Everyone has a dream. So does Maggie Cheung Man-yuk, one of the greatest actresses from Hong Kong and probably the Chinese-speaking world. On May Day in Shanghai, the screen icon took the stage of Strawberry Festival to realise her dream to become the next rock star and she “wowed” the audience – but not exactly in the way she intended.
Strawberry Festival is a three-day music extravaganza brought by Modern Sky, a music label based in Beijing that has discovered some of the best indie voices from China, including one of my favourites Hopscotch. When Modern Sky recently announced that the award-winning actress will be featured in the line-up alongside international acts like Justice at Strawberry Festival in Shanghai, it was quite a shock.
Cheung has been leading a semi-retired life after Clean (2004) directed by her ex-husband Olivier Assayas. The drama was a mediocre one but Cheung’s performance as a junkie and single mother struggling to rebuild her life and winning her son back won her the prestigious best actress award at Cannes Film Festival (she did sing a song at the end of the film).
Her last so-called screen appearance was 2010’s Ten Thousand Waves, which is in fact a nine-channel video installation by London-based artist Isaac Julien. Cheung is featured as the goddess of Mazu in the video installation that juxtaposes contemporary Chinese cultures against ancient myths. An exhibition of the work at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York just closed in mid-February.
Thus, Cheung’s attempt to reinvent herself as a rock star and performing live had quite a draw. Modern Sky said Cheung has formed a five-piece rock outfit and has been rehearsing with the band for four to five hours each session. There created a lot of expectation.
But then, great anticipation leads to greater disappointment. According to mainland reports, thousands congregated in front of the stage and filled up the area. Cheung took the stage at about 7.30pm and performed songs including Teresa Teng’s classic Tian Mi Mi (As Sweet as Honey), a cover of Rihanna’s Stay and her own song Visionary Heart. But fans were disappointed by Cheng’s low-pitched voice and flat singing, criticising Cheung for singing out of tune. Some Chinese media reported that many walked off in the middle of the gig.
I didn’t get to see her live debut. But thanks to the internet, I got to catch some video clips of her singing performances. Cheung is known for her low-pitch voice even in movies but it has always been her signature and is perhaps one of the many factors that made her screen presence so mesmerising.
And her singing debut? She’s certainly far from being a professional but I do envy her courage to have a new beginning from scratch after accomplishing so much (provided that she has the time and money). But people are very critical of her singing. For some reason, people like to beat down on others, especially those who are already successful. Would people have given a different verdict if it wasn’t Maggie Cheung but some anonymous newcomer singing?
What’s your verdict?