LIFE / CULTURE
Veteran Hong Kong entertainers share stories about closer ties with the motherland
Past, present and future
Published: Jun 30, 2022 07:53 PM
Hong Kong's Avenue of Stars Photos: IC Carman Lee  Simon Yam  Kara Wai in movie <em>My People, My Country</em>

Carman Lee Hong Kong's Avenue of Stars Photos: IC Carman Lee  Simon Yam  Kara Wai in movie <em>My People, My Country</em>

Simon Yam

Hong Kong's Avenue of Stars Photos: IC Carman Lee  Simon Yam  Kara Wai in movie <em>My People, My Country</em>

Hong Kong's Avenue of Stars Photo: IC Hong Kong's Avenue of Stars Photos: IC Carman Lee  Simon Yam  Kara Wai in movie <em>My People, My Country</em>

Kara Wai in movie My People, My Country

On July 1 25 years ago, it was raining heavily in Hong Kong. Actor Simon Yam and actress Kara Wai, who grew up in the Wan Chai district, took the day off to watch the live ceremony marking Hong Kong's return to the motherland on TV.

"I actually cried when I saw the Chinese national flag being raised," Wai said, recalling her excitement.

Another Hong Kong actress, Carman Lee, was busy rehearsing a wire stunt for the TVB concert celebrating the day.

The three veteran Hong Kong entertainers, who have experienced the ups and downs of Hong Kong's film and TV industry over the past few decades, recently shared their stories in exclusive interviews with the Global Times.

Unforgettable day

Born to a family of policemen, Yam is loved by Chinese mainland audiences for his iconic films such as PTU and Echoes of the Rainbow

Yam's ancestral home is Shandong Province, so he has had a deep emotional connection to the mainland ever since he was a child. However, it was a picture of 1930s Shanghai that he saw as a child that truly planted the seed that would someday lead him to travel and live in the mainland. 

"I like Harbin[Heilongjiang Province] very much, maybe because my ancestry can be traced to Shandong. Every time I go to Harbin, it's like going home. Harbin red sausage is very delicious," Yam told the Global Times. 

Recalling the unforgettable day Hong Kong returned to the motherland, Yam said that he watched the flag-raising ceremony from home and that it touched his heart and finally put his mind at ease. 

"We Chinese value having the entire family together, and going home to eat together." 

A veteran Hong Kong actor, Yam said that he and Wai are very similar, not only because they both grew up in the Wan Chai district, but also due to the shared pride they have for their work in the film My People, My Country, which depicted Hong Kong's return story. 

"The line 'one second cannot be missed' was so important." 

Yam is a big fan of mainland TV series and films. Highlighting productions such as The Thunder and Lurk, he told the Global Times that he is impressed by the rapid growth of the industry in the mainland and that he wants to collaborate more with mainland actors, especially young actors. 

"I hope that more young directors and actors from Hong Kong will go to experience the mainland culture. I also hope that mainland directors and actors can come to Hong Kong so that we can talk to each other," Yam emphasized.

Real integration

"People of my generation yearned for this. We had always been waiting, always," 62-year-old Wai told the Global Times while talking about the return 25 years ago. 

"As I watched the flag rise into the air, I cried, I really did. I've been a real Chinese since that moment, and I finally had a home," Wai said. 

Dubbed the industry's "model worker," Wai filmed a lot of martial arts films in the early stages of her career that left deep impressions on mainland audiences, such as The Brave Archer

One of the earliest Hong Kong actors to expand their careers into the mainland in the 1990s, Wai recalled that the highlight of her career came in 2019, when she played a Hong Kong policewoman who safeguards Hong Kong's return to the motherland in the film My People, My Country

"The scene where we changed hat badges was filmed in Golden Bauhinia Square. There were real policemen instructors. That's my history, the history of the times too. For me, it was not a performance."

"I hope we can come together and no longer divide 'Hong Kong films' and 'mainland films,'" Wai noted. 

"In the future, we hope that Chinese films can continue to develop and become integrated. Then our film industry will become better and better."

A better tomorrow 

"For many times, I would directly tell everyone, just call me 'Gu Gu,'" Lee, who played the main female character Xiaolongnü in the Hong Kong martial arts series The Condor Heroes 95, told the Global Times in fluent Putonghua (Standard Chinese) - which she has been practicing for nearly half a year. Gu Gu means "aunt" in Chinese and is Xiaolongnü's nickname.

Apart from Xiaolongnü, Lee also starred in the famous TV series Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils (1997) and Legendary Fighter: Yang's Heroine (2001). Lee has many other tags as well, such as fitness expert and "Goddess of the Frozen Age."

The 1980s and 1990s were a "golden age" for Hong Kong movies. Lee is one of the icons in that era. In Lee's view, the biggest feature of Hong Kong's movie and television industry at that time can be summarized as "hardworking." 

"People were willing to try different genres and themes. Everyone was busy as too many scenes were shot at the same time, and there weren't enough crew members," she said. 

"So everyone was working very hard." In the past 25 years, both Lee and Hong Kong have changed. But one thing has not: her attitude toward work. "If I shoot a scene, I only go to bed after memorizing the entire script," said Lee.

"I hope that over the next 25 years, Hong Kong residents will continue to have the same diligence and enthusiasm, unite together in the arms of the motherland, and work hard for a better tomorrow."