A trip down memory lane for wuxia fans

Conducted by music director Yeh Tsung, the Singapore Chinese Orchestra delivered a huge dose of nostalgia to the mostly middle-aged audience at this year's Huayi - Chinese Festival of Arts, organised by the Esplanade.
Conducted by music director Yeh Tsung, the Singapore Chinese Orchestra delivered a huge dose of nostalgia to the mostly middle-aged audience at this year's Huayi - Chinese Festival of Arts, organised by the Esplanade.PHOTO: SINGAPORE CHINESE ORCHESTRA

REVIEW / CONCERT

WUXIA

Huayi - Chinese Festival of Arts

Singapore Chinese Orchestra

Esplanade Concert Hall

Last Saturday

Film music was on the table for the Singapore Chinese Orchestra's (SCO) contribution to this year's Huayi - Chinese Festival of Arts, organised by the Esplanade. Conducted by music director Yeh Tsung, the orchestra delivered a huge dose of nostalgia to the mostly middle-aged audience that filled the hall to its rafters.

For many, the genre of Chinese period dramas with sword-fighting, gongfu postures and gravity-defying leaps came from the 1960s through early 1980s, typically churned out in Hong Kong film studios.

The celebration of this legacy began with Medley Of Television Dramas by then ubiquitous composer Joseph Koo, with a view of Victoria Harbour by night serving as the backdrop.

The familiar melodies rolled off easily, graced by short but pretty solos by Zhao Jian Hua (erhu) and Li Bao Shun (gaohu), but does the well-known theme from 1980 Hong Kong drama The Bund (one of Koo's most memorable tunes) belong to this group?

More contemporary was the erhu concerto drawn from Tan Dun's Academy Award-winning Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon score for the 2000 movie starring Chow Yun Fat and Michelle Yeoh. SCO member Tan Man Man was an elegant and sensitive soloist, but her reticence in exerting herself meant she was more often than not overwhelmed by the orchestra.

Receiving a world premiere was Hong Kong-based Lincoln Lo and former SCO composer-in-residence Law Wai Lun's score accompanying sword-fighting scenes from the 1967 classic wuxia movie One Armed Swordsman.

The music, with vigorous rhythms and lyricism backing sequences of action and romance, blended seamlessly with the happenings on-screen, which were surprisingly violent (for the 1960s), featuring severed arms and the spilling of laughably fake blood.

The audience was clearly enthused by this trip down memory lane and was also tickled by the appearance of the iconic Shaw Brothers logo.

The special guest of the evening was Hong Kong singer Johnny Yip, who was very popular in the 1970s. Now in his seventies, he sang six songs, including James Wong's Laughter From The Vast Sea, Michael Lai's Imperial Heroes and The Legendary Hero Fok, and three more by Koo.

His voice has seen better days, but he still entertained with his glittery, silver-scaled and tinselled suits and easy-going personality. Besides singing in Cantonese, he also chatted affably in the dialect with conductor Yeh and the audience, much to their delight.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 13, 2017, with the headline 'A trip down memory lane for wuxia fans'. Print Edition | Subscribe