Hong Kong movie stars promote Cantonese opera in new musical

From far left: Clifton Ko, Raymond Wong and Karl Maka have produced, directed and acted in hits, such as the Happy Ghost comedy films in the 1980s and 1990s, and the popular All's Well, Ends Well comedy flicks.
From far left: Clifton Ko, Raymond Wong and Karl Maka have produced, directed and acted in hits, such as the Happy Ghost comedy films in the 1980s and 1990s, and the popular All's Well, Ends Well comedy flicks.PHOTO: AZMI ATHNI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Clifton Ko, Raymond Wong and Karl Maka hope to promote Cantonese opera with Coquettish Diva, which narrates the life of actress Hong Xiannu

Clifton Ko, Raymond Wong and Karl Maka are well-known figures in Hong Kong cinema.

The Hong Kong celebrities have produced, directed and acted in hits, such as the Happy Ghost comedy films in the 1980s and 1990s, and the popular All's Well, Ends Well comedy flicks (1992-2012), typically released during Chinese New Year.

But their latest project, Coquettish Diva, is a musical performed in Cantonese, on a more serious topic - Cantonese opera.

They hope to create more awareness of the art form among the young and promote the message behind their musical, which narrates the life and success story of renowned Cantonese opera actress Hong Xiannu, who died in 2013 at age 88.

Ahead of its staging next month, the trio were in town to talk about the two-hour theatrical production.

Hong, considered among Cantonese opera's greatest treasures, was famous for her sweet voice, coquettish style of singing and her endless, undying pursuit of art.

It is this spirit of striving for excellence that the trio hope will inspire audiences, says Ko, 59, the musical's director.

  • BOOK IT / COQUETTISH DIVA

  • WHERE: Kallang Theatre, 1 Stadium Walk

    WHEN: Oct 14, 8pm

    ADMISSION: $48 to $128 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

He says in Mandarin: "Hong is such a luminary in Cantonese opera. There is so much we can learn from her, such as her dedication to the arts - especially Cantonese opera - and her endless drive to improve her craft."

Maka, 73, who will act in the musical, wrote its script. This took him half a year and at least 20 drafts.

He says: "Movies, we know. But theatre is a different thing. When writing this play, I took the whole process as a learning experience."

He was moved, in particular, by Hong's passion for the arts.

Maka says: "She is just so admirable. For her art, she sacrificed everything - her family, marriage, children. She once admitted to not being a good wife and mother because she loves only her art.

"Do you think such a person can be a great artist? Of course she can."

Some might assume the play's subject of Cantonese opera would appeal more to older audiences.

But Wong, 71, who will act in the musical, was quick to say that the young would also enjoy it.

"The pace will be brisk," he promises. "Our lead actress will have more than 10 beautiful outfits. The scenes will push the story forward very quickly and there will be no intermission.

"It will be very entertaining and impossible for the audience to be bored," he adds.

Fans of their previous cinematic works will also be in for a treat, he adds.

"The last time they saw me and Maka together, it was on a movie screen. This time, we will be in person. And we will sing," he adds, smiling.

Clifton Ko, Raymond Wong and Karl Maka on performing in a musical. Go to http://str.sg/49kx

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 26, 2017, with the headline 'Hong Kong film-makers tell diva's story with musical'. Print Edition | Subscribe