On a cold, rainy Monday, fans of Hung Sin-nui paid their respects to the late Cantonese opera star at Hong Kong’s iconic Sunbeam Theatre.
Devoid of special rituals or celebrities, the memorial hall had a simple atmosphere filled with a solemn air and quietness. Fans filled the theatre and bowed, offered flowers and signed their names on a memorial book, while Hung’s most famous songs played softly in the background.
To those who had been listening to Hung Sin-nui since childhood, the news of her death came as a heavy blow. She died on December 8 at the age of 88, reportedly of a heart attack.
The historic Sunbeam Theatre, the only permanent Cantonese opera theatre in the city, is holding a two-day public memorial on Monday from 9am until 3pm.
Lau Yuen-chen, in her 60s, came to the North Point theatre an hour before the memorial started. Inspired by Hung Sin-nui, she started singing Cantonese opera at the age of 20. She had won four city-wide competitions, and had received one of the awards from Hung herself.
“I really admired her,” said a tearful Lau, who knelt down at the memorial hall and kowtowed three times to her life-long idol. “She had a beautiful voice. I had been sitting all day long thinking about her since she died.”
Yuen Hoi, chief executive officer of Sunbeam, said the memorial was open to all Hong Kong citizens. He said Hung had officiated the reopening ceremony of the theatre last year, and she had stayed in a room above the theatre whenever she visited Hong Kong.
The opera star had last visited the city in May last year when the Sunbeam Theatre reopened, and had said she was excited about the revival of a venue for Cantonese opera.
Hung, whose real name was Kuang Jianlian (Kwong Kin-lin in Cantonese), was born in Guangdong in 1924. 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).
She relocated to Hong Kong during the second world war, venturing onto the big screen in 1947 with her debut film Unforgettable Love. That was the start of her cinema career where she starred in more than 90 films.
During the wave of purges in the Cultural Revolution, the opera star was branded “Black Line Girl” and banished to the countryside where she worked as a street sweeper.
Her final public appearance was at a performance in Guangzhou - just eight days before her death.