Ivy Ling Po reprises hit tunes from Butterfly Lovers with Hu Chin

Ivy Ling Po (left) and Hu Chin perform together as a form of encouragement to themselves and fellow seniors.
Ivy Ling Po (left) and Hu Chin perform together as a form of encouragement to themselves and fellow seniors.PHOTO: BIZ TRENDS

Veteran stars Ling Po and Hu Chin, who will perform here, have bonded over singing, mahjong and overcoming breast cancer

Ivy Ling Po and Hu Chin - Shaw Brothers' famous gender-bending Butterfly Lover and Golden Lotus temptress from the 1960s and 1970s - will be performing here this month.

While they are keeping mum on their setlist, featuring opera tunes from the 1963 film adaptation of the Chinese folklore Butterfly Lovers, The Love Eterne, one thing is certain - audiences will not get to hear current Mandopop tunes.

Ling Po, 75, quips: "I doubt audiences will want to hear me sing songs by the young people."

Although both of them were huge stars in Shaw Brothers' stable, they had vastly different images.

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Taiwanese actress Hu Chin was stuck with the label of a temptress, thanks to her role as the adulterous Pan Jinlian in the movie The Golden Lotus (1974).

Ling Po became an overnight sensation after cross-dressing as the devoted scholar Liang Shanbo in Butterfly Lovers, The Love Eterne.

Then, in a twist, Hu Chin changed her image and ended up playing Liang's love interest Zhu Yingtai in the many stage productions of Butterfly Lovers that were held as a result of the film's popularity - and still continue to be staged.

The two are tight-knit friends who have bonded over singing, mahjong and overcoming breast cancer in the last decade that they have taken their show on the road.

Speaking to the Singapore media on Tuesday, Hu Chin, 68, says: "Over the past 10 years, I have led a very simple life in America. I have also made fond memories as I travel to perform with Ling Po. We've staged more than 50 to 60 shows."

The duo's chemistry is palpable as they banter over the telephone from Genting in Malaysia, where they performed to a sold-out crowd of 12,000 over two shows earlier this week.

"The fact that we are performing now is a form of encouragement to ourselves and fellow seniors and those who are ill," says Hu Chin, who is married to former news broadcaster Ku An Sheng, with whom she has a daughter, and lives in Los Angeles.

The friends found support in each other when they were battling breast cancer in the early 2000s. Having fought cancer and seen the passing of peers, they understand the fragility of life.

Sounding calm over the telephone, Ling Po says: "You have to treasure your loved ones and friends. Spend quality time together. Take care of your own health."

She misses her late boss, Hong Kong movie tycoon Run Run Shaw, who died in 2014 at the age of 106.

"Without him, there would be no Ling Po. He was always immersed in work - first to arrive at work, reading articles in the car and repeatedly reviewing our films. I am full of respect for him. I still miss him dearly," she says.

The Toronto-based Ling Po, who has three sons with her husband, former Taiwanese actor Chin Han, happily admits that she is as free as a bird at this stage in her life.

"Time passes really fast. I spend six days a week playing golf. The last day is spent playing mahjong. It's hard to find people to play mahjong with me - everyone else is busy and not as free as me and my husband."

Her low-key life is a contrast to her overwhelming popularity in the 1960s.

During the interview, Hu Chin reminds reporters of Ling Po's feat - 200,000 fans once thronged Taipei's Songshan International Airport to catch a glimpse of the superstar.

She is full of admiration for Ling Po's down-to-earth quality. "She was such a big star back then, now she is content with living a quiet life," Hu Chin says.

Ling Po interjects with a laugh: "Thanks for the compliment. But one has to face reality. You can't keep thinking about the past."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 07, 2016, with the headline 'Ling Po's best friend forever'. Print Edition | Subscribe