Former actress Brigitte Lin on the pain of Anita Mui's death, and shocking William Chang with nude polaroids

Brigitte Lin (centre, front) in a still from Hong Kong film director Wong Kar-wai’s star-studded martial arts film Ashes of Time (1994). The former actress’ new book, Jing Qian Jing Hou, was published this month.
PHOTO: Newport Entertainment

In the preface to former screen goddess Brigitte Lin Ching-hsia’s new book, the 66-year-old recalls a biting remark addressed to her by Chinese writer Dong Qiao.

“We were having lunch at Luk Yu [Tea House in Hong Kong] and I mentioned the launch of my first book. He told me sternly I couldn’t call myself an author … I know strong criticism comes from love. I didn’t dare to say a word [in response].”

The reception for Lin’s latest book, Jing Qian Jing Hou (literally translated as “Before and Behind the Mirror”) has been less harsh, with Taiwanese authors Pai Hsien-yung and Chiung Yao lauding her pithy writing style and serious workmanship.

Lin, best known for her androgynous role in the Swordsman trilogy of fantasy martial arts films, started writing in 2004, when her first article was published in the Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao. Jing Qian Jing Hou is the final instalment of a trilogy that charts Lin’s illustrious life and career.

Lin’s new book is the final instalment of a trilogy that charts the actress’ illustrious film career and life.
PHOTO: South China Morning Post

Released this month to mark the award-winning actress’ 66th birthday, the book is made up of 22 essays by Lin and six written about her by her friends. It covers her friendships with celebrity peers, views on her screen career, and her thoughts on life.

Lin includes many anecdotes, including one about when she showed nude pictures of herself to a good friend, famed production and costume designer William Chang Suk-ping, and another about how she was one of the last people who saw Li Ching, a movie star in the 1960s and ’70s, before her death in 2018.

She penned the book on a farm in Australia where her family stayed during the coronavirus outbreak.

Lin wrote in the preface that she usually finished writing at six in the morning. Without delay, she would send a draft of what she had just written to good friend Serena Jin Sheng Hwa, who is emeritus professor of translation at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “I’d only retire to bed in peace after hearing her comments on my writing,” she writes.

Here are some highlights from Jing Qian Jing Hou that shed light on Lin’s private life:

Lin with her good friend, costume designer William Chang, on the set of The Eagle Shooting Heroes (1993).
PHOTO: Imaginist

On her friendship with designer William Chang Suk-ping


Chang designed her looks in many films, including All the Wrong Spies (1983) and Ashes of Time (1994). Lin describes him as her closest male friend.

“All the big movie stars and big beauties love him. But, very sorry, I am his biggest love …  For the movies I made in Hong Kong, 90 per cent of my looks in the films were designed by him. He also designed my three books … He also renovated my house in Hong Kong after I got married at the age of 39,” she writes in the book.

She recalls an incident when they were young which scared Chang away. “Suk-ping came to visit me in my small apartment [in Kowloon]. I suddenly thought of the three Polaroid pictures I took and gave them for him to see … [later] I went inside the bedroom to get on my white bathing robe … when I came out, he said he wanted to leave which puzzled me … 30 years later … I asked him why he suddenly left that day … he said the pictures I showed him three decades ago were stark-naked pictures of myself.”

Chang was shocked when Lin showed him nude pictures of herself.

On her friendship with former power couple Tsui Hark and Nansun Shi

Hong Kong filmmaker Nansun Shi (left) and Lin in the 1980s in Hong Kong.
PHOTO: Imaginist

Lin met Shi during the filming of The Legend of the Swordsman II (1992), which was produced by Tsui. She went on to make other martial arts film in Hong Kong and that was when she met her future husband, Michael Ying, a Hong Kong businessman.

“When I got married to Michael, Shi and Tsui were my wedding witnesses … I knew I was on Shi’s bosom friend list after she called me [when Hong Kong singer-actress] Anita Mui Yim-fong died. Shi cried profusely. I dreamed about Shi and Mui that night and had an intense headache the next day. The pulsating neurological pain lasted several days.”

On her last meeting with veteran actress Li Ching

David Chiang (left) and Li Ching in a still from Have Sword, Will Travel (1969).
PHOTO: Shaw Brothers Studio

Lin describes how she offered financial help to the penniless Li and how the late star declined to take a photo with her before they parted for the last time.

“Li told me the happiest thing for her was to eat hotpot in Café De Coral at night … I looked at her left hand that was so swollen the sleeve wrapped around it very tightly. She said the breast cancer surgery made her hand swollen.

“I wanted to pose with her in a picture [before she left], she refused … [Later], after watching a performance in Las Vegas [for Chinese New Year], I received a call and was told Li had died at home [alone]. It was just 10 days [after] we met up. From extreme brightness to extreme misery, her life was like a meteor flitting across the sky into darkness … I mourn for her.”

On her road to fame and regret of not having a university education

Lin at the age of 18.
PHOTO: Imaginist

After making her big screen debut Outside the Window (1973), Lin was indecisive about her future path.

“I wasn’t academically gifted and couldn’t get into university. But my biggest interest was in making movies. Then I had to go to Hong Kong to promote Outside the Window . I felt very lost as I didn’t know which pathway to take … I felt so hesitant that I nearly fell sick before my trip to Hong Kong. But [taking that] trip meant picking the cinematic route.

A 19-year-old Lin at her home in Taipei, Taiwan.
PHOTO: Imaginist

“I gained overnight stardom when I was in Hong Kong. From then on, I reached the point of no return … I have so much regret that I never studied at a university … I didn’t study well when I was young, but now I write and read for enjoyment.

“I never thought that my writings would get praise from many famous writers. It is like getting an [education] certificate. Pai Hsien-yung told Serena Jin Sheng Hwa that I am an author now.”

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.