The romantic dramas from Taiwan in the 1970s should be remembered as an integral chapter of the history of Chinese language cinema. They were the by-products of the unique socio-political climate at the time, says screen icon Brigitte Lin Ching-hsia.
“People thought that the films we made back then were bad. But it was an important period of time from a historical perspective,” Lin told Variety. Taiwan was under martial law and cinema censorship was tight. “Romantic dramas became the most sought-after entertainment because of that.”
Lin went on to star in Wong Kar-wai’s “Ashes of Time” and “Chungking Express,” but was away from the screen until recently. In March, Lin was the focus of a retrospective at the Hong Kong Int’l Film Festival and this month at the Festival of Far East Film in Udine, Italy.
Taiwan-born, Lin rose to stardom in 1973 when she was still a teenager with “Outside the Window,” a romantic drama based on a novel by popular author Chiung Yao. The film sealed her status as a screen goddess, and she starred in several other screen adaptations of Chiung’s novels, including 1977’s “Cloud of Romance,” which has been digitally restored and premiered in Hong Kong, before playing in Udine. The film was shown in Taiwan for the first time at the Golden Horse Fantastic Film Festival.
“(In the 1970s) you could not have any violence, blood or sex. People were very conservative back then. Our kind of romantic drama features were the best and safest options,” she said.
Such romantic dramas were popular not only in Taiwan, but also in Southeast Asia. “Singapore and Malaysia were very conservative, so they liked such films,” Lin says. “Travel was difficult and those who left Taiwan, mostly never returned. The romantic dramas that showed the sceneries and landscapes of home were loved by Taiwanese abroad.”
Lin began making Hong Kong films and changed genre in 1981 when she joined new wave director Patrick Tam on the production of thriller “Love Massacre.” She quickly became popular among directors in Hong Kong, then enjoying its golden era. Lin’s role in Yim Ho’s 1990 film “Red Dust,” won her the Golden Horse best actress award.
But it was her role as Dongfang Bubai (The Invincible East), a powerful male leader of a cult group, in 1992 martial arts film “Swordsman II” that raised Lin to a new career peak. Crossdressing is a common tradition in Chinese opera, but was comparatively rare in Chinese film. Her performance in the film produced by Tsui Hark and directed by Ching Siu-tung, was stunning.
“The two people I trust the most in the film industry are William Chang Suk-ping (editor, costume designer) and other is Tsui Hark,” Lin says. “When Tsui Hark asked me to play the role of Dongfang Bubai, I said yes without second thought. Chang did the costume design and I couldn’t be happier with the results.”
She took on a number of martial arts film projects. But Wong’s “Ashes of Time” in 1994, became her last major film appearance before her marriage with businessman Michael Ying. With acting largely in her past, Lin has since become a popular author, publishing best-sellers in 2011 and 2014.
Prior to Udine, Lin confessed that she had yet to see the restored version of “Cloud of Romance,” but she did revisit the film a while earlier. “Honestly, I never realized I looked so beautiful back in the days,” she quipped.