Monday, 10 January 2011

Focus on Linda Lin Dai

Linda Lin Dai, screen sensation of 50s and 60s Chinese cinema
The Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) presents a tribute to a superstar of the golden age of Hong Kong cinema when it presents Focus on Linda Lin Dai for ten days from 17 February, 2011.

Linda Lin Dai was an acclaimed and much admired leading lady of Chinese films of the 50s and 60s. After being discovered via a picture displayed in a photographic studio window, Lin Dai began making movies at age 18. A talented actress and singer, her star shone brightest at the legendary Hong Kong-based Shaw Brothers studios; the powerhouse of the Chinese film industry and the 'stable' of the big stars of the era. All nine of the films exhibited in this season are from Lin Dai's time with the studio.

Although her time with Shaw Brothers was relatively short - the last six years of her career - it was with this studio that Lin Dai produced what is regarded as one of her finest performances and won three of her four Best Actress awards. In addition to the critical acclaim, Lin Dai's films were often top box office earners. At Shaw Brothers she made a broad range of films, from love stories to historical epics and dazzling musicals to beloved folk operas - the latter of which she is credited with helping popularise.

Lin Dai's untimely suicide at the height of her fame in 1964 left the film industry and fans alike devastated. She was only 29. Her posthumous cinema releases continued to be top earners both financially and critically.

ACMI Film Programmer, James Nolen, has set out to illustrate Lin Dai's talent and lasting impact with this season.

"Linda Lin Dai was the total package; an attractive and talented actress and dancer, with a sublime voice. Today, she would be colloquially referred to as a 'triple threat.' Just as Wong Kar Wai had found his muse in Maggie Cheung, directors Doe Chin and Li Han-hsiang frequently cast Lin Dai in a broad range of staring roles with enormous success."

"While Lin Dai will no doubt be a revelation to many, she is a significant figure in Chinese cinema. Her popularity and impact, well beyond her relatively short career, is undeniable.  This season attempts to present a snapshot of her most impressive and memorable roles from her time with the Shaw Brothers Studio," he said.

ACMI's season opens with one of Lin Dai's greatest performances, Love Without End (1961), made at the pinnacle of her career. In this tragic love story Lin Dai plays an attractive songstress, Qingqing, who sacrifices everything for her man, Tang Pengnan (played by the era's leading man Kwan Shan, often regarded as Hong Kong cinemas answer to Cary Grant). Her performance in this melodrama won her a fourth and final Best Actress award at the 9th Asian Film Festival. The title tune, popular to this day, won the Special Award for Best Theme Song that same year. Love Without End is the first of five films screening in this season directed by Doe Chin - a prolific director of the era contracted to the Shaw Brothers whose films regularly broke box office records.

Harking back to the start of her contract with Shaw Brothers, Lin Dai was cast as the title character in the huangmei diao or 'yellow plum opera' Diau Charn (Diao Chan) (1958). Lin Dai plays one of the 'four great beauties' of classical Chinese legend, Diau Chan, who forfeits her happiness for the good of the emperor. Enormously popular, this costume musical was a critical and financial success for the Shaw Brothers Studios and their first foray into colour. At the 5th Asian Film Festival Lin Dai picked up her second Best Actress gong, Best Screenplay was awarded to Kao Li and Best Director to Li Han-hsiang with whom Lin Dai was reunited to make the The Kindgom and the Beauty (1959) and Beyond the Great Wall (also1959), both screening as part of this season.

The Kingdom and the Beauty is another adaptation of a yellow plum opera. Highly regarded for its lush cinematography and memorable score, it depicts the story of a Chinese emperor who falls for the innocent charms of a country maiden. At the 6th Asian Film Festival the film garnered 12 Golden Gong Awards, among them: Best Film, Best Director, Best Actress, Linda Lin Dai, and Best Actor, Chao Lei.

The third yellow plum opera in this season, Beyond the Great Wall (Wang zhao jun) has Lin Dai cast as one of China's great superwomen, Wang Chao-chun, who sacrifices her love and life for the good of the Chinese people by marrying a Hun leader and thus averting a war.

Les Belles (Qian jiao bai mei) (1961) is a groundbreaking 60s musical comedy reminiscent of Hollywood adaptations of Broadway musicals. In this visual masterpiece, Lin Dai, who is rarely absent from the screen, is decorated in costumes from around the world bounding from one elaborate set piece to the next. Les Belles produced yet another Best Actress award for Lin Dai (as well as earning Best Editing and Best Art Direction) at the 8th Asian Film Festival Awards. Shot in Eastman colour, this was the studio's first attempt at screening in Shawscope (a version of Cinemascope) widescreen format.

Following the success of Les Belles, Lin Dai was cast in another Doe Chin musical, Love Parade (1961), a comedic romance overflowing with 60s fashions, glamorous stars and sumptuous Hollywood-style musical numbers. Adding another award to her name, the film took out the Golden Hay Award for the Best Comedy at the 10th Asian Film Festival in 1963.

Madam White Snake (Bai fu ren zhi yao lian) (1962) is a rare example of one of Lin Dai's period fantasy films recalling the classic Chinese tale of two snakes who assume human form. Madam White Snake (Lin Dai) recognises her saviour in a previous life, lived some 1,000 years ago. She marries in order to reward him but the snake-human union brings about problems beyond imagination.

Often described as Hong Kong's response to Gone With the Wind, The Blue and The Black (Lan yu hei), Part 1, is set in World War II with China under Japanese occupation. Lin Dai delivers a career-defining performance as a professional singer who searches battle scarred China for her lover. Acclaimed by grieving fans and critics alike, the first instalment was released posthumously in 1966, garnering the Best Picture and the Memorial Award (Linda Lin Dai) at the 13th Asian Film Festival, as well as 11 Golden Harvest Awards, including Best Director. The Blue and the Black (Lan yu hei xu ji), Part Two, is the final chapter in this epic love story her character is still struggling to reconnect with her long lost love in a country at war. As the film was incomplete at the time of Lin Dai's tragic death, many of her scenes were filled by future Shaw Brothers star, Elsie Tu.

Focus on Linda Lin Dai brings together nine films over ten days celebrating this talented leading lady's brief but remarkable career and is on at ACMI from 17 to 28 February 2011. All films will play in Mandarin with Chinese and English subtitles.

Further information

Claire Butler
Communications Coordinator
[direct phone] 61 3 8663 2415 [fax] 61 3 8663 2498 [mobile] 0434 603 654
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