Lucilla You Min, who acted in Japanese and Hong Kong coproduced films in the early 1960s, is a valuable case study for postwar East Asian border-crossing star studies. This article conceptualizes the body of the star as a site of constructed meaning, and argues that You Min's embodiment of cosmopolitan fantasy as constructed by the studios she worked for was fraught with corporate and cultural competition in the Cold War era. The first part examines how Japanese cinema's discourses of publicity constructed You Min's embodiment of the imaginary of tōyō—an expression of Japan's desire for a leadership role in mediating between Asia and the West. The second part analyzes how Hong Kong cinema constructed the imaginary of the cosmopolitan, embodied by You Min's seemingly natural adaptability in world travel.
Lucilla You Min (aka Yu Ming), a well-regarded Hong Kong actress, participated in forty films during the mid-1950s to the early 1960s.1 She was considered on par status-wise with the contemporaneous actresses Grace Chang (thirty-four films) and Linda Lin (forty-two films). You Min debuted in 1952 and worked for the Shaw Brothers studio. After her contract there ended in 1958, she joined Motion Picture and General Investment Co. Ltd. of Cathay Organization (hereafter Cathay). She won the Best Actress award at the sixth (1959) and seventh (1960) Southeast Asian Film Festivals, and acted in coproduced films between the Hong Kong and Japanese cinema industries in the early 1960s.
Japanese film companies had asked You Min to act in their films as early as 1955. Producer Iwao Mori from the studio Tōhō met her at the Southeast Asian Film Festival that year and predicted that she would be popular in Japan. Tōhō tried to make deals with Shaw Brothers to allow You Min to participate in their films, but the studio declined.2 But when You Min started working for Cathay, Mori sent another of Tōhō's producers, Sanezumi Fujimoto, to Hong Kong to explore the possibilities. Fujimoto proceeded to make deals with Robert Chung, manager of Cathay, to coproduce films starring You Min; the results included A Night in Hong Kong (1961), Star of Hong Kong (1962), and Honolulu, Tokyo, Hong Kong (1963), commonly known as the Hong Kong Trilogy, all helmed by the Japanese director Chiba Yasuki.3
Through an examination of You Min and her participation in Japan–Hong Kong coproduced films, this article aims to contribute to postwar East Asian border-crossing star studies. It conceptualizes the body of the star as a site of meaning construction and negotiation, constituted through discourses. The discussion speaks to the scholarship of star studies by shifting focus from the representation of the star image to the materiality of the star as a site of ideological struggle. I argue that You Min embodied cosmopolitan fantasy, and that the construction of her embodiment was fraught with corporate and cultural competition between Japanese and Hong Kong cinema during the Cold War, as well as memories of World War II. To be a cosmopolitan means to be a citizen of the world—the term originates from the Greek kosmopolites (literally “world citizen”).4 Ideally, a cosmopolitan has the disposition to engage with other cultures, invoking an enlarged sense of community beyond national boundaries.5 In the case of You Min, this ideal and seemingly apolitical cosmopolitan fantasy disguised cultural struggles underlying the Japan–Hong Kong collaboration. Through the lens of You Min's embodiment, I will demonstrate the tensions between Japanese and Hong Kong cinema, specifically their different management of war memories in relation to postwar East Asian bidding for cosmopolitanism.
