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Brigitte Lin Ching-hsia is best known for her performance as the gender-bending Asia the Invincible in the 1992 hit martial arts fantasy Swordsman II .
While the film elevated her to superstar status in Hong Kong, she had been a star since the early 1970s, when she began her movie career in Taiwan, and Swordsman II marked the start of the short final phase of her illustrious film career.
Lin, who was Hong Kong’s reigning martial arts movie queen in the early 1990s, had no martial arts training, but could strike the necessary poses with gusto. She was surprised at her success in the film genre, and once told this writer that she thought it was because “I seem to embody some kind of fantasy about a beautiful woman performing violent acts”.
After Swordsman II, Lin became Hong Kong’s highest-paid actress, and was at one point working on six films at the same time – producers would coordinate her shooting schedule so that she could shuttle between sets.
Lin retired from moviemaking in 1994, mainly due to fears for her personal safety. Triad involvement in the Hong Kong’s lucrative film industry was at its height at that time, and she felt it was too dangerous to continue working.
Two bombs planted by triads went off near the set of The Bride With White Hair while she was filming – apparently part of an extortion bid – and, as she told the Post in 1993, she was so worried about getting attacked that she hired her own personal driver, a woman, to transport her from shoot to shoot.
Lin’s final film to be released was Wong Kar-wai’s Ashes of Time, although she was shooting that concurrently with other films. Below we highlight comments Lin made about the various stages of her long career.
Talking to the Washington Post about being approached by a movie talent scout in 1973, while still a schoolgirl:
“He told me to find more schoolmates, put on translucent judo clothes, work out by a swimming pool, fall in the water, and crawl out dripping wet. I turned him down right away.”
Talking about her first experience of fame in the 1970s to the SCMP’s Kavita Daswani in 1991:
“Those early years were difficult, because I could not adjust to the new world I was living in. I was scared when people approached me, and it took me a long time to learn that they didn’t want to hurt me – they just wanted my autograph.”
On being slammed through a dining table for a stunt in Jackie Chan’s Police Story:
“The moment he picked me up, I was so scared my mind went blank. All I had to do was remember to turn my frightened face to the camera, which fortunately I did.” (Note: Chan was not the actor performing the stunt)
Talking to TV and Entertainment Times about her successful career in 1989:
“I no longer need the money. Now, I just want to make good films. If I don’t like the script, I won’t do it. I want to make artistic movies and not only commercial ones. These days, if the script is bad, I’ll turn it down, even if the salary is very high.”
Talking to the Post ‘s Winnie Chung about the popularity of her gender-bending role as Asia The Invincible in Swordsman II :
“I knew it would be successful, but I never expected it to be such a runaway hit. But I was very happy with Swordsman II because it broke through all of those barriers. It showed that you didn’t have to bring yourself to a lower level to reach the audience. Everyone liked it – the old, the young, the smart, gays, straights, and even foreigners. There were sexual messages that I didn’t know if audiences were ready to receive. I mean, here was a hermaphrodite who loved both a man and a woman.”
Talking to Kevin Ma of the Udine Far East Film Festival, which honoured Lin with a Lifetime Achievement award in 2018:
“(After Swordsman II), I was turning down films left and right. A journalist friend told me, ‘Brigitte, you are getting old. You should take the opportunity to make some money.’ And I thought he was right, that maybe I should think about retiring and settling down. So I took everything that came my way, as I was still getting offered a lot of money at the time. Swordsman II changed my life. It was a new stage.”
Talking to the SCMP about a bomb planted near the shoot of The Bride With White Hair in Fanling, Hong Kong, in 1993:
“We were filming quite far away when the bomb went off. There was a loud explosion, and we were stunned into silence. We didn’t know what had happened. I thought the generator truck – or a gas line – had exploded. Even after we had finished filming, all we knew was that there was a large crater in the ground.”
Talking about wearing sunglasses in Wong Kar-wai’s Chungking Express at a Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF) presentation in 2018:
“I had no idea when the director would show my eyes, so I made up my eyebrows every day before the shoot. But I never took my sunglasses off in the film at all.”
On stage with Wong Kar-wai at the New York Film Festival to present Ashes of Time Redux :
“Working with Wong Kar-wai can be torture, but after seeing Ashes of Time, it is so good, it’s worth it. I play both a brother and a sister. They are actually schizophrenic, and while shooting it, Wong Kar-wai made me kind of schizophrenic too.”
Lin, who holds American citizenship, talking about her international lifestyle at the HKIFF in 2018:
“I will never forget that Taiwan is the place that nurtured me. I am always Taiwan’s daughter, whereas Hong Kong is the place that offered me many opportunities and never treated me as an outsider. I have become Hong Kong’s wife.”
In this regular feature series on the best of Hong Kong martial arts cinema, we examine the legacy of classic films, re-evaluate the careers of its greatest stars, and revisit some of the lesser-known aspects of the beloved genre. Read our comprehensive explainer here .
This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.
Copyright (c) 2020. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.
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