AFTER 45 years away from the big screen, Nancy Chan Wun-seung still has the star aura about her. Now known as Nancy Tang, she traded a glittering career as one of the most acclaimed actresses in the 1930s and 40s for a new role as doctor's wife, fund-raiser and one of the territory's quietly wealthy achievers. But given her contributions to Chinese cinema, it is not surprising that Mrs Tang is still recognised. 'I am surprised that people still remember me,' she said. 'It is mainly Chinese people in their 50s and 60s. Maybe the younger generation hear about me from their parents, but I am not so familiar to them.' This year marks the first century of cinema - and the 60th anniversary of Mrs Tang's debut in film. In a double celebration, the Hong Kong Arts Centre has invited Mrs Tang and her husband, prominent physician Dr Hans Tang, to be their special guests at a fund-raising gala, 'Cineglory 100 Years', on November 9. Mrs Tang's presence, say the organisers, is necessary because she is 'a superstar from a different era'. In the 10 years Nancy Chan was an actress - she made her screen debut at the age of 14 - she featured in 50 films, many of which broke box-office records. She used to receive at least 100 fan letters and was followed by admirers wherever she went, and appeared on magazine covers from Shanghai to Hong Kong. That is, until she gave it all up for love. These days, Mrs Tang, 75, is a perfectly coiffed, diamond-clad matriarch who spends her afternoons lunching with other society doyennes. But much about her remains rooted in the past. Her home at the end of a winding road on the Peak, is a large house which has remained virtually untouched since she and her husband bought it 30 years ago. It is shielded from view by large trees and an imposing steel gate; the Chief Justice and the Chief Secretary are neighbours. Not surprisingly, Mrs Tang said the house has 'good fung shui.' A fleet of princely cars is parked outside, the king of which is a 1963 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud the family has kept for more than 30 years. Inside, a staff of six shuffle around while Dr Tang plays the piano in a corner of the 'salon'. It is worlds away from Mrs Tang's film-making days, when all her earnings went towards supporting a family left in dire straits after her father became paralysed. Even as a young girl, she had already showed musical talent, and was often called upon to perform in charity shows. It was at one of those performances where she was spotted by a producer on the lookout for a fresh face to star in a movie called The New Youth. The Cantonese film about an independent young woman was an immediate hit, and other offers poured in. Her mother was against a movie career and ordered the young Nancy to give it up immediately. 'But I begged her, and swore that I would behave in a way that everyone would look up to me. Finally, she accepted,' Mrs Tang said. Not without conditions, though. In those day, people in the film industry were seen as being rather disreputable, so everywhere that young Nancy went, her mother went too - especially when her career took her to Shanghai at the age of 18. 'We slept in the same room. If I had to work overnight, she came to watch me. If I was invited to a party, I could only go if she was invited too. I could accept flowers or candy, but anything more had to be sent back. My mother was very strict.' The constant supervision was occasionally stifling, but Mrs Tang believed it was part of the trials and tribulations of being an actress. 'I watch Chinese movies today and realise how much everything has changed. In my day, we really had to study for a role. There were no doubles and no dubbing so I had to learn how to ride a horse, fight, sing and dance. We did everything. 'The most important thing for any actor is to know the character, to study everything about it. We would spend months working on one movie, not like it is today when actors have many projects at the same time and all of them are quick jobs.' She also mourns the loss of a moral core in films; in her day, movies had some cultural or historical significance, and many times were created to educate as much as entertain. 'There are a lot of bad influences in movies, and children learn violence from them.' Instead, Mrs Tang starred in films that people might learn something from. Her most important role was as Hua Mulan, a Chinese heroine who disguised herself as a man and led the country's army to victory. She was as much a darling to the masses as a screen diva: press clippings from the 1940s portray as a modest and hard-working star. When not working, tutors came to her home to teach her English, Chinese and French, or the piano. 'I don't know why, but people just liked me, old and young, men and women. Maybe it was my personality. I was always punctual and polite and well-prepared. I didn't want to have the attitude of a star.' Explaining her 'retirement', she said: 'I'm the sort of person who can only do one thing at a time, in order to do it well. I wanted to be a good wife and mother, and to do that, I knew I would have to leave my career. It was the only way.' She has three grandchildren, who are at school in England, and who she writes to every Sunday in Chinese. If their letters back aren't in Chinese as well, they don't get read. It is all about preserving the culture, she believes.