Asian cinema: Hong Kong film
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Hong Kong actress Kathy Chau says she feels happier after moving to Beijing, where it is more spacious and her house on the city’s outskirts allows her to pursue her passion for plants.

Hong Kong actress Kathy Chau on staying young, single and happy, and how she almost turned down the role that made her a superstar

  • Veteran actress Kathy Chau finally got the chance to play her favourite martial arts character from wuxia master Louis Cha’s books in a 2019 Chinese TV series
  • She attributes her youthful looks to good mental health, diet, yoga and skincare, and avoids activities like running and hiking

Hong Kong actress Kathy Chau Hoi-mei is a devoted fan of Chinese literary giant Louis Cha Leung-yung and has read all 15 of his wuxia martial arts titles. Of the myriad memorable characters created by the author, she says her favourite is Miejue Shitai from The Heaven Sword and the Dragon Sabre, a Buddhist nun who sees ridding the world of evil as her lifelong mission.

“I am also a Buddhist. Like her, I am a righteous person with a strong sense of justice who comes to the aid of people getting unfair treatment,” Chau, 53, says.

Chau got the chance to play the righteous but ruthless kung fu master in the television version of The Heaven Sword and the Dragon Sabre that broadcast exclusively on Tencent TV in China last year, her latest role in productions covering Cha’s wuxia universe. (The series is currently showing in Taiwan.)
Chau as Miejue Shitai in the new version of The Heaven Sword and the Dragon Sabre.

It was something of a promotion for Chau, who had already played Miejue Shitai’s protégé, Zhou Zhiruo, in Taiwan TTV’s 1994 adaptation of the book, a role that left an indelible impression on viewers and propelled her to greater success.

Zhou is one of the series’ two lead female characters who fall in love with male protagonist Zhang Wuji, played by Taiwanese actor Steve Ma Jingtao in the 1994 version. She transforms from an innocent girl into a scheming villain who will do anything to attain her goals.

Chau says that when shooting the 1994 series she didn’t expect the role would put her on the road to super stardom.

“When the producers invited me to play the role, I actually turned them down. I didn’t want to play the role because Zhou Zhiruo has many personality flaws,” she says. “But Samson Lai Shui-ching, who directed the series, came in person to invite me to play the role. He was very sincere. So I eventually agreed.”

Chau (second from right) in a poster for the 1994 Taiwanese-made version of The Heaven Sword and the Dragon Sabre.
Today, aside from appearing in Chinese drama series and reality TV shows, Chau has been promoting Covid-19 awareness on Chinese media platform Jinri Toutiao, sharing tips on how to enhance personal hygiene and make better use of time during lockdown at home.

She has also taken to live-streaming and posting vlogs on short video platform Douyin (the mainland version of TikTok), sharing clips of her cooking during social isolation.

“Much of my [TV] work got delayed due to the virus outbreak. But I enjoyed the time resting at home during the lockdown period,” she says, adding that she thinks her work promoting Covid-19 awareness is meaningful.

Chau shared clips of her cooking online during the pandemic lockdown in China.

Chau relocated from Hong Kong to Beijing in 2003 and says her house on the outskirts of the Chinese capital lets her pursue her passion for horticulture.

“I love planting. Hong Kong is quite crowded with a high population density. I feel happier after moving to Beijing with more spacious surroundings,” she says.

I see many women in China who have carved out a career all by themselves. They are not restrained by their gender and age
Kathy Chau
That sense of contentment is reflected in youthful looks that belie her age. Chau says the secret to looking young is good mental health and diet.

“I like eating foods with a lot of collagen. I don’t exercise much. For people of my age, going hiking or walking up stairs or running harms the knees, so I do yoga or stretching exercises instead,” she says.

“I also pay much attention to skincare. Women must remove their make-up thoroughly and use toner afterwards to keep the skin moist and shrink the facial pores.”

Chau says modern women should be tender but strong.

Living with her three dogs, Chau says she enjoys being single.

“Women in modern society do not need to rely on men to live. Women should live their lives to their fullest potential. Age is just a number and women should not feel constrained by it,” says the former Miss Hong Kong contestant.

“I see many women in China who have carved out a career all by themselves. They are not restrained by their gender and age. Modern women should be tender but also strong enough to [fend off bad influences].”

According to her Wikipedia page, Chau has featured in 39 films and 37 television series.

Five of Chau’s most memorable film and television roles

Besides her memorable 1994 portrayal of Zhou Zhiruo, Chau also appeared in numerous TV dramas and movies throughout the 1980s and ’90s. Here are five of the most popular.

The Feud of Two Brothers (1986)

Chau’s performance in this 30-part series on Hong Kong channel TVB, in which she plays a girl who commits suicide after a romantic setback, first put the actress on viewers’ radars.

Looking Back in Anger (1989)

This 50-part TVB series was the most watched television series in Hong Kong in 1989 and made Chau one of the city’s most bankable female actresses.

Cherished Moments (1990)

Chau was paired with Hong Kong heartthrob Leon Lai Ming in this 20-part TVB romance series. Its replay in 2016 still managed to hook audiences.

Fight Back to School III (1993)

Chau’s versatility as an actress shines through in her performance as a gay psychiatric patient who is prone to violent outbursts in this Stephen Chow comedy.

Time Before Time (1997)

Audiences loved Chau’s vulnerable portrayal of a ghost who falls in love with a labourer (played by Gordon Lam Ka-tung) in this 20-part TVB series.