Monday, January 05, 2004

The Day the Music Died
Most westerners have never heard of Anita Mui, but the 40-year-old "Canto-pop" (Cantonese pop) singer who died of cancer last week was extremely popular on this side of the blue rock. I had heard of her - and was fond of a kung fu flick she'd made in the early '90s - before arriving, but was sorry I didn't know more until I was editing the wire service obit and the tribute stories.
Actually, it's been a hard six months for Chinese entertainment fans and Mui's death on December 24, capped it all off.
A few weeks before her, a stunt man - a Chinese equivalent of Evil Knievel who'd made his mark here jumping the Great Wall and the Yellow River on motorcycles - died of an asthma attack after partying into the early morning hours.
Shortly before he rode into the great beyond, a well known lyricist named Lam Chun-keung died in mid-November.
And on April Fool's Day, another singer/actor - and coincidentally a close friend of Mui's - a man named Leslie Yeung jumped to his death from the 24th floor of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Hong Kong.
Mui was labeled by some here as the "Chinese Madonna" because of a sultry stage style and numerous costume changes - more like the "Chinese Cher" - and sadly it took her death to momentarily squelch the ubiquitous Carpenters/Titantic theme soundtrack that seems to eternally play here. She's been the subject of numerous TV tribute shows, too, since she passed. I've watched a few and though I can't understand any of the lyrics her talent is clear; a smoky, low melancholy singing voice, and from the interviews I've seen she also appears to have had a wonderful sense of humor and style.
She could also ham it up as an actress - if you're into a kung fu-as- a-comic strip, track down a copy of Heroic Trio in which she, Michelle Yeoh and Maggie Cheung kick some major butt as three super-powered heroines trying stop a nefarious baby thief. Made in '92 (eight years before Charlie's Angels), it's mostly an excuse to string together a series of extreme action sequences to showcase Ching the Invisible Woman (Yeoh), Tung the Wonder Woman (Mui) and Chat the Thief Catcher (Cheung) - but it's quite entertaining, and Mui is memorable.
She announced that she had cancer in September, gave her last concert in November and died less than a month later after a life that read like a movie script.
Like Cher's Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves persona (but unlike Cher) Mui did grow up poor and literally danced and sang for the money people threw when she was as young as 4. She dropped out of junior high to keep singing to support her family and after making it big continued to support them as well as numerous charities. She was the driving force behind a Hong Kong all star SARS benefit concert last year.
Mui never married, though reportedly she had a raft of tulmultuous love affairs with the likes of Jackie Chan, Yeung and - shades of Ashton and Demi - also robbed the cradle of a Canto-pop singer 15 years her junior.
"I would trade all I have for a woman's basic aspiration - love," she said of her failed romances in one translated interview I read.
How young she was. And how sad that is.

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