Thursday, January 27, 2005

Leslie Cheung

Leslie Cheung Kwok Wing (September 12, 1956 - April 1, 2003) was a Cantopop singer and the star of several Hong Kong movies. His fans passionately called him Gor-gor ("elder brother" in Cantonese), started by Joey Wong when they co-starred in A Chinese Ghost Story.

He was born the youngest of 10 children. His parents divorced when he was quite young. He studied at Leeds University in northern England although he never graduated from Leeds University as he was forced to return to Hong Kong after a family mishap. In 1976 he took second prize at ATV Asian Music Contest. He signed on at the Rediffusion Television (then also known as RTV, now known as Asia Television, ATV) and his career took off. In a self-confessed statement made in a radio broadcast of an autobiography of himself made in 1985 he admitted that he had a reasonably tough childhood.

During the early days of his career, he was first booed off the stage when he first appeared in the public and his first ever film was a low-point of his career as his role in that film was one associated with explicit sexual content which was not his choice, The Erotic Dream of the Red Chamber in 1978. In a conservative Chinese society like in Hong Kong, such an appearance would not entail favorable accolades much-less guarantee him a long-standing position to be respected as an international artiste. Despite an early dent on his prospective career, he endured hardships such as these with hard-work and charisma and did not take long to recapture the fame that has previously evaded him. During these times, he appeared in a number of TVB serials, such as 'Once Upon an Ordinary Girl' and 'The Fallen Family'.

The turning point of his career was when he signed for Cinepoly Records Hong Kong in 1986 and left the company Capital Artists. The new trend of Hong Kong in the mid 1980s has demanded for fast and energetic Cantopop songs that would be both suitable for dancing and for listening or for the singing enthusiast, the karaoke hits that the Cantopop fan could sing along to. He did not disappoint his fans at that point, blending some of his own compositions as well as Japanese hits of the day to create an embodiment of his own personal style. His musical success could only be equalled by the talented Alan Tam and his close friend Anita Mui. It was even reported that his fans had a long-standing conflict with fans of Alan Tam over the issue of bragging rights in Hong Kong due to the phenomenal success of both these artistes. His successful albums include The Wind Blows On (1983) Monica (1984) Summer Romance (1987) Hot Summer (1988) Virgin Snow (1988) Leslie '89 (1989) Final Encounter (1989) Most Beloved (1995) Red (1996) Printemps (1997) and High Heat (2000). All along, he was very good friends with another Cantopop idol, Anita Mui and have teamed up with her in a number of movies as well as an earlier duet, Destiny. He was also very good friends with Samuel Hui, with whom he wrote his hit song Silence is Golden and even co-starred with him in the action movie Aces Go Places V: The Terracotta Hit as well as attending Samuel Hui's first retirement concert where they performed a duet of 'Silence is Golden'.

He left the music business in 1990 and immigrated to British Columbia, Canada at the peak of his career after he had finally reached superstar status in Hong Kong. He was the first person ever in Cantopop history to have a retirement concert series, which ran for 33 consecutive nights (as he was 33 at the time) at Hong Kong Coliseum, although he continued to act. In 1992, he gained Canadian citizenship and soon returned to Hong Kong and his film career after the long hiatus. After much deliberation, in 1995 he finally recorded his first post-"retirement" album, "Most Beloved", which was released by Rock Records, signalling a tenative return to the music industry (as it only had songs from movie soundtracks). A number of Cantopop celebrities were against his return and many fans overseas felt betrayed that he had reneged on his retirement vow: they had wholeheartedly spent a great deal of money to witness his farewell concert back in 1989. His 1997 album "Red", however, was the true 'point of no return', after which he released a few more successful albums and held two more series of concerts.

He committed suicide in Hong Kong on April 1, 2003 by jumping from the 24th floor of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. He was 46 years old. He left a note saying he had been suffering from depression, the causes of which are unknown. In that note, he began by stating that he was depressed followed by conferring his gratitude to his friends Lydia Shum among others as well as thanking his fans before ending on a plaintive mood stating that he has done no wrong in this lifetime, and that he was disappointed that his life should have to end like this.

Despite the scare of SARS, many of Cheung's fans from around the world flew to Hong Kong to attend his memorial service on April 5, 2003. Cheung's family urged the tabloids to let Cheung rest in peace by not sensationalising reports of his sexual orientation and to create unrealistic theories as to the cause of his suicide. His last album was 'Traversing the Breeze Together' was released about a month after his shocking death. The songs in that album were not yet released by his recording company Universal Music Group at the time he died and were mostly written by himself not long before his death but did not hint at suicide as a last solution.

During Cheung's twenty-six year career, the tabloids had reported numerous rumors about his sexual orientation and he had pretty much denied everything at the beginning of his career. After his immigration to Canada, however, his stance relaxed considerably and he began to accept gay roles. In fact, he was one of the few Hong Kong actors who was willing to accept such roles as early as the 1990s.

He was well known for his portrayal of Cheng Diyi, a character in Farewell, My Concubine (1993) (the film shared the Palme d'Or with The Piano in 1993 in the Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film). The character Cheng Diyi was a Dan (one who plays female roles) Beijing opera singer who falls in love with his male singing partner. In Wong Kar-wai's "Happy Together" (1997), Leslie played another gay role, Ho Po-wing, which got him nominations for the Best Actor Award in both the Golden Horse Awards and the Hong Kong Film Awards.

The tabloids renewed their fervor in reporting rumours about him, however, after one of the tabloids caught a snapshot in 1995 of his holding hands with another man, Daffy Tong Hok-Tak (???), who was later revealed to be Cheung's partner since the 1980s. In a 1997 concert, Cheung decided to brave the rumours and said that Tong was his "most beloved" after his mother. In a 2001 interview with TIME magazine's Asia edition, he came out as bisexual. The Hong Kong media eventually accepted the two men's relationship and gave Tong the nickname "Tong Tong" (in the style of "Gor Gor"). After Cheung's death, Tong took a page out in the Hong Kong newspapers for obituaries, in which he was listed as one of the survivors, and was named the executor of Cheung's estate

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