Scholarly discussions frequently compare You Min with renowned actress Li Xianglan (J: Ri Kōranaka Yamaguchi Yoshiko).6 Li was born to Japanese parents living in Manchuria in 1920. At that time, Manchuria was separate from China and occupied by Japan (a situation that continued until 1945). Li learned Japanese from her family and studied Chinese at a school in Beijing. She was the protagonist of the so-called Continental Trilogy—Song of the White Orchid (1939), China Nights (1940), and Vow in the Desert (1940)—in which she was presented as a Chinese actress playing Chinese roles. The comparison between You Min and Li came about largely because the Hong Kong Trilogy is reminiscent of the Continental Trilogy. Both feature a love-story formula in which a Chinese woman and a Japanese man fall in love. The couple must overcome obstacles to be together, obstacles that usually pertain to racial differences that lead to misunderstandings. For example, in A Night in Hong Kong, Lihong (You Min) encounters Tanaka Hiroshi (Takarada Akira) when the latter travels to Hong Kong for a business trip. They fall in love, but she is reluctant to accept him because she believes that marrying a Japanese man cannot lead to lifelong happiness. The films, together with the publicity materials, prompted comparison between You Min and Li. Both of them sometimes wore kimono and sometimes wore cheongsam, respectively the traditional Japanese and Chinese costumes. Although with different proficiency, they both spoke Chinese and Japanese in their films and in interviews. Regarding You Min, Takashi Monma states that the Japanese film industry had been looking for “the second Ri Kōran” in the postwar years, but they wanted to find someone Chinese instead of asking a Japanese actress to pretend to be Chinese.7 Yanli Han concurs that the similarities between Li and You Min led Japanese audiences to associate the latter with the former.8
But You Min's star image was more complex than merely the second coming of Li Xianglan, and this article delves into the different imaginaries of You Min as constructed by the Japanese and Hong Kong studios. The first section examines how Japanese cinema constructed You Min's body as culturally proximate but subordinate to Japan, and with a Western tinge, to embody the imaginary of tōyō (東洋; the East), a Cold War fantasy in which Japan was to play the leadership role in mediating between Asia and the West. The second section analyzes how Hong Kong cinema constructed You Min's embodiment of the cosmopolitan by portraying her body as possessing cosmopolitan sensibilities of flexibility and adaptability.
To explore the star as a site of meaning construction and negotiation, I focus on the body. This body is of course corporeal, but also and more importantly, it is discursively constituted. Judith Butler's concept of performativity helps to explain the notion. Identity, Butler argues, is a performance. Everyday actions and speech utterances, as well as dress codes and gestures, work to produce identity, and categories of the body include gender and sex as products of discourses and power relations.9 This does not mean that Butler denies the materiality of the body entirely. But she argues that the body does not exist a priori, because cultural norms actually constitute its materiality. In other words, the materiality of the body is not a neutral physical thing upon which meaning is projected. To avoid confusion, she coins the term “materialization” to invoke the process involved: the body not only bears cultural construction, but is also a site through which and on which cultural construction works.10
To apply this notion of the body to star studies, it is essential to draw attention to the body of the star in some of the seminal studies on stars. Regarding the ideology of the star, Edgar Morin argues that a star-goddess, who represents a myth of fulfilling human desires, is formed by the dialectics between the star herself and the characters she plays in her films.11 In Morin's argument, “myth,” “the star herself,” and “the characters she plays in her films” are the three key terms. “Myth” is a type of speech or message defined by its intentions rather than its literal sense. It de-historicizes the connection between the signifier and the signified to make an intention appear natural and contingency appear eternal.12 In Morin's discussion, one vector of the dialectic that constructs the myth is “the characters she plays in her films”—a cluster of characters that the actress portrays contributes to the star image. Another vector is “the star herself,” involving the star's physical body in addition to the star image. Morin does not, however, clarify the relationship between the body and the image. Also concerning the socio-semiotic meanings made by stars, Richard Dyer considers the relation between the star's body and the star image as one between signifier and sign—the star image is “a complex configuration of visual, verbal and aural signs.”13 He further discusses various discourses that manufacture the star image, which include not only the characters in the films that the actors portray, but also the star's public appearances and coverage in the press of the star's private life.14 Considering the star image as a sign, Dyer suggests that these discourses signify the star's body on-screen and offscreen to form the star image. Drawing from a semiotic approach to examine the signification of stars, he implies that the star's body is a signifier upon which discourses signify to create the star image as a sign.
