(Josephine Shao, Siew, Xiao, Siao, Fong Fong, Fung Fung, Fang Fang. Same name but spelt differently.)
I had often seen 60s Hong Kong movies which starred Siew Fong Fong and it didn't matter then whether I understood the language or dialect that the script was in. She was a joy to watch and what attracted me then was her pretty face and her ability to entertain her audience with her Jane Bond kiss-bang, wuxia chops, sword wielding choreography and hippy-hippy-shake dancing.
Examples were movies like SwordsOf Swords, I Love A-Go-Go, The Lady Killer and much more. She was one Chinese actress that most fans in the 60s would remember. On the silver screen, Josephine Siao was a major star in both Mandarin and Cantonese movies. In that decade alone she had acted in more than 200 movies and those days the Hong Kong film studios churned out films like factories produced chopsticks. Personally, she felt manipulated, like a "puppet."
Delving into her life and history, I found that she was born in Shanghai in 1947 with a career spanning some five decades, from her beginnings as a child star up till the highly respected professional that she is today. She was the most popular princess in the group of actresses termed the 'Seven Cantonese Princesses' and became one of the biggest teen idols in Hong Kong along with frequent co-star Connie Chan Po Chu.
Unlike many child stars, Siao made a successful transition to adult stardom, winning so many awards and remaining one of Hong Kong's most prolific and popular actresses today. Having largely missed out on a formal education because of her acting career as a child, Siao pursued her studies in later years despite the handicap of increasing deafness and the demands of raising a family. She holds an MA in Child Psychology and is also a published author.
Digging into my drawers lately, I managed to find some western pops by Shao Fong Fong on EMI vinyl (images). And the recordings were proof enough of the fluidity and ease with which she used the English language. The lyrics were beautifully enunciated and her gentle, soft but clear voice was sufficiently suitable for the covers she was interpreting as she delivered them with grace and dignity. These few western covers she did were a contrast to many of the Cantonese and Mandarin songs she had sung on screen and those recorded on other vinyl labels.
Her diction and phrasing reminded me of Malaysian teacher and pop singer Frankie Cheah's English language recordings on EMI. (Click 'Frankie Cheah on 'Label' below to read the posting.)
Vinyl Notes: EMI ECHK 527 (1969). Bluer Than Blue, Who Will Buy this Wonderful Morning, Running Free, Goodbye. EMI ECHK 523 (1968). L.O.V.E, Love, Ding Dong Song, Kiss Me Goodbye.Images/Original article: Andy Lim Collection. Information from Websites.
*Notes from a Website about the actress:
Josephine lost all the hearing in her right ear at age two and has become nearly deaf in her left ear since 1990 so decided to retire for good. Fredric Dannen relates the following about his meeting with Josephine Siao - who he noted has impeccable English.
"At her request, we met in the conference room of a hotel, because, she explained, 'my gadgets do not work so well in noisy places.' Siao did not seem to miss a word I said, and I thought perhaps she had exaggerated her condition until Ann Hui (the director of Summer Snow) later told me that Siao often has to lie down after a conversation because the strain of using her hearing-aid left her exhausted.I was all the more amazed at Siao's acting skill - her deafness is indiscernible in her movies - and all the more grateful for her interview."
Images: Andy Lim Collection.
Images: Andy Lim Collection.