Fong Yim Fun, a famous Cantonese opera artist in the 1940s and 1950s, also known as the "Queen of Female Principals", not only masters the art of Cantonese Opera to perfection, but also displays her extraordinary talent in playing different characters on stage and on screen. She has successfully interpreted the roles of many virtuous women. Through the diversified roles performed, Fong has also shown the predicaments that Chinese women faced after the Second World War, fully reflecting the changes of female role in different times.
To review the achievements of this notable Cantonese opera artist and study the many female roles created by her, the Hong Kong Heritage Museum (Heritage Museum) organises an exhibition entitled "Fong Yim Fun - Life and Work of a Female Cantonese Opera Artist", which showcases over 100 valuable exhibits including costumes, librettos, publicity materials and photos of Fong. Besides, excerpts from Fong's best-known opera films and recent charity performances are also featured. Along with the exhibition, a selection of films starring Fong Yim Fun will be shown under a screening programme of "Fragrant Screen - The Exquisite Fong Yim-fun" by the Hong Kong Film Archive.
Speaking at today's (October 8) opening ceremony of the exhibition, the Director of Leisure and Cultural Services, Mr Paul Leung Sai-wah, noted that in recognition of the contributions of women to the society, the Heritage Museum organised the Women Festival with a series of exhibition which allowed a study of the roles of women in history and their social status from a variety of perspectives so as to examine the implications of being a woman. Mr Leung also said that the programmes of Women Festival included historical review, artistic creation, public forum, as well as this exhibition of Cantonese Opera.
"Dr Katie Yin-fong Yang, with a stage name of Fong Yim Fun, is a shining star on stage. Acclaimed as the 'Queen of Female Principals', she has made a significant contribution to the creation and development of female principals in the art of Cantonese Opera. The classic roles that she has played are still indelibly engraved on our minds. And even following her retirement from the stage, Ms Fong has continued to inspire us with her dedicated service for those in need in the community. With her strong will and the love she has given, she has become a powerful role model for other women. The life and career of this exceptional star is therefore a fitting theme for an exhibition in the Women Festival series," said Mr Leung.
Fong Yim Fun received her first formal training in Cantonese Opera at the age of ten and joined the renowned Shing Sou Lin Opera Troupe one year later. She was promoted to perform leading roles when she was just sixteen. In 1946, Fong joined the celebrated Tai Lung Fung Opera Troupe in Guangzhou, where she quickly distinguished herself with an impressive and defining rendering of the "fan sin yi wong" passage in a production of "Worship of Tower Lui Fung". Earning rave reviews and widespread acclaim in the wake of this marvellous performance, Fong firmly established her growing status as an up-and-coming star among female principals.
Fong's singing stands out in the vocal art of Cantonese Opera, earning her a name as a creator of a style in its own right, which is commonly known as the Fong style. Well versed in the "bong wong songs", she was especially skilled at the "fan sin yi wong" passages, beautifully mastering the wide range, sorrowful melodies and flowing rhythms. All this made it possible for Fong to produce exquisitely moving portrayals with emotions that deeply touched the hearts of her audiences. In 1952 and 1953, she was voted as the "Queen of Female Principals" by readers in a poll conducted by the Hong Kong newspaper "Amusement News".
Fong starred in more than 150 Cantonese Operas on stage and over 150 films, excelling in the roles reserved for the female principal - the daughter of a rich and respected family, a dutiful maiden, the virtuous wife - where the perseverance, reserve and spirit of self-sacrifice of the characters underlined the traditional virtues of Chinese women. The early 1950s were a difficult time in Hong Kong, as people were still recovering from the hardships and horrors they had suffered during the Second World War. The roles that Fong performed reflected the predicaments that women in particular faced at that time, and the poor and unfortunate characters that she portrayed so touchingly struck a lasting chord among audiences. Blessed with a graceful, gentle and courteous demeanour and a distinctive vocal virtuosity, Fong set the standard for "fa dan" (female principal) roles in Cantonese Opera. When the films "Mysterious Murder" and "She says 'No' to Marriage" were released in 1951, they quickly became box office hits, with the theme songs also proving hugely popular. In 1953, Fong founded the Chik Li Film Company to develop a more active role for herself in film production, and the late 1950s saw her adapt many of her operatic masterpieces for the screen. Fong's virtuosity has thus been preserved by these cinematic versions of her stage works.
Fong gave up her rewarding career when she got married in 1959. In 1984, she founded the Kwan Fong Charitable Foundation to help the elderly and those in need and to promote Chinese culture. From 1987 to 1997, Fong returned to the stage with the proceeds donated to local charity and cultural institutions.
To learn more about this notable Cantonese opera artists, go and visit the "Fong Yim Fun - Life and Work of a Female Cantonese Opera Artist" exhibition running at the Heritage Museum from tomorrow (October 9) to April 8 of next year.
For further information of the exhibition, please visit the Heritage Museum's website at www.heritagemuseum.gov.hk. For information of the "Fragrant Screen - The Exquisite Fong Yim-fun", please visit the Hong Kong Film Archive's website at www.filmarchive.gov.hk.
Located at 1 Man Lam Road in Sha Tin, the Heritage Museum opens from 10 am to 6 pm from Monday to Saturday, and from 10 am to 7 pm on Sundays and public holidays. It closes on every Tuesday (except public holidays) and the first two days of the Chinese New Year. Admission fee is $10, with half-price concession for senior citizens aged 60 or above, people with disabilities and full-time students. Admission on Wednesdays is free. Moreover, there are free shuttle-bus services available between KCR Sha Tin Station and the Museum from 10 am to 6 pm on Saturdays and from 10 am to 7 pm on Sundays and public holidays.
For enquiries, please call 2180 8188.
End/Tuesday, October 8, 2002