Archive for December, 2011
Just a quick fangirl shout-out to Francis Ng Chun-Yu, whose fiftieth birthday is this week. Francis has had a remarkably long and vigorous career that spans four decades (!), from his humble beginnings as a bit player at TVB back in the 1980s through various villainous and supporting roles in the early 90s to his current status as one of Hong Kong’s most popular and well-known actors. He’s part of an amazing generation of male Hong Kong acting talent that came of age in the 1990s, many of whom are also turning fifty this year or in the next few years. Andy Lau Tak-Wah and Anthony Wong Chau-Sang were also both born in 1961—soon to follow are Tony Leung Chiu-Wai (b. 1962), Stephen Chow Sing-Chi (b. 1962), Jet Li (b. 1963) and Lau Ching-Wan (b. 1964). Tony Leung Kar-Fai and Simon Yam each turned fifty a few years ago. All of these actors are still working today, although some of their output has decreased since the heyday of Hong Kong cinema back in the 1990s, and all of them are at the top of their game in terms of skill, talent, charisma, and screen presence.
What’s perhaps less evident from this list is the dearth of similar talent in the generation of Hong Kong actors following them. The decline in Hong Kong film production in the past fifteen years since the 1997 handover has mightily impacted the development of stars of note, as indicated by the diminishing talent pool among younger actors. Of Hong Kong movie stars in their forties only Louis Koo Tin-Lok is a legitimate leading man, and his acting chops are nowhere near as masterful as the aforementioned group. Of actors in their thirties Daniel Wu and Nicholas Tse Ting-Fung ably fill the movie star niche, but their range and output have yet to reach the scale and impact of the class of 1961-64.
What’s also notable is that, although all of the abovementioned fiftyish movie kings are actively working today, only a handful of their female counterparts are likewise gainfully employed. Most female Hong Kong stars of the same generation have either retired (Brigitte Lin Ching-Hsia; Joey Wang; Chingmy Yau), or moved to television (Anita Yuen; Cheung Man). Anita Mui Yim-Fong died of cervical cancer in 2003. Of those female stars who came of age in the 1990s only Maggie Cheung Man-Yuk, Carina Lau Ka-Ling, Sandra Ng Kwan-Yu, and Michelle Yeoh are still working, although Maggie hasn’t really starred in a film since 2004.
So hats off to Francis on the anniversary of his solstice birth—show business is a cruel mistress and it’s a testament to his talent, determination, and savvy that he’s survived so long as a top star. Fingers crossed that he’s on the silver screen for at least four more decades to come.
UPDATE: Okay, I just realized that I accidentally left off Donnie Yen (b. 1963) in my above list. I’m not a huge Donnie fan but he is a big deal now so he’s gotta be included. But it also points out the glaring hole in the martial arts movie world–who will follow Donnie? Wu Jing? Andy On? Collin Chou, for god’s sake? Slim pickin’s–
Today is the third anniversary of the launch of this blog as well as being my birthday, and this year I got an early birthday present. About three weeks ago I was notified that I’d received a Creative Capital/Andy Warhol Foundation Art Writer’s Grant for this little ongoing online experiment (along with a nice cash prize that will ease the pain a bit in the coming year). Although I didn’t start out writing about visual arts or activism those topics have become pretty significant elements in the blog, so it’s great to get some recognition from organizations like Creative Capital and the Warhol Foundation. Needless to say there aren’t a lot of places to go for support, monetary or otherwise, for either blogging or writing about art so it’s awesome that someone is giving it up for us art bloggists.
Back in the day when I started out as a fledgling artist there was a reasonable amount of funding, both public and private, for artists, experimental filmmakers, and other folks working in the creative arts. Very few people actually made a living from grants and fellowships but there was enough modest funding out there that a person had a decent shot at getting a few bones for a short film, a performance piece, or some time in the studio. Although I didn’t rely on grants to do my art I received enough support to help me make the work—when I was fresh out of grad school I got $1,500 from the Film Arts Foundation to make my next experimental video, which absolutely gave me the encouragement to continue in my artmaking endeavors. I subsequently got some shekels from now-defunct granting organizations like the Rocky Mountain Film Center, Art Matters, and New Langton Arts, all of which in turn had gotten some federal funding to support their grants programs. Not that I advocate a complete dependency on feeding from the public trough in order to create artwork, but in many ways those little bits of money here and there were just enough to keep me going and to help me to finish some projects than I otherwise might not have had I gone without.
But in the twenty years or so since my days as a young artist public arts funding institutions like the National Endowment for the Arts have been under constant attack by Republican philistines such as Sen. Jesse Helms and his minions. At its height in the 1990s the NEA’s total budget was about $190 million—peanuts compared to the Pentagon’s 1994 budget of $240 billion, but even back then the right-wing clearly understood the threat to their master narrative that unfettered arts funding posed.
The NEA’s 2009 budget was $160 million, which is about $92 million in 1990s dollars, or less than half its 1990 budget. This reduction has in turn has created a domino effect on arts funding large and small. I sat on the Board of Directors of two different media arts organizations (both of which in their heydays in the 1990s had memberships in the thousands) that have in the past decade become defunct due to greatly reduced federal, state, and private arts funding in this country. Although the worldwide economic recession and the end-times of late capitalism have contributed to its decline, the right-wing’s vendetta on the arts has certainly played a huge part in the atrophy of its funding in the U.S. It’s no secret that the Republican Party has been gunning for arts funding for decades since, unlike the left, it totally understands the significant role that culture plays in shaping public opinion and framing the national debate.
So it’s great that Creative Capital and the Warhol Foundation continue to stand up for fringe elements like arts writers and other troublemakers who insist on stirring things up and questioning the status quo. Their support is a small but significant salvo in the continuing ideological war for this country’s cultural heart and soul.