Whenever our eyes alight on a stranger, the very first thing we do is arguably to discern sexual identity by what (s)he wears. But what if men can don women’s clothes and vice versa? Does it mean even gender can be swapped? When feminine traits can be wrapped in shades of masculinity and when sex can be shuffled with ease, “gender” can well be construed as a performance of impersonation.
As it happens, Hong Kong cinema began with a story of cross-dressing – Chuang Tzu Tests His Wife (1913) in which Lai Man-wai dressed himself as the wife. A confluence of factors thereafter, such as the legacy of Chinese opera performance, the crossover of Cantonese opera into film, and filmmakers’ unceasing attempts to break free from conventions, brought forth a uniquely diverse cultural identity that Hong Kong cinema can be proud of.
Hong Kong audiences are no stranger to actors playing the opposite sex, who populated opera films, the wuxia genre, as well as contemporary and huangmei diao musicals. Actors like Yam Kim-fai, Leung Mo-sheung, Tang Bik-wan, Sun Ma Si-tsang, Poon Yat On, Connie Chan Po-chu, Fung Bo-bo and Ivy Ling Bo are all timeless legends. Likewise, the Jia Baoyu and Asia the Invincible personas by Brigitte Lin, Kawashima Yoshiko and the Qi Emperor by Anita Mui, the tormented opera performer by Leslie Cheung in Farewell to My Concubine (1993), and the adorable turn by Anita Yuen in He’s a Woman, She’s a Man (1994) are all great examples of the many and varied gender models in Hong Kong cinema. The same-sex romantic and erotic connotations therein are all fodder for the ever-fascinating queer imaginations.
This contributing programme to the Cantonese Opera Day sheds light on male impersonations in Hong Kong cinema. The four titles selected cover the traditional opera genre, contemporary fare in a fast-changing time, and post-modern reinterpretation of old classics. The male impersonation by Yam Kim-fai, Leung Mo-sheung, Connie Chan Po-chu, Anita Mui, Sammi Cheng, Cecilia Cheung and the likes gather to project a view of the gender landscape in Hong Kong cinema – somewhere that’s fun, amusing, and free of confines.
This programme is guest-curated by cultural critic Natalia Chan
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.