Hong Kong remembers Leslie Cheung, the pure artist who struggled to be himself

Fans and friends of late pop idol Leslie Cheung keep his memory alive a decade after his death

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 March, 2013, 10:44am

Those who worked closely with Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing remembered the pop idol, as the 10th anniversary of his death approaches, as a daring artist who struggled in a city that did not always embrace his values.

What might he have thought of the memorial plaza in Kowloon's Olympian City mall yesterday, which marked the anniversary with a "Leslie Cheung tram" and Cheung as a dancing 3-D hologram?

"He didn't want the glitzy image," said Alan Chan Yau-kin, a friend who designed many of Cheung's record covers.

"He requested photo shoots with no make-up or special wardrobe, to go back to the basics. He was really a pure artist and wanted privacy even though he knew what he needed to do in public to succeed. It was hard on him. When we talked, his hands would shake."

Cheung had a pained attitude towards his hometown, telling Time magazine two years before he committed suicide on April 1, 2003: "The place is so extravagant, vulgar, expensive. I may be too soft for Hong Kong. I don't always count myself as one of them."

The place is so extravagant, vulgar, expensive. I may be too soft for Hong Kong. I don't always count myself as one of them

The fans and friends who spoke at yesterday's memorial event at Olympian City mall said they wanted to keep his memory alive. "Children are always confused at this time of the year about why Cheung's movies and songs are on loop on TV and radio," said "Master Joe" Yau Leung-wai, a TVB children's television show host. "I wish that more young people would become familiar with his work."

Chan said the younger generation could learn from how Cheung struggled to be himself.

"After one photo shoot, Cheung looked at the photos, took hold of my hand and said, 'Are you gay? Because only a gay man would be able to understand my emotions so well'."

At that time, the pop idol had not yet begun to describe himself as bisexual. But he had already gained international acclaim for his portrayal of a gay opera singer in Farewell My Concubine and as part of a gay couple in the edgy Wong Kar-wai film Happy Together.

"Near the end of his life, when he grew his hair long, I think that was when he gave his best performances," said Chan. "He didn't care about how others saw him. He just let it out."