Multi-Media Stardom, Performance and Theme Songs in Hong Kong Cinema

By Wing-Fai, Leung | Canadian Journal of Film Studies, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

Multi-Media Stardom, Performance and Theme Songs in Hong Kong Cinema


Wing-Fai, Leung, Canadian Journal of Film Studies


Résumé: Cet article examine le phénomène du vedettariat multi-médiatique à Hong-Kong. Ce phénomène repose sur le passage fluide, d'une pratique médiatique à une autre, des « stars » mais est aussi associée à l'histoire, unique, d'une performance. Historiquement, la musique a jouée un rôle important dans le cinéma d'Hong Kong. L'héritage de l'Opéra Chinois a suscité le développement de talents à plusieurs facettes, ce qui est rendu manifeste par les performances, dans plusieurs médias différents, des chanteurs. Le développement de talents multiples a poursuivi son influence dans le discours sur la performance à Hong Kong, maintenu par les médias Cantonnais dans les années 1970 et 1980. Les vedettes de la télévision se sont déplacées dans d'autres médias et on attendait d'eux qu'ils soient des artistes multi talentueux. En explorant les thèmes de chansons des années 1970 jusqu'au milieu des années 1990, en se concentrant particulièrement sur leur capacité à transcender les médias, sur les récits qu'ils contiennent et sur leur portée symbolique, cet article montre comment la performance occupe un rôle important dans l'univers singulier du vedettariat multi-médiatique à Hong-Kong.

The multi-media stars who moved fluidly between media were central in the historical development of popular culture in Hong Kong. Mandarin musical and Cantonese opera films were major genres that featured many lead actors who were also recording artists. From the 1970s onwards, the emergence and longevity of indigenous stars in Hong Kong were closely related to their crossmedia existence in television, cinema and pop music. The interlocking relationships between these media in the 1970s and 1980s capitalized on the mass audiences' familiarity with television as the main source of multi-media stardom and the means to build the stars' subsequent popularity in films and popular music.

In this article, I focus on the inter-connectedness of film, television and popular music in the pre-1997 period.1 Stars were an important part of the media industry as the most visible personnel involved in these cultural forms. I consider the characteristics of stardom in Hong Kong through an historical review and explore a group of indigenous stars that emerged in the 1970s and 1980s. I examine the practices and discourse of performance in relation to multi-media stardom and argue that there has been a unique tradition of star performance in Hong Kong due to the commercial nature of film production and the fact that most actors were trained informally in television drama and presenting. There is evidence that the reverence for multiple performance skills in Hong Kong was associated with traditional opera rather than with modern theatre, as was often the case in Hollywood, France, and the U.K.2

Employing a series of examples, this article investigates the theme song as a particular form and practice of star performance, which illustrates the tradition of multi-media stardom and the uniquely close relationships between the film, television and pop music industries in Hong Kong. Pop singer-actors perform and interpret songs that fulfill narrative functions and are sometimes composed for the films specifically.

THE RISE OF INDIGENOUS MULTI-MEDIA STARDOM IN HONG KONG

Existing English language literature on stardom is mostly based on the development of Hollywood,3 one of the largest producers of commercial films. Despite this, the definitions of film stardom also point to the existence of star discourse beyond the cinema, across different media, and to meanings outside of the stars' participation in films:

[S] tars are understood as complex, constructed representations of persons, with a meaning and indeed interest beyond the industry and films per se . . . existing across different media, and interesting for their social and cultural meanings.4

The privileging of stars' presence in cinema has been eclipsed in the west by the rise of a celebrity culture populated by magazine, television, sports and even political "stars.

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