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Brigitte LIN Ching Hsia




Brigitte LIN Ching Hsia

Doctor of Social Sciences
honoris causa

Mr Pro-Chancellor,

Ms Brigitte LIN Ching Hsia is a film legend who has reinvented herself and become a successful prose writer with a distinctive voice and style. For half a century, Brigitte has been a household name in Chinese-speaking communities and her star powers have persisted till the present. Setting that history behind her, she has now ventured into a new form of creative expressions.

Brigitte entered a film career at the age of seventeen and quickly rose to stardom with her debut film Outside the Window (1973). In the 1970s and 1980s, the name “Lin Ching Hsia” was synonymous with a popular film genre called aiqing wenyi pian, which was the Taiwanese equivalent of film melodrama. If Brigitte had stopped working after having starred in fifty of these genre films, she would have already earned herself a prominent place in a history of Chinese-language cinema. But that would not be Brigitte. The ensuing decade offered a golden opportunity for self-reinvention. From the 1970s to the 1990s, Hong Kong had been home to the world’s most energetic, diverse, and creative popular film industry. Brigitte, who had by then relocated to her adopted hometown of Hong Kong, became an indispensable presence in Hong Kong cinema’s last golden age. If her early array of characters in aiqing wenyi pian won her an icon status in the Asian imagination, her portrayal of a diverse range of figures in Hong Kong films of the 1980s and 1990s would go on to win her global recognition. Most memorable among these were her roles in Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain (1983), Peking Opera Blues (1986), and Swordsman II (1992, all Tsui Hark films. Tsui Hark’s bold visual style and free-ranging approach to film narration offered Brigitte the kind of freedom that propelled her to greatness. Brigitte’s reprise of the androgenous Dongfang Bubai, or “The Invincible East,” was no doubt the pinnacle of her film career and earned her a permanent place in world cinema as one of Asia’s finest film actresses.

For many of my film studies colleagues, myself included, our favourite Brigitte characters are those that play on a sumptuous gender fluidity. Today the sheer mention of the name “Invincible East” would conjure up a sense of nostalgia for a film culture’s glorious bygone era. Brigitte’s film career ends with a memorable appearance in two Wong Kar Wai features, filmed concurrently in 1994. In Chungking Express, Brigitte dons a blonde wig, a pair of dark shades, and bright red lipstick, rocks a shimmery rain coat, and roams a neon-lit Nathan Road of convenience shops, nightclubs and food stalls, as well as the maze-like Chungking Mansion. Her silhouette is forever inscribed on celluloid against the swiftly shifting cityscape of Hong Kong in 1994. And in Ashes of Time, Wong Kar Wai’s flamboyant take on the martial arts genre, we see Brigitte gorgeously manoeuvring between the yin and yang personas of the same character, demonstrating her huge versatility and, when needed, explosively expressive powers on screen. This was her 100th film, a spectacular conclusion to a long film career.

Brigitte received many accolades over the decades. She was named Best Actress at the 22nd Asia-Pacific Film Festival for her performance in Eight Hundred Heroes (1976), and again at the 27th Golden Horse Awards with Red Dust (1990). In 2018, she was awarded the Golden Mulberry Lifetime Achievement Award at the 20th Far East Film Festival in Udine Italy, and an Honorary Fellowship by the SH Ho College of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Also in 2018, the Hong Kong International Film Festival showcased Brigitte’s film career with 14 of her most memorable features, including Outside the Window, The Dream of the Red Chamber, Peking Opera Blues, Starry is the Night, Red Dust, Swordsman II, The Bride with White Hair, Chungking Express, and Ashes of Time Redux.

For Brigitte, speaking of a lifetime is premature. The second chapter of this remarkable life has only just begun. Much to the delight of her legions of fans and followers, she took up writing around 15 years ago and successfully transitioned into the life of a writer. Her debut book titled Inside the Window, Outside the Window came out in 2011, followed by Clouds Go, Clouds Come three years later. A third book, In Front of the Lens, Behind the Lens, was published in 2020 and selected for a Recommended Prize in the essay category at the 16th Hong Kong Biennial Awards for Chinese Literature. Her most recent book was published last year, crisply titled Ching Hsia Sketches. With four books under her belt, our former film legend has successfully refashioned herself into an active Hong Kong essayist with an already sizeable and still expanding readership across the Chinese-speaking communities.

For Brigitte, writing is more than a career as it has become a fixture and a necessity in life. I once asked Brigitte why she felt compelled to write. She pondered a bit and said: “I have the urge to share with an audience a part of my inner world and I want very much to channel positive energy into this world. I truly believe that words can sooth souls. And I just have so much love! Love of all beings, love of friends and family, and even love of those who might not be your friends. If only I can transmit some of this abundance of love through my words, I can probably make this world a better place for all.” In most simple and direct terms, she was in fact commenting on the power of words. From power of images to power of words, Brigitte has an innate understanding of the indispensable place literary and artistic creation occupies in our shared humanity. There is something that is consistent in her lifelong pursuits, that is, an incessant desire to reach her audiences near and far. In a world torn by conflicts and uncertainties, words take on additional power and urgency. Words heal, words sooth, words mend, and words build bridges. Brigitte has therefore chosen a life of writing with newfound purpose and a sense of urgency.

I have written elsewhere on Brigitte’s prose writing, and I quote myself here: “From in front the camera, she has now moved to behind the camera, and she uses words to reconstruct her own lens. From behind her newly built lens, she re-examines people and things, those who are close, or distant, or unknown, or merely passing by. Memories are being visualised bit by bit via literary language as a medium. I can see that many memories are still untouchable, as they have been tucked away for too long. Brigitte is slowly testing her thresholds with words, and the more she writes, the closer she approaches the deepest layer of her inner soul.” Brigitte is now onto a new writing project, one that will signal a more complex way of weaving memories into our lived present. As Brigitte’s readers, we have much to expect from this next chapter of “The Invincible East.”

Mr Pro-Chancellor, it is my great honour and privilege to present to you the “invincible” Ms Brigitte LIN Ching Hsia, for the award of Doctor of Social Sciences honoris causa.

Citation written and delivered by Professor Nicole Huang, Public Orator, the University of Hong Kong.

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