Morin and Dyer draw heavily from semiotics. The problem is that seeing the star's body as a signifier leaves unquestioned how the body is discursively constituted as sexualized and racially classified in the first place. Although Dyer studies the social meanings of stars, the process of meaning making remains at a symbolic level; the star's body seems to be a neutral physical object bearing the signification. The notion of the body that I want to bring in here calls the seemingly essential star's body into question; it prevents the star's body in Dyer's discussion from being seen as a physical object corresponding to the star image. Instead, it focuses on how the discourses of publicity discussed by Dyer work to constitute the star's body. This notion of the body also helps elucidate the relation between “the star” and “herself” in Morin's argument as an inextricable linkage between the star's body, discourses, and the star image. In what follows, I consider the star as constituted by the intertwined relationship between the materialization of the body, signification, and representation. It is in this sense that the star does not merely represent ideology, but provides a site for the realization, facilitation, and contradiction of ideology to take place.
It is important to note that the star embodies various ideologies in conflict more often than it does a consistent ideology. A star embodying a multiplicity of meanings is called “structured polysemy” in Dyer's terms. By “structured,” he means that discourses of publicity attempt to foreground some meanings and displace others so that the star can manifest a relatively consistent ideology.15 This article examines how discourses of publicity of Japanese and Hong Kong cinema structured meanings to construct You Min's embodiment of their respective ideologies.16 Everyday actions work to constitute a body, and I will focus on three aspects of what the body does: what it wears (costumes), what it speaks (language), and where it goes (location). By concentrating on the multiple costumes, languages spoken, and locations between Japan and Hong Kong involved in You Min's films, I reveal the actress's body as a site of cultural struggle between Japanese and Hong Kong cinema in the Cold War–era East Asian film scene.
JAPANESE CINEMA AND
What did it mean when Tōhō film magazines called You Min “the pearl of the tōyō”?17,Tōyō in its earliest form simply meant the body of water around Java, as opposed to the waters to the west along the Indian coast, which were called seiyō. But when Japan developed a growing awareness of Europe during the Meiji Restoration (1868), tōyō came to connote Oriental civilization and its culture and values, as opposed to the cultures of the West.18 It is in this sense that the space represented by tōyō encompassed China and other Asian countries, but not countries in the West. In this ideological space, Japan located its past in Asia but positioned itself as a leader in the region in the current era. Tōyō became a geo-cultural notion to contain other Asian nations under its hegemony.
Tōyō can be understood as the Oriental Orientalism of Japan. Edward Said argues in Orientalism (1978) that representations of the Orient by Europe are theatrical in nature: the Orient is the stage on which the East is confined as an enclosed space, not an unlimited extension beyond the familiar European world.19 Japan's hegemonic idea to contain Asia as an enclosed space was not so different from Europe's. What made it more complicated was that Japan's past was located in this enclosed space of Asia, while its current idea of itself leading Asia was detached from it. Koichi Iwabuchi elucidates this complicity as an asymmetrical triad between imagined cultural entities: “Japan,” “Asia,” and “the West.” While “the West” was the modern other to be emulated, “Asia” was Japan's past, a negative image that illustrated the extent to which “Japan” had successfully modernized according to the Western standard. “In but above Asia” and “similar but superior (to Asia)” succinctly sums up Japan's hegemonic idea of tōyō.20 The West was the standard to aspire to and emulate, but it had been Japan's enemy in wartime, and Japan's mission was now to lead Asia in a fight against Western imperial domination. In the Cold War formation, Japan's anti-Western sentiments faded, but its aspiration to the Western standard continued. The United States, for its part, attempted to turn Japan “from seeking autonomous imperialism to accepting subordinate imperialism.”21 Instead of encouraging Japan to end its hegemonic aspirations over Asia, the United States tried to include Japan in the American orbit by influencing Japanese minds with American idealism to further the dominance of the United States over Japan, and in turn Asia.22 To promote American culture, Central Motion Picture Exchange, the US film industry's East Asian outpost in Tokyo during the American occupation of Japan (1945–52), consciously made efforts to present the “American way of life” as a respectable model for Japanese life and behavior.23 Hollywood movies also intensified the Japanese desire for American culture. Although Japan's imagination of “the West” had changed from enemy to role model, the critical idea of tōyō remained, and Japan maintained its aspiration to assume a leadership position in Asia while mediating between Asia and the West.
