Cantopop legends live in youngster’s hearts with their intoxicating charms.
By Angel Woo
“The wind keeps blowing, and I don’t wanna leave.”
The lyrics of Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing’s iconic classic, “The Wind Blows On” (風繼續吹) still resonate 18 years after his death.
Many are still dwelling in the golden age of the super star. Memorial events are held every year by fans around the world. Some are even organised by fans born after his death.
“I was born in 2004 and he passed away in 2003. I still love him so much even though our lives never intersected. Legends never die and live on in people’s hearts,” Ellie, who declines to reveal her full name, says.
Leslie Cheung first came into her life when she was only six. “My father played his songs at home, and I love his song The Wind Blows On (風繼續吹) the most. To me, he is like wind that gently breezes into my life,” the 17-year-old student says.
“I still love him so much even though our lives never intersected. Legends never die and live on in people’s hearts“
This April, Ellie organised a memorial exhibition – “Wind Of Leslie” for the singer, actor and film director, who took his own life at the age of 46 on April Fool’s Day in 2003 after suffering from depression.
“I used my pocket money to organise this exhibition and I spent almost HK$20,000. From finding a venue, writing press releases to arranging exhibits, I did it all by myself,” she says.
Her exhibition showcased more than 50 exhibits, which are all her collections related to Cheung, including posters and magazines. “I got so many collections at home so I decided to sell some, hoping more Cheung’s fans can share the joy,” she says.
“Loving him is the best decision I have ever made in my life“
“It is not easy to find these items! Sometimes I have to find them through overseas second-hand shopping websites. For the poster of Happy Together (春光乍洩) designed by the Cannes International Film Festival, I had to translate the film name into French and find it on the internet,” she says.
“It was really exhausting to organise the exhibition on my own, but I definitely did not regret it,” she says determinedly. “As a young fan of Cheung, I feel like it is my responsibility to let more people of my generation to know about him through this exhibition,” she adds.
Ellie also has an Instagram page named WindOfLeslie in which she writes about her thoughts on Cheung’s songs and films using her pseudonym.
A Life Enlightenment Journey
“I would say he has enlightened my whole life. I always get a bit emotional when I talk about him. Loving him is the best decision I have ever made in my life,” the teenager says with teary eyes.
“He has always stayed in my heart as I have been listening to his songs since I was small. But I became a die-hard fan after watching a video of him performing in red high heels at an exhibition,” she says.
The daring star has been an indispensable part of Ellie’s life since she went to an exhibition named “Ambiguously Yours: Gender in Hong Kong popular culture” when she was 12 in 2016.
Organised by M+ West Kowloon Cultural District, the exhibition was about gender ambiguity through showcasing costume designs, music and films in pop culture.
“At that exhibition, I watched his 1997 concert in which he danced in red high heels while singing his song Red (紅). I was so amazed! How could a man dance so delicately in high heels? How could he be so androgynous? He was even more feminine than a woman!” Ellie says.
The Cantopop king has never hidden his true self. He was the first idol to come out as gay in Hong Kong and confessed his love to his childhood friend Daffy Tong Hok-tak in the 90s. Even for today, he is still a huge gay icon as it is not common for celebrities to come out publicly in the city.
“He dared to hold Tong’s hand while paparazzi were taking a picture of them! He has been encouraging more people to express themselves. He has helped me to get rid of limits set by the world and freed my mind,” she says.
“He is ‘the avant-garde’ in Hong Kong pop culture! Many people tell you to be yourself nowadays, but he already did it twenty years ago – loving himself and doing what he loved,” she says.
When asked if she would like to go back to the past to meet Cheung, she says: “Of course I would like to meet him, but I believe there is a reason for me to be born in this era – maybe it is to live by his values and spread it to others.”
From Kpop to Cantopop
While Ellie believes it is her destiny to live in an era without her beloved idol, Heidi Yu, an 18-year-old fan of Cantopop Diva Anita Mui Yim-fong, thinks the opposite.
The Cantopop diva passed away in December – eight months after Cheung in the same year because of cervical cancer. Her death made 2003 a more sorrowful year as it was also the time when Hong Kong was greatly hit by SARS, a deadly disease that killed 299 Hongkongers out of 1,755 infected.
“I think I was born in the wrong era…it is a pity that I can never meet her in person and take a picture with her. The old Hong Kong seems a lot happier – life was simpler,” Yu sighs.
Loving someone Yu has never met is poignant, but there are always other ways to show her love. “I visit her grave every year and write letters to her on her birthday, her death anniversary and the day she debuted,” she says.
“The old Hong Kong seems a lot happier – life was simpler“
“I don’t know if she can receive my letters, but I will keep writing,” she says.
Before knowing the diva, she knew nothing about Cantopop. “I only listened to K-pop in the past and I did not know any Cantopop songs, not even the most famous ones,” she says.
“My friend sang Unfortunately I’m an Aquarius (可惜我是水瓶座) by Miriam Yeung Chin-wah when we were singing karaoke a few years ago. But I totally had no idea what song it was,” she laughs. Yeung was a famous local singer in the 2000s and her song Unfortunately I’m an Aquarius (可惜我是水瓶座) is still one of the mainstream hits.
But the pandemic in 2019 changed her life. As Yu got more time to stay at home, she was granted a chance to learn about her love. “One day, I listened to Mui’s songs on the internet and was quickly taken with her,” she says.
“It is because of Mui that I listen to more Cantopop songs,” she says. “As a Hongkonger, I should listen to more Cantopop and not only K-pop,” she adds.
Although she still listens to K-pop, she says: “Mui conquers a big part of my heart! She cannot be compared with K-pop.”
“I feel more attached to Mui’s songs, because I can understand the lyrics which were so beautifully written,” she explains.
I also love how she shares her thoughts on life during concerts, for example she reminded us to treasure everything before she sang Sunset Melody (夕陽之歌) in her very last concert in 2003. K-pop stars usually do not do this,” she adds.
“People see idols from golden age as a cultural icon to represent their own society. We always miss the past when a better future has not yet arrived“
Anthony Fung Ying-him, professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s School of Journalism and Communication, says nostalgia has become a global phenomenon.
“Every society has this phenomenon. For example, The Beatles was formed in the 1960s but the band is still influencing the western world today. It is because it symbolises a milestone of world music culture and a breakthrough in western music history,” he says.
“People see idols from golden age as a cultural icon to represent their own society. We always miss the past when a better future has not yet arrived,” he says.
“Many problems occur in today’s world, so we miss the old times,” Fung says. Perhaps, his comment was sung by Cheung in The Wind Blows On(風繼續吹) – “There were many happy memories in the old days, why not recall it together?”
Edited by Charlie Yip
Sub-edited by Hayley Wong