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Sunday, April 01, 2012

Remembering Leslie Cheung and Anita Mui

During the last few hours, I was wondering why everyone's suddenly posting photos and videos of Leslie Cheung on Facebook. An internet meme I knew nothing about?

And then I remembered that he died on the 1st of April, 9 years ago.

I remember that day. I just came home with mom and sister (grocery shopping) and dad was watching TV. Dad told us he just received news of Leslie's suicide.

My instinct then, of course, was to just dismiss it as an April Fools' Day hoax (which mom did as well), but I knew deep in my heart then that something like that would never be a joke.

As mom sat next to dad, waiting for the news. I walked upstairs and went online, trying to find news about it. Back then, before the days of Twitter and Facebook, when I think I was still using dial-up connection, such news wouldn't appear that quickly online.

Moments later mom called out, saying that news of Leslie Cheung's death was on TV.

So I ran down and watched, in quiet horror.

(Can you believe that 9 years ago, it was still faster to find news on TV than on the Internet?)

Considering that he was an actor you grew up watching, it was impossible not to be shaken by such a horrifying and untimely end. Why would he throw himself off a building?

My father loved John Woo's A BETTER TOMORROW, he would play it over and over again almost every week when I was a kid. So, Chow Yun Fat, Ti Lung and Leslie Cheung were probably some of the earliest Hong Kong actors I knew (along with the Hui brothers, Michael, Ricky and Sam).

A BETTER TOMORROW's theme song
was sung by Leslie Cheung.

I remember that 2003 was a horrible year for Hong Kong. It was still reeling from the death of the "Godfather of Cantopop" Roman Tam in late 2002. In early 2003, it was hit by the SARS epidemic, and then, Leslie Cheung died.

Hong Kong films and TV series have long ingrained itself in Malaysian Chinese culture. Until this very day, most Malaysian Chinese people are more familiar with Hong Kong celebrities than local ones. Therefore, some of us always feel this strange familiarity towards Hong Kong itself. We are affected by their pain too.

A few months after Leslie Cheung's death, the singer Anita Mui made a public announcement that she had cervical cancer in September 2003. She was one of the most important Hong Kong singers of her generation. She passed away in December 30, 2003. I learned about her death on radio. 2003 was indeed a dark year.

I always listened to radio when I sleep. It was a habit I had ever since I was a child. Maybe because I didn't like the silence, and mostly because I liked waking up to the comforting sounds of pop songs.

I still listen to radio now when I go to bed, but it's actually one of those internet radio stations on iTunes. I don't get my news from the radio anymore.

This blog post was really meant to be about Leslie Cheung alone, but I cannot help but write about Anita Mui too because their paths intertwined so much.

Leslie Cheung still lives on. All because of the amount of times I had to go through Wong Kar Wai films for inspiration, whether I was writing a script, or preparing for a shoot, or waiting to edit a film. I think I only started watching WKW films (or rather, the ones he starred in) regularly after his death.

He was fantastic in DAYS OF BEING WILD. I still quote his "bird with no legs" line from the film.

Or his "the more I try to forget her, the more I remember" quote towards the end of ASHES OF TIME.

By the way, the ending song of DAYS OF BEING WILD is sung by Anita Mui (a beautiful Cantonese cover of JUNGLE DRUMS).

And this is her live performance of the song in her 1999 concert.

I guess their passing marked the last time I really listened to Cantopop. It's been nearly a decade.

I'll sign off by sharing with you one of my absolute favourites of Anita Mui's songs, LIFE WRITTEN ON WATER 似水流年. Always gives me goosebumps. She sang this in her final concert, when she was already terminally ill with cancer. She would pass away a few weeks after this.

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