On this stage of the Orient, certain figures were taken to represent the larger social bodies from which they emerged.24 You Min, for her part, was a Chinese actress constructed by Japanese cinema to represent Asia. How did this come to pass? Through an intertwined relationship between the materialization of the body, signification, and representation of the star that played out in the Japanese context. In Japanese, the notion of the discursively constituted body is explained in terms of the relationship between nikutai (肉体) and shintai (身体). Nikutai is the organic body with flesh and blood, and constitutes only part of the body. The other side, shintai, is inorganic, and this is the side invoked when a body is discussed in philosophical terms, for example as having consciousness.25 This consciousness is neither universal nor eternal; discourses in specific contexts influence how people think and act, and hence shintai is historically and culturally specific. The terms nikutai and shintai are not about two separate bodies, but more like two sides of the same coin. Their interrelated relationship emphasizes that a physical body (nikutai) does not exist on its own. It is always connected with shintai, which manifests the influences of discourses in specific historical and cultural contexts. The relation between nikutai and shintai that constitutes the body is in congruence with Butler's notion of the discursively constituted body. Applying the concept to star studies, studying the star involves an analysis of the intertwined relationship between nikutai and shintai, and how it embodies ideologies.26 To put it in Butler's terms, to study the star is to analyze how the star's body is constituted by discourses, and how this discursively constituted body embodies ideology. All of this facilitates an examination of how Japanese cinema constructed You Min's body. Specifically, it de-historicized the relationship between nikutai and shintai, and further signified You Min's body as culturally proximate but subordinate to Japan, to embody the imaginary of tōyō.
Japanese cinema frequently identified You Min by external elements such as costumes. As Butler has convincingly demonstrated in her elaborations of the concept of performativity, dress codes work to constitute an ethnic body. And wearing different costumes to signify various ethnic identities has a long history. The earlier actress Li Xianglan dressed in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Mongolian, and Russian traditional costumes to portray the theme of “ethnic harmony.”27 Embodying an imaginary pan-Asian identity through costume switching was persuasive in Li's case, as her linguistic mastery of Japanese and Chinese facilitated her ability to assume multiple identities. Her mysterious nationality also allowed a suspension of presupposed boundaries between the countries involved. Michael Baskett argues that Japanese audiences could see what a united Asia might look like through Li's smooth, multiethnic image, which covered up gaps separating Japanese and Chinese identities.28 Yiman Wang also argues that Li's border-crossing mobility, which erased ethnic and linguistic markings, captured a collective desire for a unified Asia.29 Beyond the smooth identity shift enabled by Li's language proficiency, Tōhō maintained a careful veil of illusion regarding her real identity so that as many international fans as possible would identify with her. (Although Hana Washitani has found that Japanese audiences in the 1940s had hints about Li being Japanese; for example, one fan's letter addressed Li as Yamaguchi, her Japanese surname, and Eiga Junpo, a Japanese film magazine, mentioned that she was Japanese in 1943.)30 Chinese audiences, despite encouragement from the publicity machines to think Li was Chinese, were not without doubt regarding Li's Chinese ethnicity. For instance Shelley Stephenson has unearthed rumors that circulated among Shanghai's filmgoers about Li being a spy for the Japanese government.31 The continuous play between her on-screen and real identity surely contributed to Li's larger-than-life star status.
