Today, Every Year: Francis Ng Turns 50
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–