Lydia Shum, a guiding light on screen and off

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 February, 2008, 12:00am

After almost two years of battling cancer, Lydia Shum Tin-ha - one of Hong Kong's most revered and long-lasting stars - finally succumbed to her illness yesterday. It seems ironic, or perhaps it is a sign of things to come, that this sad news comes in the midst of the city being caught up in the maelstrom of the celebrity nude pictures scandal.

Shum was representative of a time in Hong Kong when stars were a positive influence on the lives of their fans and audiences. They approached their jobs professionally and conducted themselves in public and in private accordingly - unlike today's young stars, who seem to bungle their way from one ignominy to another.

It would be hard to find anyone in the Chinese community who has not heard of her. From her hairstyle to her trademark glasses to her recognisable cheerful cackle, Shum was very much at the forefront of Hong Kong's popular culture for more than 40 years; one of the few stars who can actually boast of having some degree of influence over three generations of Hongkongers.

From the day she first set foot on a Shaws' film set in 1960, Shum has brought little but joy and laughter to her audiences not only in Hong Kong but to Chinese communities around the world. As a girl, her cherubic face on the screen melted the hearts of viewers. As she grew into a young woman, her roles - while not always the leading ones - were often those of the good friend who would stand up to be counted, the one you could depend on to watch your back and fight injustices.

Through those early roles, Shum always projected a righteous image and she kept close to character. In real life, she was all those things to Hongkongers and her friends. In the entertainment industry, like Hong Kong as a whole, she was someone that people looked to for guidance and leadership, not just because she was a celebrity but because she was a well-respected leading figure in the industry.

People remember her as a consummate professional who let nothing stand in the way of her achieving her goals and ideals. During her days at TVB's Enjoy Yourself Tonight, she proved that nothing the producers or life could throw her way could stop her. Shum was truly the embodiment of Hong Kong's 'can do' spirit.

She carried that fighting spirit well into her later years. In semi-retirement, Shum bravely took up a new challenge to star in an English-language sitcom in Singapore even though, in her own words, she did not have 'much formal schooling'.

But that was nothing compared to the fight she put up against liver cancer in the last two years of her life. Yet, though ailing, she went about living with the same gusto and dignity as she had all her life. In the end, it was a life well led and one that all of us can take inspiration from.