SINGAPORE – Movie queen Li Li-hua, a prodigious actress who enjoyed a long career of nearly 40 years in Chinese cinema and brought to life characters like imperial beauty Yang Guifei and empress Wu Zetian, has died. She was 92.
Singapore’s Capital 95.8FM reported the death on Facebook on Monday (March 20), citing former Shin Min Daily News journalist Alice Kwan.
With a career spanning more than 120 films in nearly four decades, she was known as the “evergreen tree” of Chinese cinema, said Taiwan’s Central News Agency.
A glamorous beauty and gifted actress, she shone in historical and contemporary movies, in female and male roles.
Among her best-known films are a pair of lavish costume epics, The Magnificent Concubine (1962) and Empress Wu (1963), both with director Li Han-hsiang. The Magnificent Concubine won a Technical Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, becoming the first Chinese-language movie to be honoured there.
She was the first Chinese actress to star in a Hollywood film, the 1958 war romance China Doll.
Memorably, she also starred in King Hu’s The Fate Of Lee Khan (1973) as innkeeper Wan Jen-mi, a worldly woman who inspired a later incarnation, Maggie Cheung’s saucy proprietress in Tsui Hark’s Dragon Inn (1992).
Li also had an eye for talent. She was the one who recommended Li Han-hsiang direct her in Blood In Snow (1956), a film that succeeded and kick-started the director’s career.
Li Li-hua was born into an acting family in China in 1924. Her father was Peking opera actor Li Guifang and her mother was actress Zhang Shaoquan.
Li Li-hua was 16 when she made her screen debut in Shanghai, in a role in Three Smiles (1940) that earned her instant popularity.
She met department store scion Zhang Xupu and married him in the 1940s.
But her career, which took her to Hong Kong and the United States, kept the couple apart and the marriage ended.
She married director Yen Chun in Hong Kong in the 1950s. He died in the United States in 1980.
Retiring completely in the 1980s, she lived in Hong Kong and Singapore, said reports. She was around 80 when she quietly married businessman Wu Zhongyi, who was around 90. He died in 2006.
In 2015, she accepted a lifetime achievement award at the Golden Horse Awards.