|Connie Chan, featured on the cover of World Today magazine, personified the quality of a yuk nui, or flawless maiden.|
|The ‘Seven Princesses’ of Hong Kong cinema. Front, left to right: Nancy Sit, Fung Bo-bo, Wong Oi-ming. Back, left to right: Sum Chi-wah, Josephine Siao, Fung So-po, and Connie Chan.|
|Chan and her mentor, Cantonese opera legend Yam Kim-fai.|
When Chan was nine she began performing onstage. Two years later, she made her film debut alongside Fong Yim-fen, the ‘Queen of Cantonese Opera’, as the son of the title character in Madam Chun Heung-lin. Then, beginning in 1960 with The Unroyal Prince, Chan starred in several films with the legendary Yam Kim-fai, the best-known female practitioner of Cantonese opera’s cross-gender performance tradition. Although Chan never received formal training from Yam, who was too busy working onstage and in movies, Chan is nevertheless considered her disciple because of their close relationship.
Chan’s training in the acrobatic and martial arts of Peking opera prepared her for the many swordplay films she made as a teenager. In the early sixties, Chan played supporting roles as a young hero or heroine, often along with fellow ‘princess’ Josephine Siao. Chan’s breakthrough came in 1965 with the lead male role in The Six-Fingered Lord of the Lute. The film’s publicity campaign included a Connie Chan fan club, which helped boost her popularity. Strong yet sensitive, the characters played by Chan in this and other movies was the ideal model of masculinity for her fans, many of whom wished for a big brother or boyfriend just like her characters. In her swordplay films, Chan’s onscreen love was usually played by Josephine Siao, who throughout 1966 was Chan’s most frequent leading lady.
|Chan (foreground, left) became popular playing male heroes in swordplay films like Sacred Fire, Heroic Wind (1966).|
|Long before Michelle Yeoh became a Bond girl, Connie Chan was fighting crime in films like Lady in Distress: The Invincible Fighter (1967).|
|Connie Chan and Lui Kei: Hong Kong cinema’s best loved screen couple of the late 1960s.|
Chan and Lui, along with ‘princesses’ Josephine Siao and Nancy Sit, were the top money-makers for Chi-luen, the film company that spearheaded the development of the Cantonese musical. Because of the success of these films, which featured the latest musical nad dances trends, like the ‘a-go-go’, Chan’s other contemporary films — even her action movies — usually included at least two or three songs. Pathé released these on 45rpm EP records, which were eagerly consumed by her fans. Chan’s songs, which mixed elements of traditional Chinese music and Western rock and roll, helped give birth to what later became known as Cantopop.
At the end of 1970, Chan stopped making movies and traveled to the United States to go to school. She returned to Hong Kong in 1972 and made her final film, The Lizard. After her retirement, Chan married and raised a son. Her fans remained loyal, watching her films on television and, in the nostalgic words of one veteran fan, cherishing the memories of “those good old Chan Po-chu days”. Finally, in 1999 Chan returned to play the role of her mentor, Yam Kim-fai, in the stage production Sentimental Journey. Thanks to the undying support of her fans, including many who traveled from overseas to see the show in Hong Kong, they play had a remarkable run of 100 sold-out performances. Since then, Chan has remained active in the theater and as a concert performer. As before, wherever Chan goes, there is always a crowd waiting to see her. Even now, 40 years after her heyday, Connie Chan is still coming!
|Chan greets fans outside Shaw Brothers studio during the production of her final film The Lizard (1972).|