Former child star Fung Bo-bo planned to retire, but her fans changed her mind

Former child star Fung Bo-bo was set to retire, but a chance encounter with some ageing fans made her reconsider

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 September, 2013, 9:38am

For a supposedly retired actress - she hasn't appeared in a film since Ann Hui On-wah's All About Love in 2010 - 60-year-old Petrina Fung Bo-bo seems to have a very hectic schedule.

During a recent visit to Hong Kong, the Malaysia-based Fung managed to squeeze in a number of engagements in town and on the mainland, some public talks, and an appearance at the Heritage Museum, where her long-time friend, fashion designer Eddie Lau Pui-kai, is having a retrospective exhibition.

I appreciate every day, every bit that I do to make people happy
Fung Bo-Bo

Fung was also here to attend the opening ceremony of Merry-Go-Movies Star Kids, an exhibition on former child stars currently on show at the Hong Kong Film Archive. Running until November 3, the show features detailed texts, photos, video interviews, and footage of 12 popular child actors and actresses of the 1950s and '60s, including Michael Lai Siu-tin, Shek Sau and Tsui Siu-ming.

Fung is the ultimate prodigy, according to the exhibition. "By far the most well-known and prolific child actor in the history of Hong Kong cinema, the iconic figure had her first screen appearance at the young age of two and a half years old, and then formally took up a role at [age] five. By [the time she was] 14 years old, she had already participated in more than 120 titles," say the exhibition notes.

Eight of Fung's early films have been selected for Merry Go Movies Star Kids including Love vs Love (aka Little Sweetheart), a 1956 comedy directed by her father, actor-director Fung Fung. It was her first feature. Understandably, memories of her big screen debut are hazy: "I was only an extra sitting down to eat my cake, or whatever," she says with a laugh, eyes twinkling.

Referred to as the Shirley Temple of the East by the local media, and dubbed The Queen by her peers in her heyday, Fung went on to become a popular - and versatile - young actress, as shown in Little Twin Actresses, a 1962 film in which she played six different roles.

Fung says she also has fond memories of Lung To's 1961 film, The Prodigious Child and Her Loyal Dog, produced by the Tao Yuen Motion Picture Development Company.

"I made a number of meaningful movies with them, because the producers were educators themselves in real life. So they only produced educational movies for the kids of that era," she recalls.

"I would love to watch it again. I never saw it again after making it," she says of that drama. "I remember I liked the director very much. He used to tell me stories that I loved."

When she was 16 years old, Fung decided she'd had enough of acting. She had already appeared in more than a century's worth of films, and she wanted the life that many other children led. So "I ran away from my family - secretly! And then I flew to England".

She had never formally attended a school in Hong Kong (she had a tutor who taught her at the studio), and was rejected by more than 40 schools in Britain before managing to enrol in a design course.

After returning to Hong Kong in 1976, she found employment with fashion designer Eddie Lau. But in 1986, Fung heard the siren call of the film industry and returned to the silver screen - in My Family, a comedy in which her middle-class mother character turns her family's world upside down, after she decides to become an actress.

While she made many roles her own as a child, some film buffs know her best for her award-winning performances in Jeff Lau Chun-wai's 92 Legendary La Rose Noire (1992) and Derek Yee Tung-sing's C'est la Vie, Mon Cheri (1993).

Both roles have a special place in her heart. In the case of the 1992 comedy, that's primarily because the titular character "is in fact my own character", Fung says. Rose Noire is portrayed as ridiculously forgetful woman - perhaps an ironic reflection of what was going on in her real life.

An operation in the intervening years caused Fung problems with her memory for a time.

"I was afraid that I could not remember my lines, and as actresses, we have to remember our lines. So every thought that passed through my mind, I wrote it down. And that's why in that movie, there's the line, 'Since I still can remember, I will write it down'," she says.

The Borneo-born actress now makes her home in Penang (with her Malaysian architect husband, Yoong Siew Chuen), a place that was originally set for her retirement.

But she recently became aware that she still has many dedicated fans, and that changed her way of looking at life. Earlier this year, 640 elderly fans - among them a 63-year-old woman and her 92-year-old mother - turned up for a church event in Kuala Lumpur because they knew Fung would be there.

Fung was moved to tears by the event, and cried again while recounting the story. "I realised what my father told me when I was a kid: 'Your Papa could not afford to love you as I would have liked to have loved you as a child. But you do your best, make your movies, and in the future, the audience will repay the love that Papa could not give to you'," she says.

"And for so many years, I did not feel this love - until that day when I saw [those fans] turn up, and they still remembered me and loved me so much. And from that day onwards, I appreciate what happened, and I really enjoy every day, every bit that I do to make people happy."

So fans, ageing and otherwise, can relax, as it looks like she won't be hanging up her boots just yet. She is even scheduled to appear in two new Hong Kong films.

It looks like that planned retirement may have to wait.