The icon of Hong Kong cinema takes us back to the moment where her illustrious career as queen of the silver screen began

Brigitte Lin

Hong Kong cinema has had rather modest success in recent years, so it’s easy to forget that back in the 1980s and early ’90s the local film industry was surfing the crest of a wave that is often tagged the “Golden Age”. It was during this time that many of Hong Kong’s – and indeed Asia’s – greatest acting and directing talents came of age, including the likes of Wong Kar-wai, Tsui Hark, Maggie Cheung, Chow Yun-fat, Jackie Chan and Leslie Cheung.

It’s impossible, of course, to talk about this gilded era without mentioning Brigitte Lin, the iconic actress who starred in more than 100 Taiwanese and Hong Kong films including golden-era classics such as Peking Opera Blues, Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain, Swordsman II, The Bride with White Hair and Chungking Express. Then, at the peak of her fame, in 1994, she effectively retired from the film industry to dedicate herself to her husband, Hong Kong business magnate Michael Ying, and her three daughters.

Fast-forward 18 years and, as Lin strides confidently into The Peninsula Hong Kong to meet us, it’s like she’s never been away. With nary a hair out of place and full of gusto, Lin takes her seat, orders a cup of tea and pulls a stack of notes out of her bag – she is evidently well prepared for this interview.

Brigitte Lin

“My motto is to always do your homework before any meeting or event, and to always dress for the occasion,” Lin says as she settles into her chair and takes a sip of her tea. Clearly her famed charisma hasn’t waned one iota, and she continues with a giggle, “Sometimes I say that it’s better to say nothing than to speak with no purpose!”

Diving right in, Lin begins with a topic that’s close to home. “The most important thing in my life is my family,” she says. “I have a loving husband who is a dedicated family man. One of my fondest memories is when I flew on my husband’s private jet for the first time to Taipei to visit my father during a typhoon. It meant a lot to me because my father was sick and it was nice to be able to tend to him whenever I could,” says Lin, adoringly.

Famed for her unique and striking features, her powerful screen presence and her gender-bending roles, Lin thrilled audiences for more than two decades. Her breakthrough came in Outside the Window, a Taiwanese romance film released in 1973. She remembers being scouted by a production company in the early 1970s while shopping with a friend on the streets of Taiwan. “Right before we began filming Outside the Window, I knew in the back of my mind that my life was about to change. I was nervous and uneasy about it,” recalls Lin. “But as soon as the director began filming, my nerves just disappeared. Before I knew it, I heard him say ‘cut’ and everyone in the studio began clapping. That’s when I knew – this is what I was meant to do.”

To read the full interview with Brigitte Lin and other feature articles, pick up a copy of the Hong Kong Tatler November issue or get your subscription here.

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