Saturday, July 11, 2009

America Looks at Li Ching


Here's an unexpected find: an article about Li Ching from the May 3, 1966 issue of Look magazine. Written as an Orientalist fairy tale with Cold War undertones, it nonetheless provides an interesting glimpse of Shaw Brothers' "Baby Queen". A scan of the original is available here.

Hong Kong's China Doll

High on a windswept hill in the mountains behind Hong Kong's crowded city of Kowloon rises a tatterdemalion castle — a rickety sentinel above the South China Sea. A visitor, approaching on the winding mountain road, can see the battlements, a temple, village streets and, on certain days, armies of Chinese, in colorful, flowing ancient costumes, jousting.

On this hilltop lives a young Princess. She is beautiful and adored; she can be very serious or very gay. She laughs easily and has never grown stuck-up. In fact, the people on the hilltop believe Li Ching, for that is her name, is as much pixie as Princess.

Li Ching reminds one of an earlier Hayley Mills, and she, too, is a gleaming movie star. Her hilltop realm is actually the Shaw Brothers' motion-picture studio, Hong Kong's largest, a few miles from Communist China. Not one in a million Americans has ever heard of her, but Li Ching has an endless following of fans among the movie-hungry people of Asia. Last year, at the Asian Film Festival in Kyoto, Japan, she was crowned the best actress of the year. She was 17.

Li Ching works every day in the cavernous studios on this hilltop and lives with her mother in a tiny apartment on the lee side of the hill. She has acquired none of the affectations or pretensions of stardom, and although her English is scrambled, she is learning to make herself understood in the language of womanhood. An extraordinary willingness to work hard, an abundance of green talent and a youthful verve has made Li Ching a star. She was born in Shanghai, youngest of eight; all her brothers and sisters are still there under Communist rule. Her father is a seaman on a British freighter.

Li Ching was five when she was brought to Hong Kong and entered in the Precious Blood Girls School. At 12, she became a Catholic. After her freshman year in high school, she was admitted to the Shaw Brothers' drama school. She wanted to be an actress simply because, "I thought it would be fun."

Li Ching's newest picture is titled Ching-Ching [also known as Moonlight Serenade] to capitalize on her box-office pull. She plays a peasant girl being sold to a matchmaker for marriage to a rich old man. Her rebellion is the heart of the story. Before Li Ching goes on Stage 3 under the eye of Director Yen Chuen, Producer Sam Waung calmly reminds her: "You are playing a teen-ager. You don't have to act. You are yourself."

30 comments:

Glenn, kenixfan said...

One of my five favorite films of all time has to be Whistle Down The Wind. And if you then watch the slightly older Hayley in The Family Way, or even The Trouble with Angels, the comparison to Li Ching seems apt.

And just as Hayley seemed to represent some England too perfect to really exist, so did Li Ching represent a kind Sixties Hong Kong that probably wasn't nearly as wonderful as it looks in her films.

If that's falling for an Orientalist fairytale, I'm guilty!

Great, great post! Thanks.

(Too bad the only films of her that I have in my to-be-watched pile are Have Sword Will Travel and Vengeance of a Snow Girl; maybe I should watch Susanna again?)

duriandave said...

Hi Glenn! I've never heard of Whistle Down the Wind. It sounds like an interesting film. I'll be sure to put it in my Netflix queue.

You're so right about Li Ching embodying a fantasy Hong Kong, the epitome of which has to be Hong Kong Rhapsody, with Li Ching as the vagabond orphan transformed into a glamorous star. Hehe... I love it just as much as you do. ;)

Hmmm... seems like you need some more Li Ching DVDs. Have you seen The Mermaid? It's quite good. I've also been meaning for the longest time to pick up The Three Smiles, which is supposed to be excellent.

Dev said...

Thanks for the interesting finding Dave!

I love the lovely innocent Li Ching in her early stardom, Emm, just feel that Mod fahsion doesn't quite fit her though(only my personal opnion :))

oldflames said...

Seeing Li Ching in her prime and all the youthfulness, it is sad to think that she is now living in relative obscurity and some said, poverty.

Wish her all the best!!!

duriandave said...

Yeah, Li Ching was a little too girl-next-door to pull off the Mod look. However, that quality also made her very well suited for huangmei musicals and other period films. And I must say that none of the other Shaw stars of her generation looked as good in a samfoo as Li Ching did!

duriandave said...

I did read somewhere that Li Ching wasn't doing too well. What happened? Did she ever get married?

oldflames said...

I think she is still single.

One of the rumours is that she racked up huge gambling debts, her ex boss Run Run Shaw helped her to clear her debts.

Some news are saying that she is broke and borrowing money from friends.

The fact is she is now very Garbo like,no one knows for sure what happened to her.

Glenn, kenixfan said...

