Hong Kong audiences are no strangers to actors playing the opposite sex, having seen them populate Cantonese opera films, the wuxia genre and both 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 timeless legends for such roles, while male impersonation by Brigitte Lin and Anita Mui as well as an opera performance by Leslie Cheung offer great examples of the many and varied gender models in more recent Hong Kong cinema.
To support Cantonese Opera Day 2012, the Hong Kong Film Archive (HKFA)'s new programme "Male Impersonation in Hong Kong Cinema" will screen four films which cover the traditional Chinese opera genre, contemporary fare in a fast-changing time and the postmodern reinterpretation of an old classic to provide a glimpse of Hong Kong cinema's gender landscape - an environment that is fun and free of confines.
"New Love Story of Leung Shan-pak and Chuk Ying-toi" (1951), with Yam Kim-fai switching between two sexes, and "Twelve Singing Beauties" (1952), starring Yam in dashing modern attire, will be shown on November 24. "Eternal Love" (1966), starring Connie Chan Po-chu and Josephine Siao, and "Wu Yen" (2001), featuring a love triangle among Anita Mui, Sammi Cheng and Cecilia Cheung, will be shown on November 25. At 4.30pm on November 25, a seminar hosted by cultural critics Ms Natalia Chan and Ms Cheung Man-wai will be held at the Cinema of the HKFA. The seminar will be conducted in Cantonese. Admission is free.
Director Chan Pei presented a breakthrough rendition of well-known folklore in the Cantonese opera film "New Love Story of Leung Shan-pak and Chuk Ying-toi", turning all words into singing. Yam Kim-fai plays not the male lead but the secluded maiden Chuk Ying-toi, who seeks schooling in male disguise. And in this male persona, Yam falls into a passionate embrace with a real man - a surprising twist which took audiences aback at the time.
The Cantonese musical "Twelve Singing Beauties" is a typical example of the genre, with scores of favourite ditties and colloquialisms and marked by a strong local flavour, whimsical shenanigans and an active sense of humour. Yam plays a dashing young woman in modern attire who exudes an air that defies the boundaries of gender. Of particular note is the opera excerpt from "Dream of the Red Chamber", with Yam and Pak Suet-sin's sensitive portrayal of two star-crossed lovers.
Veteran opera film director Lee Tit added a modern spin in the all-colour version of "Eternal Love" starring Connie Chan Po-chu and Josephine Siao. The versatile Chan is at her best in the male embodiment of both a passionate lover and a great fighter. With Chan paired with Siao, whose look in the film was both refreshing and pitiful, the two were dubbed the "Golden Boy and Jade Maiden".
Directors Johnnie To and Wai Kai-fai's "Wu Yen" features a love triangle formed by three actresses, with the femme fatale played by a man. This postmodern take on an opera tale opened up brand new vistas in which the notion of gender could afford countless possibilities. Cecilia Cheung plays both sexes in seducing a spineless emperor, played by Anita Mui, only in fact to steal his woman Wu Yen, played by Sammi Cheng, who is feminine but also masculine in the battlefield.
The programme is guest-curated by Ms Natalia Chan. All films are in Cantonese, and "Wu Yen" has Chinese and English subtitles.
Tickets priced at $40 are available at URBTIX outlets. Half-price concessionary tickets are available for senior citizens aged 60 and above, people with disabilities and their minders, full-time students and Comprehensive Social Security Assistance recipients. Credit card booking can be made on 2111 5999 or on the Internet at www.urbtix.hk. Detailed programme information can be found in "ProFolio 65" leaflets distributed at all performing arts venues of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. For enquiries, please call 2739 2139 or 2734 2900, or browse the webpage at www.lcsd.gov.hk/CE/CulturalService/filmprog/english/2012mihkc/2012mihkc_index.html.
Ends/Monday, November 5, 2012
A film still from "New Love Story of Leung Shan-pak and Chuk Ying-toi" (1951).
A film still from "Twelve Singing Beauties" (1952).
A film still from "Eternal Love" (1966).
A film still from "Wu Yen" (2001).