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Chinese language cinema

Mona Fong, widow of Hong Kong movie mogul Sir Run Run Shaw, dies aged 83

Singer and television producer ran broadcaster TVB with husband until 2012

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 November, 2017, 6:52pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 November, 2017, 12:09am

Mona Fong Yat-wah, the singer, show business executive and widow of revered Hong Kong movie mogul Sir Run Run Shaw, died on Tuesday aged 83.

She died peacefully at 5.28pm at Hong Kong Sanatorium and Hospital with family by her side, according to a statement from broadcaster TVB, which Fong used to manage.

It did not specify a cause of death.

Fong had been a TVB director since 1988, assisting Shaw with the operation of the company and the Shaw Brothers studio. She continued to be part of the management until her retirement at the end of March 2012, and was a non-executive director until her death.

Born Lee Mong-lan in Shanghai in 1934, she owed her singing career to her mother, surnamed Fong and a nightclub performer on the Bund. Having settled in Hong Kong in the late 1940s with her mother, the younger Fong turned professional as a stage singer without finishing high school.

She performed on stages as far-flung as Malaysia and Singapore during 1950s, and joined the record label EMI, producing several popular albums in Chinese and English, including the big hit The Wedding.

“I remember her well as a very caring person, and admired her deep and soulful voice,” veteran RTHK DJ “Uncle Ray” Cordeiro, who worked with Fong at the cable radio station Rediffusion in the 1950s, said.

Anders Nelsson, a pop singer in the 1960s, recalled Fong was at the height of her singing career before she quit for the movie industry in 1969, a switch that Cordeiro called “a plan of God”.

“She was one of the few who could sing Chinese and English songs in the old Shanghai style,” Nelsson said.

He said Fong’s death signified “a step closer to the end of an era of those bygone Shanghainese songs sung in full-range jazzy sophistication”.

Rebecca Pan Di-hua, another singer who arrived in Hong Kong from Shanghai in the 1950s, recalled the popularity of Fong’s English songs, sung both in nightclubs and theatres.

“We both sang at the Empire Theatre in North Point in 1957, then the top venue in town, and she made HK$1,000 per song and mine was just HK$400,” the 87-year-old diva said.

It was Fong’s Shanghai-style singing that drew Shaw’s attention during a performance in Singapore in 1952. But it was not until 1997 that they tied the knot in Las Vegas, when Fong became Shaw’s second wife. His first wife Lily Wong Mee-chun died in 1987.

In 1969, Fong joined the film production company founded by Shaw and his brother. She became Shaw Brothers’ managing director in 1996 and oversaw its day-to-day operations.

She was instrumental in setting up the Shaw Prize, an annual award her husband founded in 2002 to honour researchers in astronomy, life sciences and medicine, and maths.

Shaw died in 2014, aged 106.

It was at the prize’s 14th annual ceremony last September that Fong was last seen in public.

“Ms Mona Fong-Shaw will be sadly missed by all at TVB and Shaw Brothers who offer their heartfelt condolences to her family,” the statement read.

Details of the funeral service would be released later, the statement added.