I think my mission is clear: Find Li Ching in Hong Kong and donate money to her!

I'm only half kidding if those rumours are true!

duriandave said...

That's a very sad ending indeed for this fairy tale.

Glenn, if by chance we spot Li Ching on the street, we'll take her out for a lavish meal!

Chris Tan said...

Dave,

I wish I had kept the copy of the entertainment magazine that I bought several years ago where Li Ching was the cover. She still looks pretty good in her late 50's. I was living in NYC at that time. IF I happen to go back to Singapore, I might be able to pass you some of my own collections from the 60's and 70's (both Hong Kong and Taiwanese artistes).

oldflames said...

Judging from some candid photos of Li Ching which I have also seen some years back, I must agree that she looks graceful for her age.

Chris,the magazine of yours is so precious, it is Li Ching on the cover of a magazine again...WOW.

duriandave said...

I wish I could see that cover!

Chris Tan said...

I also recalled that I did see Ivy Ling Bo and Li Ching in person when they came to Singapore in the early 70's. Li Ching indeed is a beauty queen. Not only does she has poise, she speaks very well as well. Both of them also appeared on TV in Singapore.

Anonymous said...

How i wish I can see Li Ching in
person. She is really very pretty
during her Shaw Movies. A Movie queen at a very young age of 17. Tremendous accomplishment. I hope the Shaw Movie company will help her
and install her life again. In recognition for being a former movie
queen she deserves this fine treatment. Thanks for this forum. nelson Uy, Philippines

duriandave said...

Thanks for dropping by, Nelson!

Not only was Li Ching so young when she became a movie queen, but she had a fairly long career (compared to some of her fellow stars). Too bad she couldn't have kept on acting, even if it meant stepping down from leading roles into supporting parts.

Lung-Chuan said...

The last video and photographs of Ms. Li Ching I saw were taken in 1983. In that year her mother passed away and she retired herself from the entertainment industry. Any image of Ms. Li since that time will be greatly appreciated. Joe K.

duriandave said...

Sorry, Joe. I've never seen any post-70s pictures of Li Ching.

Lung-Chuan said...

This photograph of Ms. Li Ching was taken in 1983 and is archived at the National Repository of Cultural Heritage in Taiwan (ROC).

http://cna.cca.gov.tw/movies/bph5004.htm

Joe K.

duriandave said...

Thanks so much for the link, Joe! I appreciate it. :D

nelson uy said...

I wish somebody can contact Ms. Li Ching and find out her present condition. If she is really hard up. the Cinema association should extend help to her. She has great contribution to the movie industry especially the Shaw Bros. We should help her now. I am really very sad that I heard she is not successful as Ivy Ling Po. Hope those actors who have great life now can extend her a helping hand for past reasons.

Anonymous said...

Thanks everyone,...

I watched her movie when I was in the teens... I am korean! I am now 50 but I still see her in MY HEART!
HER IMAGE KEPT LINGERING IN MY HEART FOR OVER 30 YEARS THROUGOUT...THE MOVIE " HONG KONG RAP"...

WHERE CAE WE FIND HER? I WANT TO DONATE! FOR HER! .. SHE IN FINACILA HARDSHIP?

duriandave said...

Sorry guys! I don't have any information about Li Ching's whereabouts. If I ever come across news about her, I'll post it here in the comments.

poodle said...

Thanks

NOw I live in Los Angeles since 1980. Please let me know her whereabout once you have found it

and we will make a fan club for her...

My e mail add: whyliveman@yahoo.com

my facebook account name: Poodle Kim ( You bet I am the only one having this psyudonim throughout the world!)

good luck!

poodle

duriandave said...

I just discovered some news about Li Ching from March of this year. This article includes a recent picture of her.

JustinW said...

I just seen the film King eagle with Ti Lung And Li Ching and she is just spectaclur. So cute. Happiness to her.

duriandave said...

Thanks for dropping by, Justin! I never cease to be amazed by how many folks love Li Ching. I think she's pretty fabulous too. I haven't seen King Eagle yet. I'll have to check it out. My favorite wuxia film of hers is Vengeance of a Snowgirl.

BTW, I recently came across some pictures of Li Ching from the 70s. I should post them, considering how comments I get about her.

Anonymous said...

I am fan of Li Ching and hope she well n happy.

Anonymous said...

Liked Li Ching since the 60's. Watched about twenty Li Ching movies over the past couple years and simply loved seeing her dance and facial expressions.

Anonymous said...

She is my favorite star and I watched all her movies except part one of the movie which is similar to bewitched before she married to Yuen Hua,

Hope she is well and happy.

Anonymous said...

Where is Li Ching right now? I hope to see her personally as I am always fan of her. She is fabulous. I like all her movies especially Susanna.