Saturday, August 10, 2013

Josephine Siao "Cantonese Princess"

Josephine Siao Fung-Fung is not as widely known in the West as an actress of high visibility, but she should be. You may remember her mainly from her role as the mother to Jet Li in both of his Fong Sai Yuk movies in the early 1990's. But her career is a rich one, and her personal life is a fair match for it.

Born near Shanghai in 1947, Josephine and her mother soon moved to Hong Kong for better prospects. That and Josephine developing deafness of the right ear when she was two years old led her mother to accept offers for her to be a child extra in films. Side note: though she would go on to be an established star of Cantonese films, Josephine got her start in Mandarin pictures. This led to a slew of roles since family dramas became all the rage in the 1950's, and it even got her an award for Best Child actor in 1956 for The Orphan Girl. Josephine would parlay this into a successful transition into a full-fledged career that saw her become a teen star in the late 60's with Connie Chan. It was during this time that she got to be renowned for her roles in wuxia as well as romance flicks and musicals. (The image below is from Half A Sword Part 2 from 1963.

With all this, Josephine's one real wish was to get herself a formal education since her career gave her no real time to pursue it. So she left Hong Kong and attended Seton Hall University, getting her degree in 1970. Her return to Hong Kong and the silver screen came three years later after being unsuccessful in trying to get her mother to relocate stateside. She picked up almost where she left off, acting both in Hong Kong and Taiwan which was the norm. During this period she became a wife(although her first marriage was a publicized disaster) and a mother to two children. She also took a great interest in screenwriting, and from this came two popular efforts. The first was her character of Lam Ah-Shun, better known as Plain Jane. Plain Jane got big enough to be a central point in three films. (By the way, the last of the three films, Plain Jane To The Rescue was directed by none other than John Woo.)With this comedic heroine under her belt, Siao went on to direct, and star in Jumping Ash in 1976, a film that is regarded as one of the origin films of the Hong Kong New Wave movement.

Josephine was out of the acting limelight after these successes, but was soon lured back to the screen in Stephen Chow's smash parodies of Bruce Lee's Fist of Fury in 1991 and 1992. These appearances paved the way for her roles with Jet Li. After a few more films(and high acclaim for her star turn in Summer Snow in 1996, she left the screen for good. This was due to the deafness that had overtaken her, making her fully deaf in her left ear by this point. But it was also due to her dedication to the salvation of children. Josephine not only became a well-known child psychologist after getting her Masters in the field, but she founded an organization dedicated to ending child abuse. Her deafness, although publicized, never once showed through in any of her roles. Truly amazing. As a further testament to her life, Siao has received both the honor of being a member of the Most Excellent Order of The British Empire and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Hong Kong Film Awards. Josephine Siao, a cinema princess turned film queen.

Josephine Siao in 'Sword Of Ermei' (1969

Josephine Siao in 'The Professionals' (1967) - no English subs in this, sorry!!

'Fong Sai Yuk 2' (1993)

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