4 introduction
as an expressive medium, with musical per for mance emerging as a powerful
rival to storytelling. Following the upheavals of the Japa nese occupation and
the civil war, and in the wake of the dispersal of the Shanghai film industry,
the songstress reemerged in Hong Kong, becoming a commonplace fixture
of the vibrant entertainment industry established there in the postwar de-
cades. These years witnessed a stunning proliferation of singing stars— Chung
Ching, Linda Lin Dai, Grace Chang, Ivy Ling Po, Julie Yeh Feng, and Jenny
Hu— concomitant with a pronounced musical turn in commercial filmmak-
ing. Many of these stars were affiliated with Hong Kong’s two biggest produc-
tion studios, the Motion Picture and General Investment Co. Ltd. (mp&gi,
sometimes referred to as Cathay) and Shaw Brothers, which were the driv-
ing forces behind the arrival of what many describe as a second golden age of
Mandarin cinema. In the late 1960s, the songstress retreated to the margins of
pop u lar cinema, to be occasionally resuscitated by contemporary directors like
Wong, Tsai, and Lee—as well as by performers like the late Anita Mui, both an
acclaimed actress and a performer extraordinaire of Cantopop, or Cantonese
soft rock music. Across this historical field, the female singer comes into relief
as a thematic obsession, sensory magnet, and iconic remnant of the past. Even
as an anachronistic and elusive referent— a voice ventriloquized, mimetically
conjured, technologically transmitted, or unattached to a visible corporeal
source— she continues to haunt the screen, the light of her fading star shim-
mering with new meanings across the reaches of time.
Responding to this call from the past, this book follows the trail of the
songstress, a figure who has received little scrutiny despite her enduring and
far- reaching presence throughout Chinese films of various periods, regions,
dialects, genres, and styles. The singing woman appears in many incarnations:
tea house entertainer, opera actress, nightclub chanteuse, street singer, show-
girl, ancient beauty, modern teenager, country lass, and revolutionary. These
diverse types offer insights into the various cultural and historical contexts
in which they are rooted, and an investigation of this trope must account for
the meanings the songstress carries in these specific contexts. But she also
challenges us to pay attention to those large- scale temporal connections and
cross- regional transactions that transcend the boundaries of any individual
milieu. The sheer variety of her guises reveals her to be a figure of remarkable
endurance, capable of adapting to changing circumstances, multiple locations,
and shifting ideological orientations. The songstress signals latent connections
that weave throughout the polycentric topography of Chinese cinema, connec-
tions that cut across and complicate the divides of war, dislocation, and poli-
tics. In tracing her repetitions and recirculations, we begin to discern a web of
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