Media reports from Malaysia.
BY TROY TIONG
THEY say life begins at 40 for a woman. With much sadness, yours ended all too abruptly at 40. The question on everyone’s mind when they heard the bad news was most probably why.
It was only slightly more than a month ago that you staged a sold-out eight-day concert in Hong Kong. You just shot a commercial in Japan, which I happened to catch for the first time in Singapore over Christmas. Things were starting to look up ever since you made the announcement that you had cervical cancer. What happened? Was there something you were hiding? Were you too aggrieved by the passing of your close friend Leslie Cheung? Why wasn’t the treatment working?
When I heard on the car radio about your passing, I nearly stepped hard on the accelerator, unable to believe my ears. My entire body turned cold. I kept telling myself that I had misunderstood the announcer. I kicked myself for not paying closer attention.
But I hadn’t misheard. It was the truth, and like a bitter pill, it was hard to swallow.
I remember the first time I heard you a very long time ago. The whole family – my parents, my younger brother and I – were all sitting in front of the television watching a variety programme. That was when you came on.
My mother, who was a huge pop music fan, excitedly directed her two precocious sons’ attention to the screen. You were swathed in yards of cloth like an Arabian princess except more masculine and with a rather devilish appeal. Surrounded by your dancers, you moved in sync like a sleek panther. I thought you were so cool then.
The song was something about breaking the ice mountain. When I found out about the title, I thought it was hilarious but I absolutely adored the beat.
You were so bizarre, so outrageous, you could have shocked the lights out of anyone. But not me. You were a rebel, out to push the boundaries of acceptability, and you did it with such aplomb you left me with no choice but to fall madly in love with you.
You came at a time when I was doing a little rebelling myself, appealing to my innermost desire to break free from the shackles of conventions and traditions. If I knew the term for it then, I would have shouted, “You go, girl!”
The chameleon in you was also what got me hooked. Your ever-changing image was a constant source of fascination and had critics branding you the “Madonna of Asia”. It could not have been easy trying to come up with a new look with each album, but somehow you managed to make every single one of them your own. I tip my hat off to you.
Your theatrical nature often translated into energising stage performances. You set new standards that are now being emulated by your predecessors, but none, I believe, will come close to your level of ingenuity.
But you know what made me stay with you all these years? It’s your voice – deep and expressive with a much lower register than most female vocalists. You have this incomparable knack of turning even the simplest of melodies into an epic.
I may not have understood most of what you sang, but I could feel the emotions pouring out of you with such rawness, you never failed to send shivers down my spine whenever you sang.
There is one indelible image in my mind, a scene from a movie actually. You played a singer whose lover had gone to war. You were heavily pregnant with his child and recording a mournful song in the studio. Tears rolled down your face as you sang. Each note was treated with such tender sadness. It was the most heartbreaking scene I’ve ever seen and I could not help but cried along with your character then.
Now, each time I hear that song, I’m reminded of that scene, and how admirable you were to be able to display such vulnerability without descending into self-pity.
As I’m writing this, I cannot help but wonder how the Hong Kong entertainment scene will change with your departure. With the passing of Roman Tam, Leslie Cheung, and now you, Hong Kong has lost most of the pioneers of its modern pop culture; the original trailblazers whose legacies shall now forever be etched in the Hall of Fame.
On my part, I lost not only someone I have always looked up to, but an influential person throughout my formative years.
I thank you for those wacky costumes. I thank you for those brilliant concerts. I thank you for your hilarious turns in many Hong Kong cheesy comedies.
I thank you for those exquisite performances you put into art-house pieces such as Rouge and July Rhapsody. I thank you for your deep voice that had soothed, and will no doubt continue to for many more years, a million heartaches. I thank you for the many beautiful songs that I shall forever treasure in my heart.
I thank you for the fine example you had shown in carrying on with your professional duties when you could have easily thrown in the towel.
But most of all, I thank you for the many dreams you inspired in me.
May you rest in peace.
Singapore Strait Times. (9/01/04)
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Copyrighted by Casper Snoopy.