Hung Sin-nui, one of the greatest treasures of Cantonese opera and Hong Kong cinema, was a picture of devotion to her art even in her final years, committed to nurturing new talent and making every effort to "leave the best legacy".
Condolences poured in after the opera star and actress died on Sunday night in Guangdong at 88, reportedly of a heart attack.
"My life belongs to art and my art belongs to the people," Hung once said of her dedication to Cantonese opera. "As long as I have a single breath left in me, I shall strive on, in the hope that I can add a plot of greenery to the garden of art."
Such was her zeal that, even though her health was never in top form, "she always managed to show audiences her best on stage", Hung's son Ma Ting-sing said yesterday, from his mother's home in Guangzhou.
The family plan to host a memorial service next Tuesday.
Child prodigy-turned-Cantonese opera star Yuen Siu-fai saluted Hung's artistic accomplishments, devotion to studies in singing styles - and simply the aura she gave off on stage. Yuen cited the 1990 The Legend of Lee Heung Kwan, in which she was the main character and artistic director. "She saw the film as a record of her artistic performance … so she was pretty nervous in leaving the best legacy."
In her later years, Hung became much more approachable, Stephen Mo Yu-tin, vice-chairman of the Chinese Artists Association of Hong Kong, said. "Sister Nui wore plainer dresses and no longer portrayed herself as a superstar. She was very open in exchanging ideas and willing to teach the younger ones."
Hung, whose real name was Kuang Jianlian (Kwong Kin-lin in Cantonese), was born in Guangdong in 1924. With her aunt as her mentor, she embarked on a lifelong journey in Cantonese opera at the age of 12 and took to the stage from 1939, adopting the stage name Hung Sin-nui (Red Line Girl).
Hung relocated to Hong Kong during the second world war, venturing onto the big screen in 1947 with her debut, Unforgettable Love. That was the start of her starring in more than 90 films.
During the wave of purges in the Cultural Revolution, the opera star was branded as "Black Line Girl" and banished to the countryside as a street sweeper.
Hung last visited Hong Kong in May last year, when the Sunbeam Theatre reopened, and was excited about the revival of a venue for Cantonese opera. True to her art, her final public appearance was at a performance in Guangzhou - just eight days before her death.
Watch: One of Hung Sin-nui's memorable performances