Sunday, November 16, 2008

Fanny Fan: Before She Was Fanny

Man Lei Hung (aka Fanny Fan) on the cover of Film Star

Fanny Fan wasn't always known as Fanny Fan. She was born in Shanghai on October 16th, 1940 as Fan Wai-chuan. At some point she moved to Hong Kong, as did so many Chinese during the turbulence of the Sino-Japanese War and the Nationalist-Communist Civil War.

I'm not clear on the chronology of Fanny's entrance into showbiz, but according to the Hong Kong Film Archive's online catalog, she first appeared under the stage name Man Lei Hung in a small role in Lui Chen-sing's Many Adventures (1956), a Cantonese martial-arts movie starring Tso Tat-wah. Also around this time (probably either December 1955 or December 1956), Fanny was crowned "Miss Exhibition" at the Hong Kong Products Expo, a popular annual retail fair that featured pageants and performances.

Sometime in 1956, Fanny joined Shaw Brothers' newly formed Cantonese division and was given a supporting role in Pearl Au Kar-wai's star debut, Pearl of the Island, released on January 1st, 1957. Later that year, Fanny was introduced in the premiere issue of Southern Screen (December, 1957) as one of "Seven New Faces" being promoted by the studio. The other faces included fellow Cantonese stars Patricia Lam Fung and Au Kar-wai and Mandarin star Pat Ting Hung. But fame eluded Fanny as she got stuck playing second fiddle to Lam Fung and Au Kar-wai throughout 1958.

Fanny Fan (right) and Pearl Au Kar-wai (center) in Crime of Passion in the Hotel (1958)

Perhaps Fanny was just too sexy for Cantonese audiences, who tended to be culturally conservative and instead adored Lam Fung, the virtuous (and bankable) "jade girl" who was quickly becoming the "Jewel of Shaw". Whatever the reason, in 1959 Fanny switched over to Shaw's Mandarin division, where she made her career-defining transformation into a full-fledged Z-bomb.

The actress formerly known as Man Lei Hung was now dubbed Fanny Fan, a suitably sexy name that alliteratively riffed on her reputation as "the Brigitte Bardot of China". Her first Mandarin film was Enchanted Melody, where she joined pioneering bombshell Helen Hsia Hou Lan to provide a double dose of voluptuousness (tempered — lest things got too hot — by the sweet and cooling goodness of leading lady Ting Ning).

Fanny Fan in Enchanted Melody (1959)

Fanny also starred — as Man Lei Hung — with Mak Kay (famous for his "Teddy Boy" roles opposite Lam Fung) in Behind the Hidden Scene, a Cantonese-language "erotic" musical financed by Shaw Brothers and directed by Chow Sze-luk, the head of Shaw's Cantonese division. Mak Kay plays a man who learns that his long-lost daughter (played by Fanny) has been found in Japan working as an erotic dancer. He travels there and visits all the dance halls looking for a Chinese girl with a birthmark on her leg. Shot in color (rare for a Hong Kong film at that time) and on location in Japan, it featured performances by Japanese erotic dancers. Two years later Fanny and Mak Kay would work together again on another musical set in Japan, but this time they played in the shadows of superstars Lin Dai and Peter Chen Ho in the decidedly unerotic Les Belles (1961).

The adult-themed Enchanted Melody and Behind the Hidden Scene were clear signals that Shaw Brothers was building up the payload for the detonation of their deadly new weapon of mass seduction. On October 29, 1959 the Z-bomb was unleashed in actor-director Yan Jun's The Pink Murder. Stay tuned for the aftermath!

  • Biography at HKFA Online Catalogue (in Chinese)

  • "Shaw's Cantonese Productions and Their Interactions with Contemporary Local and Hollywood Cinema" by Law Kar in China Forever: The Shaw Brothers and Diasporic Cinema (2008)


Dev said...

Cool Dave, it is really a fine English bio for Fanny~~

Shuseik mentioned in his video blog that to become a bombshell like Fanny in rather conservative chinese world of that era was hard, as you might ended up notorious as symbol of dishonoured then other actress, one needs courage and beauty to accomplish this, and Fanny did it!

Dev said...

appreciate it alot, and going ahead for your next entry~~~