”Is v sad, like a little piece of our childhood gone.”BigSister, on the occasion of the sad news about Leslie Cheung.
We all grew up listening to his music and watching his concerts that our relatives recorded for us in Hong Kong and had sent over, and we watched him from his start as a Pop Idol for Girls then followed him through his slightly odd, “I’m moving into less mainstream stuff” Johnny Depp lookalike period then of course, adoring him in definitely not mainstream films like Days of Being Wild, Happy Together and Farewell My Concubine. He was tremendous in Concubine – after feeling slightly embarrassed for him for trying *so* hard to shed his mainstream Pop Idol image for so long, I finally gained some respect for the man when I put myself through the draining and emotionally wrought experience that is watching this film.
The saddest thing of all about his death is the fact that none of the official news about him from Hong Kong and South East Asia refers to his non-mainstream work, mainly because he chose to play a lot of gay roles. For all the forward thinking and Western culture in Hong Kong, homosexuality is still a big taboo and much ridiculed still. As well as being pretty damn good as an actor, he was a point of reference for anyone who wanted to say, “Look, Chinese people can be gay, it does happen” and his death, his suicide is a very serious sign of how deeply rooted are the taboos and ridicule surrounding homosexuality in South East Asia and it saddens me more to think that for all his courage in coming out as openly gay, it just wasn’t enough in the end.
As stressed on the excellent Metafilter (which has an unexpectedly long and heartfelt thread about Leslie which has been of great help and interest as I try to get my head round this sad event), it would be inappropriate in the scale of things to concentrate on his homosexuality only. But as a British born Hong Kong person who understands Hong Kong’s social taboos and attitudes as a native but sees them through Western eyes, it’s an issue within his sad death that I think is hugely significant. And very sad too.
For press outside of Hong Kong and for myself, he is remembered and respected for his films and his choice to go from frothy safe Pop Idol for girls to become a serious actor who wasn’t afraid to change or compromise himself. Even in the very end.
Farewell, my popstar. Rest In Peace.