Beauty in Myriad Shades: A Tribute to Betty Loh Ti on Her 80th Birth Anniversary
Classics can withstand the test of time, offering different tastes at different moments in time. The same is true of wine, as well as of beauties. Su Shi, the renowned Song poet, likened the West Lake to a great beauty: "I have the urge to compare the West Lake to a beauty. Makeup both light and heavy suits her always." The last line best describes Betty Loh Ti. Even though her cinematic career was sadly cut short, Loh had played a wide array of characters, from poor orphans and humble maids in her formative stage, to cloistered maidens and glamorous housewives in her later years, to war victims and righteous swordswomen in her final days. No matter what kind of makeup she wore, Loh always brought her characters to life with the same ease and flair. In commemoration of Loh's 80th birth anniversary, the Film Archive will showcase 21 titles from her repertoirefor audiences to savour again her unique charm in various personas. A small-scale exhibition will be held outside the cinema at 1/F Foyer, tracing how Loh morphed from a supporting actress into one of Hong Kong's most celebrated screen divas.
Originally named Xi Zhongyi, Betty Loh Ti (1937–1968) was a posthumous child born in Shanghai when the city was at war with the Japanese. She was the youngest of six siblings, thus her pet name "Liu Di" (literally the Sixth "Brother") and subsequently her stage name "Loh Ti" with similar pronunciations. Her maternal grandfather Gu Zhuxuan was the owner of Tianchan Theatre, the grandest of Shanghai's four largest theatres at the time. Loh thus got an early taste of the performing arts since childhood, with a penchant for mimicking the actresses in Peking Opera.
In 1949, Loh moved to Hong Kong with her family and became at one time the next door neighbour of Yuan Yang-an, Managing Director of Great Wall Movie Enterprises Limited. At age 15, she was signed by the studio for five years and made her screen debut with The Peerless Beauty (1953). Her youthful innocence and delicate demeanour earned her the nickname of "Little Loh Ti" from her workmates and the press. During the period in Great Wall, she chiefly played bit parts or supporting roles, until Suspicion (1957) when she was cast as the female lead, for the first as well as the last time in the studio.
In 1958, Loh left Great Wall for Shaw Brothers and was immediately assigned major roles. In her debut work The Magic Touch (1958), her performance in the scene "Daiyu Buries the Fallen Flowers" won her the epithet the "Classic Beauty". In 1960, her role in The Enchanting Shadow took audiences by storm at the Cannes Film Festival, where she was exalted by the jury as "China's most beautiful actress". This was followed by her signature piece The Love Eterne (1963), which garnered her the Golden Horse Award for Best Leading Actress.
In 1964, Loh joined MP & GI (later reorganised into Cathay) and in 1967, founded Golden Eagle Film Company with her actor brother Kelly Lai Chen and director Yuan Qiufeng. She starred in a total of 11 features for the two companies, spanning a broad spectrum from period wuxia films to contemporary. In the afternoon of 27 December 1968, Loh returned home for a break from work. She was found unconscious by her maid that same evening and passed away soon afterwards. Thus marks the end of the screen legend, whose talent and charm remain unsurpassed to this day.
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