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Pop icon Leslie Cheung’s legacy lives on 20 years after his death


HONG KONG – Fans of the late canto-pop icon Leslie Cheung, one of the first singers to come out as gay in Hong Kong, flocked to the city this week to commemorate their idol’s death 20 years ago. years – revisiting its legacy of pioneering work done during a socially conservative era.

Cheung, who was 46 when he died, was a superstar known for his singing, dancing and acting during the height of Hong Kong’s entertainment industry in the 1980s and 1990s. His followers, who stretch across Asia, fondly remember his groundbreaking works and call him “ahead of the times”.

The 20th anniversary of Cheung’s death was held on Saturday and drew crowds of local fans and mainland Chinese supporters to view exhibits about him in Hong Kong. Even the government has included concerts and film screenings about him in the city’s first pop culture festival, which is officially due to start in three weeks.

Cheung’s local memorabilia proves the late celebrity remains a popular icon across generations of Hong Kongers and reflects a desire to rekindle the city’s cultural influence, said Anthony Fung, a professor at Hong Kong’s School of Journalism and Communication. the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

“After so many years, we hardly find new icons, new superstars who could reach that level of prominence,” he said.

Cheung, who was affectionately nicknamed Gor Gor – “big brother” in Cantonese – produced many hits that even non-Cantonese music lovers from other parts of Asia could sing along to. These include “Monica”, “Sleepless Nights Restless Heart”, and “Chase”. He also starred in classic films such as John Woo’s “A Better Tomorrow”, Wong Kar-wai’s “Happy Together”, Stanley Kwan’s “Red” and Chen Kaige’s “Farewell My Concubine”.

But behind all his success, Cheung suffered from depression. He jumped to his death from the Mandarin Oriental hotel in central Hong Kong on April 1, 2003, sending shockwaves through the city. His death came as his hometown battled the SARS outbreak, which ultimately killed hundreds and crippled the local economy.

Hong Kong fan Connie Leung, a retiree now in her 60s, recalled her disbelief when she first heard the news of her death from a former colleague. “I said ‘don’t make such a joke on April Fool’s Day,'” she said.

She said Cheung’s songs never went out of date and her taste in fashion, including her signature long hair, was modern even by today’s standards.

Chris Choi, Cheung’s concert choreographer in the 2000s, said the late superstar crossed many gender boundaries by introducing “unisex” ideas, some of which were risky at the time. Among her stage costumes, for example, were seashell culottes and red high heels.

“It told people that art has no boundaries,” he said.

Cheung also shattered the city’s cultural status quo by boldly revealing his same-sex relationship in a conservative local society at the time – a move that could have ruined his career but earned him much respect from the community. gay, Fung said. The breakthrough was about the plurality of culture it celebrated, he said.

“He actually crossed the border, made noise and influenced the culture of Hong Kong,” Fung said.

Cheung’s work not only inspired older generations of fans, but also those who were just toddlers when he died.

University student Justin Jiang said he was only 3 years old when Cheung died, but later became a fan in high school after learning more about Cheung’s personality and charisma through his heritage. works. This week, the 22-year-old, who lives in nearby Guangzhou, traveled to Hong Kong with a friend to pay tribute to his idol.

He praised Cheung’s boldness to voice his opinions and break through a society heavily influenced by gender stereotypes years ago.

“Gor Gor is very brave and it is worth learning for us,” he said.


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