Connie Chan Po-chu

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Connie Chan Po-chu was born in 1947 in Guangdong, China to impoverished parents and at least 8 other siblings. To increase their children’s chances of surviving, Chan’s birth parents gave away some of their youngest to other families. As a result, Chan was adopted by Chan Fei-nung and his wife, Kung Fan-hung, who were renowned Cantonese opera stars. During the 1960s, Connie Chan was one of Hong Kong cinema’s most beloved teen idols. She made more than 230 films in a variety of genres: from traditional Cantonese opera and wuxia movies to contemporary youth musicals; action films to comedies; melodramas and romances. Owning to her popularity in addition to the extreme devotion of her fans, she was dubbed the “Movie-Fan Princess.” Her godfather is the late actor Cho Tat Wah. She has a son named Dexter Yeung, who stars in the 2008 TVB Series Wasabi Mon Amour and Moonlight Resonance.

At the age of five and a half she started learning Cantonese opera from her parents and later became an apprentice of Peking opera master Fen Juhua, who was one of the first wuxia actresses in Shanghai during the 1920s. When Connie was nine, she began performing onstage. One year later she and Leung Bo-chu (the daughter of the great comic actor and opera clown Leung Sing-po) were the leading stars of the Double Chu Opera Troupe. In 1958, Connie made her film debut in the Cantonese opera Madam Chun Heung-lin. The following year she played in two Mandarin-language productions for the MP&GI studio: as a widow’s daughter in Yue Feng’s melodrama For Better, For Worse and as a young boy in Tao Qin’s comedy The Scout Master. That same year she also played the role of a filial son in Breaking the Coffin to Rescue Mother.

During her teenage years, Connie appeared more and more frequently on the silver screen: at first mostly in Cantonese operas (often with the legendary Master Yam Kim-fai, who had taken Connie as her beloved student); but later almost exclusively in wuxia movies (usually in the company of veteran action stars Yu So Chow, Walter Tso Tat-wah, and perennial bad guy Sek Kin). She also joined the Sin-Hok Kong-luen Film Company’s stable of young stars (which included Suet Nei, Nancy Sit Ka-yin, and Kenneth Tsang Kong) and took part in director Chan Lit-ban’s groundbreaking adaptations of Jin Yong’s serialized novels, The Golden Hairpin (1963-64) and The Snowflake Sword (1964). Released in three and four parts, these films were blockbuster extravaganzas popular for their intricate plots, special effects, and complex action choreography. Two films in 1965 would give a boost to Connie’s career: The Six-Fingered Lord of the Lute (in which she played the lead male role and which was publicized with the creation of her very own fanclub) and The Black Rose (in which director Chor Yuen had the foresight to change her image by putting her in a contemporary role as a modern-day Robin Hood).

These two years were a diverse and prolific period during which Connie’s talent, skills, and popularity reached full bloom. In 1966, her most frequent onscreen partner was Josephine Siao, who had also studied opera under Fen Juhua. The two were often cast as disciples of the same master and sometimes—when Connie played the male lead —as young heroes in love. Capitalizing on their chemistry, veteran director Lee Tit gave them the lead roles in Eternal Love, his remake of a popular opera from the 1950s. Even more successful was Chan Wan’s Colourful Youth, which became the box office champ of the year and set the trend for Western-style musicals in Cantonese cinema. From then on, Connie and Josephine appeared increasingly in films with contemporary settings but less frequently in each other’s company. Both of them were paired off with a variety of leading men in a profusion of comedies, musicals, romances, and action movies. Movie-Fan Princess was a prototype combo of all four genres and, more significantly, the beginning of Connie’s four-year onscreen romance with her most popular leading man, Lui Kei. And then there was Lady Bond, Cantonese cinema’s answer to 007 that spawned three sequels and fueled the transition from traditional wuxia pictures to contemporary action movies.

Connie’s frenetic film output of the previous two years started to slow down a bit. Her contemporary action films had played themselves out and she settled down onscreen with leading man Lui Kei, who now became her most frequent costar in a medley of comedies, musicals, and romances—most of them directed by Wong Yiu and Chan Wan, who were responsible for the Chi-luen Film Company’s signature youth musicals. With the help of her mother, Connie founded her own film company in 1968. Hung Bo’s inaugural feature Teenage Love (1968) paired her with Lui Kei. Connie’s mother produced the film and she and Connie’s father had small roles. Love With a Malaysian Girl (1969) and Her Tender Love (1969), both written and directed by Lui Kei, were the only other films produced through Hung Bo. Within a year, Connie stopped making movies altogether and moved to San Francisco to finish her education. When she returned to Hong Kong in 1972, she made one last film with director Chor Yuen, who had recently signed on with Shaw Brothers. The Lizard, a Mandarin-language production, was Connie’s final farewell to the silver screen.

After an absence of more than 25 years, Connie Chan emerged from retirement in 1999 to star in a stage production based on the life of her Master, Yam Kim-fai. Sentimental Journey won great acclaim and broke records with its 100-performance run; it was brought back for a six-week revival in 2005. After Sentimental Journey, Connie starred alongside Tony Leung Ka-Fai and Carina Lau in the stage play Red Boat, which ran for 64 performances. The play is an homage to the Cantonese Opera troupes that traditionally traveled by boat through the Pearl River delta region of China. In 2003 she staged a series of spectacular concerts, delighting fans with her cherished film songs and some Cantonese opera classics; her guest stars included Petrina Fung Bo-bo, Nancy Sit Ka-yin, and Maggie Cheung Ho-yee (who played the character based on Connie in the TVB television series Old Time Buddy and the film Those Were the Days). On February 4, 2006 she performed brilliantly again; this time with the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra. Later that year she starred with Adam Cheng in the stage play Only You, which ran for 70 performances. In January 2007 Connie was honored with a lifetime achievement award at the Hong Kong Drama Awards.

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