A Night at the Cantonese Opera: The Veteran, Sun Kim-long
A prominent figure in Cantonese opera since the 80s, Mo Yu-tin, better known by stage name Sun Kim-long, is a veteran dedicated to promoting the time-honored art of Cantonese opera to the public. He regularly performs on stages all over Hong Kong with the Bright Sing Cantonese Opera Troupe. Photos by Kirk Kenny.
HK Magazine: How did you get into Cantonese opera?
Sun Kim-long: Just like kids nowadays! I first joined summer interest courses. Back in the 60s it wasn’t piano and violin that were all the rage, but Cantonese opera. I used to accompany my parents to watch a lot of those performances, and back home I would use a broomstick to imitate the way they swung their weapons, and wear my father’s tong jong [traditional Chinese outfit], just like the actors did in the play. I started out treating it as a hobby, but the more I did it the more I liked it, so I decided to pursue it professionally.
HK: How has Cantonese Opera changed over the years?
SK: I have seen its ups and downs. The industry was still prominent when I joined years ago, during the 60s. After the 1967 riots, it all started going downhill. The government did try to revive it but to no avail. Everyone’s minds were set on other things. In the 70s the scene gradually turned quiet, and the difference between opera in the 60s and the 70s was like the difference between heaven and earth. Then in the 80s, everything slowly got better again. Cantonese opera now seems to be doing quite well.
HK: What do you like about being a performer?
SK: Every performance has a different atmosphere, and different chemistry arises between the actors. I feel very fulfilled when audiences respond positively. A good response might not necessarily be applause or cheers, though: For instance, when you are singing an aria and everybody is dead quiet, listening intently to your performance, you know you are doing a good job. Sometimes the audience only claps because they are being polite, but on stage you can feel their actual reaction.
HK: What are your most memorable moments?
SK: I have played numerous roles over the years, good and evil, old and young. In a recent play that combined contemporary theatre elements with Cantonese opera performance, I even played Jesus! It was something unique, truly innovative. I enjoy every minute on stage; you have to relish every moment to be a successful actor.
HK: What advice would you give to young people who want to get into opera?
SK: If you want to go pro, remember this: Take it slowly, step by step. That is the essence of Cantonese opera.
HK: What do you think of the future of Cantonese opera?
SK: I have always been optimistic. As long as youngsters tread the right path and don’t wander aimlessly, it will be all right. There’s no free lunch in this world: How much effort you put in is how much you’ll get. This is especially true in Cantonese Opera.
The Playwright: Man Wah
The New Blood: Yuen Tak-man
The Teacher: Stella Ma
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