Married to the movies

Married to the movies

Legendary Hong Kong actress Fung Bo Bo has a cameo in Singaporean xinyao pioneer Liang Wern Fook's song, Eve Of The History Exam, which contains a line that goes: "I only know that Fung Bo Bo has played Yang Yuhuan."

Those who grew up in the 1980s may well remember that Fung took on the role of the imperial consort in a 1986 Taiwanese drama series. Others know it because Liang has immortalised that factoid in song.

Fung, through a mutual friend, later met Liang in Hong Kong over a meal, where she thanked him for writing the song and they became friends.

When the singer-songwriter held his first solo concert last month, she flew here specially to attend it.

The little history between them points to three things about Fung, who is also known as Petrina: her long, varied career and how different generations of fans remember her differently; the depth of her connection to Singapore; and her ability to make friends easily.

Within moments of meeting her, the genial actress is urging this reporter to tuck into some samosas and a dessert at a cafe in Dorsett Singapore Hotel.

And before starting the interview proper, she gets recognised by passers-by a few times and poses happily for photographs, chatting away with them like old friends.

There will be more friendly chatter when she stars in a Cantonese musical, Fung Bo Bo Memories And Chinatown, at Kreta Ayer People's Theatre on June 19 and 20.

It draws on her recollections of her previous sojourns here.

Recalling her visit in 1963 to the now defunct Majestic Theatre in Chinatown to perform, she begins in Mandarin with a flourish: "Let me tell you about history."

In those days, for the price of one ticket, one could watch a movie and a live performance. "I sang and danced half an hour before the movie and I did eight shows a day."

Suddenly realising that was more than 50 years ago, she breaks out into hearty laughter: "I was merely a child then but many people think I must be very old now. They say, 'You were around during my parents', my grandmother's time!'"

Fung, in fact, is 60 and sprightly, and has been acting since the age of three. In 1961 alone, she made more than 30 movies, including the popular Cantonese drama Magic Cup, an adaptation of the story of Aladdin's Lamp.

Life! caught up with her when she was in town last month for the Singapore Chinese Film Festival with her latest film, Wonder Mama (2015).

Her memories are vivid, if patchy, and she relishes the telling of tales from her life. Taking on the part of a zealous fan, she bellows: "Fung Bo Bo, time to wake up and sign autographs!"

Her young fans were calling for her outside a hotel where she was staying at 6am, just before it was time for them to head to school.

She cackles at the scene she has just described. On her second work trip to Singapore, she was 12.

She put in 12 performances a day, doing everything from classical dance to new-fangled shimmying.

One memorable show took place on a day when it rained so hard, there were only three people in the hall of the now defunct King's Theatre.

"I thought it was rather pointless to do my routine, so I said into the microphone, 'Do you guys know how to play mahjong?'"

Laughing with gusto, she says she ended up inviting them back to where she was staying for a game.

By the time she was 14, she had made more than 300 films. She later went to study in the United Kingdom, where she met her first husband, Mr Chiu Joi Keung, who worked in finance.

She had two sons from the marriage.

After a break of 15 years, she made a comeback in the late 1970s. In the mid-1980s, she made her mark with a string of historical period dramas where she played classical beauties and China's lone female emperor, Wu Zetian.

Her big-screen return was in the comedy My Family (1986), for which Clifton Ko wrote the script and was also the assistant director.

It was also Ko who persuaded her to come out of her 15-year-long semi-retirement to star in Wonder Mama, as a woman trying to deal with the upheavals in the lives of those close to her.

She muses: "The first time I worked with Ko, I was about to be divorced. This time, I just got divorced as well."

She divorced her second husband in 2012.

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