introduction 25
their sentiments of pathos would reverberate against a larger background of
recent traumas and dislocations.
On the other side of the fallout of the great divide, the songstress is inter-
cepted by another set of transregional currents. Only through the lens of a
double historical vision do her contours come into focus. Singing actresses
were not just holdovers from the past, they were also the building blocks of
a new commercial film culture. The principal driving forces in the postwar
Hong Kong film industry were based in Southeast Asia: mp&gi, part of the
Cathay conglomerate, and its longer- lived rival, Shaw Brothers (whose past
incarnation was the Tianyi Film Company in Shanghai). The studios were
founded by Loke Wan Tho and Run Run Shaw, respectively. Both men were
Chinese Malayan property magnates who saw a lucrative opportunity in the
export market for Chinese- language films throughout the trans- Pacific dias-
pora: Malaya, Singapore, Borneo, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philip-
pines. They turned to Hong Kong as a stable environment in which to pursue
commercial filmmaking. In 1956
mp&gi’s studios were established in Kow-
loon, and in the following year, Shaw Studios was founded in Clearwater Bay;
competing with them were numerous smaller film studios like Xinhua and
Changcheng (Great Wall). In Fu’s description, the films made by the two major
studios reflect the “cosmopolitan, border- crossing consciousness” of the pro-
ducers and their desire to forge a polished, technically sophisticated, modern
cinema with cross- regional appeal.71 The songstresses of the postwar period
display this cosmopolitan orientation and border- crossing agility. The circula-
tion of their images and voices traced the perimeter of a cultural space known
as nanyang (south seas), constituted by migratory flows throughout the South
China Sea and overlaid with networks of colonial power.
As Jeremy Taylor points out, the large- scale population movements precipi-
tated by the war and the communist victory also gave rise to large communities
of dialect speakers dispersed throughout the Chinese diaspora.72 The cultural
space of nanyang was marked by linguistic heterogeneity, as the postwar period
saw the flowering of dialect film industries catering to these communities (the
largest of which were Cantonese and Amoy).73 Song per for mance featured
prominently in all of these dialect cinemas, drawing on localized musical tra-
ditions such as Cantonese opera, nanyin, and Hokkien opera. Although this
book focuses on song per for mance in Mandarin films from the early sound era
to postwar Hong Kong and on the performers who worked exclusively in this
linguistic realm— Zhou Xuan, Chung Ching, Yao Lee, and Grace Chang—it
bears noting that these figures have parallels in other dialect industries. Sing-
ing actresses and crossover stars appeared across the polylinguistic terrain of
Previous Page Next Page