Issue #263            HOME          E-mail:        BACK ISSUES               May 9th, 2005

The Last Star of The East:
Brigitte Lin Ching Hsia and Her Films

by Akiko Tetsuya
211 pages


A few weeks back, Stephen Chiau Sing-chi was in Los Angeles for the local premiere of KUNG FU HUSTLE and took questions from various media outlets. A female Caucasian reporter asked him who his favorite actress is and he replied, without hesitation, Brigitte Lin Ching-hsia. The reporter had no idea who he was talking about and, while Sing Jai probably had to politely deal with a lot of inane questions that evening, he could not hide his incredulity in this case. Some Chinese reporters nearby also chuckled audibly; the woman may have considered their reactions needlessly rude, but for Westerners familiar with Chinese cinema, it was entirely understandable. No one who has seen Brigitte Lin grace the screen in everything from Taiwanese weepies to wu xia fantasy epics to Chiau’s mo lei tau farce ROYAL TRAMP II could ever forget her. One of us might have tried to help the reporter assuage her embarrassment by saying that Lin is the Chinese cinema equivalent of a notable Hollywood star, but even that might have proved fruitless because there simply are no contemporary actresses who embody beauty and elegance the way Lin Ching-hsia does. She simply has no equal and now, there is a literary celebration of her life and films that no Brigitte fan can do without.

Lin in a scene from her film debut, OUTSIDE THE WINDOW  An early cross-dressing role in DREAM OF THE RED CHAMBER

Akiko Tetsuya’s long-awaited collection of interviews with Lin is a remarkable achievement in several ways. While she was an experienced journalist before undertaking her book, Tetsuya became a fan around the time that the Taiwanese actress married Esprit Asia Chairman and CEO Michael Ying Lee-yuen and left the entertainment world to become a mother and tai tai. Consequently, she was no longer interested in giving interviews, something that was told to me by several industry people when I expressed a desire talk to the woman whose name has come to symbolize the beauty of Chinese women. I subsequently threw in the towel and moved on to other endeavors; luckily for HK/Taiwan cinema afficionados, Tetsuya demonstrated that determination can still pay off for those who have the faith and intestinal fortitude to see their dreams through to fruition. The author not only managed to meet with Lin on several occasions, she was also able to interview close friends and associates to provide a far more detailed picture of the retired idol than one would have thought possible.

From Jackie Chan's POLICE STORY, a film that helped solidify Lin's stardom in HK As the Wolf Girl, in Ronny Yu's magnificent period fantasy THE BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR

In contrast to the usual actor profiles penned by entertainment writers gifted with expense accounts, multi-page bios and press junkets, Tetsuya’s project was financed entirely out-of-pocket and self-published. It is the work of a dyed-in-the-wool super fan and that aspect of the book might be a little off-putting to anyone hoping for a little sidebar muckraking. Some of the rumors and scandals that popped up during the actress’ 20 year career are addressed, but the answers are tactful and, to her credit, the author does not resort to sensationalism typical of the HK press’ coverage of local stars. Tetsuya thinks her subject is a remarkable human being and is not shy about saying so; even Lin seems a bit embarrassed by her flattery at times. That said, interviewer and subject bond here at a level not normally seen in this sort of undertaking, and Lin’s comfort is palpable in her responses. The interviews (approximately 20 hours worth) were conducted in English (the only language the two share) and are presented in an informal manner that gives the reader a very palpable "you are there" perspective. In addition to Lin and some of her close friends, the author covered just about every other possible base by also speaking with Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing, Chiung Yao (the celebrated writer whose romantic novels were the basis for some of Lin’s earliest roles in Taiwan), Peggy Chiao, Yang Chia-yun, Elaine Jin Yen-lung, Shi Nan-sun, Yon Fan, William Cheung Suk-ping, Stan Lai, Ronny Yu Yan-tai, Christopher Doyle, Law Kar, Ann Hui On-wah, Yim Ho, Wong Jing (the sole participant to contribute nothing at all of worth), Shu Kei, and Tsui Hark (the man largely responsible for Lin’s career resurgence in 1992).

From the nihilistic climax of the underrated THE BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR 2 As a killer finding her humanity in FIRE DRAGON

Scattered throughout the text are B&W pictures (Lin in various movies and the interview participants), along with a 16 page color section featuring contemporary photos of the actress and lobbycard reproductions from important projects like her film debut, OUTSIDE THE WINDOW (1973). Tetsuya also delivers something never before seen in English: the definitive Lin filmography (exactly 100 movies, not counting her ROYAL TRAMP I cameo and narration duties on two Yon Fan pictures). A thorough index is included and, while the text is in English, Chinese characters are provided for all persons and film titles mentioned.

Shaking the pillars of the martial world as Invincible Asia in SWORDSMAN II Lighting up the screen as the saving grace of the chaotic and tiresome THE EAST IS RED

There are occasional typos and the book could have used a little additional editing to present its interview subjects in the best light (for example, rather than have Tetsuya correct Tsui Hark’s chronological mistakes, as she did in person during their talk, why not offer him that courtesy in print?). These, however, are easily overlooked in what will almost certainly be the most intimate, detailed, and engrossing book we are likely to see about this extraordinary actress. THE LAST STAR OF THE EAST is a wonderful, compulsively readable companion piece to the actress’ large volume of film work and a real triumph for its author.

Answering the call in Tsui Hark's DRAGON INN remake It may not rank high in her filmography, but DRAGON CHRONICLES: THE MAIDENS OF HEAVENLY MOUNTAIN is a wonderful guilty pleasure, with a particularly gorgeous looking Lin playing two very different twin sisters


The Last Star of The East: Brigitte Lin Ching Hsia and Her Films is available at: (E-mail:

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