandwagon, making a number of opera films, preserving on celluloid many important works of Cantonese operas and giving audiences today a chance to enjoy her wonderful performances and relish her artistry.
Fong withdrew from showbiz at the peak of Cantonese cinema's development, having worked with such noted directors as Tong Tik-sang, Chow Sze-luk, Tso Kea, Chu Kea, Mok Hong-si, Chiang Wai-kwong and Lung To. She had also shared the on-screen stage with many celebrated actors like Yam Kim-fai, Sun Ma Si-tsang, Lam Kar-sing, Leung Sing-por, Law Kim-long, amongst others. Watching the classics of Fong offers a precious entry into 1950s cinema, a golden age of Cantonese film.
This ‘Morning Matinee' programme features 18 of Fong's films, with genres ranging from period dramas, melodrama films during the Republic era to contemporary comedies. Four of them have never been shown at the Archive, namely She Said ‘No' to Marriage but Now She Says ‘Yes' (1952), All the Love Heaven Allows (1952), A Red Spot (1958) and The Fairy Shepherdess (1958). Precious films not to be missed!
Special thanks to: Fong Yim-fun, Law Kar, James Wong, Cissy Ho, Edith Cheung
The contents of the programme do not represent the views of the presenter. The presenter reserves the right to change the programme should unavoidable circumstances make it necessary.