But the vague ethnic identity that contributed so much to Li's celebrity could not apply to You Min, in large part because You Min could not speak fluent Japanese. Cathay overtly confirmed that You Min was a Chinese actress in its publicity materials. For instance International Screen, its official magazine, reiterated to readers that You Min was Chinese because she wore kimono.32 The magazine further set a boundary between Japanese and Chinese through assuming an authority to represent the voice of Hong Kong fans: “Japanese fans might wish that You Min was Japanese, but Hong Kong fans will not concede because You Min belongs to Hong Kong!”33
But within this constraint, could You Min nevertheless embody the Japanese imaginary of tōyō? It is true that her physical likeness to Japanese actresses in terms of height and body shape, together with her round eyes (a feature similar to Li), played a large role in prompting Tōhō producers to cast her instead of other famous Hong Kong actresses of the same period, and to promote her as the new Li. Tōhō producer Fujimoto spelled out the marketing strategy: “I suddenly remember that China Nights was a big hit twenty years ago. How about promoting You Min as the second Ri Kōran?”34 An official magazine of Tōhō also mentioned “[You Min] as the second Ri Kōran; Tōhō will make films casting her as the main character from now on.”35
Japanese cinema constituted You Min's Chinese body as culturally proximate to the Japanese body in part through costume switching: she exchanged her cheongsam for a kimono. The publicity in Japan emphasized the likeness between You Min and Japanese actresses by invoking nikutai—a straightforward comparison of a measurable body size visualized by wearing the other's clothes. For instance one night at a reception for A Night in Hong Kong, You Min and Yōko Tsukasa, one of the supporting actresses, swapped their attire: You Min wore Tsukasa's kimono, and Tsukasa wore You Min's cheongsam (fig. 1). “Unbelievably, they have the same body size. The customers were in great joy and applauded.”36 Another publicized clothing exchange took place as part of the plot of Star of Hong Kong the following year. In the scene, Xing (You Min) wears a kimono while her Japanese friend wears a cheongsam, and two actresses' costumes match in size so perfectly that the onlookers are bewildered (fig. 2).37 Beyond her costumes, You Min's basic physical attributes were frequently cited as signifying conformity with Japanese culture. Her charms were promoted officially through references to her big eyes and her small and cute body, both classic Japanese criteria of feminine beauty.38 And a physical body that fulfilled the Japanese standard of beauty connoted harmony and conformity with Japanese culture. Prompting “natural” recognition of cultural proximity effectively hid the workings of the discursively constructed body from the Japanese perspective.39 It was made to seem natural that You Min's body was culturally proximate to the Japanese.
But of course wearing a kimono did not make You Min Japanese. And her accented Japanese likewise worked to make her seem foreign and subordinate to Japanese. The nikutai speaks language to carry out social practice, specifically communication. When the nikutai speaks accented Japanese, a foreign shintai is conjured, and in turn, the body is perceived as different. Interestingly, publicity in Japan promoted You Min as a foreign learner by foregrounding her language-acquiring process. In the films, her accented Japanese revealed her as foreign. And even printed materials such as magazines, which one might assume would conceal such markers through transcription, always indicated You Min as a foreigner speaking Japanese by using katakana to highlight her accent.40 Katakana is a syllabary component (as are hiragana and kanji) of the Japanese language system, and it implies a sense of foreignness because it is mainly used for gairaigo (the transliteration of foreign language words into Japanese) and for emphasis.
You Min, for her part, performatively carried out her process of learning the “proper” Japanese language. For instance she discussed in the press her usage of romaji (romanization of Japanese) to remember the pronunciation of Japanese words—which had an ideological valence, as romaji is considered inferior to hiragana. Hiragana originated from within Japan, and is vertically written, while romaji is the use of Latin script to write the words, and is horizontally written. When filming A Night in Hong Kong, You Min spoke some Japanese but by remembering romaji. By the time of her subsequent coproduced films, she was learning hiragana because she had perceived her own difference from the Japanese actors: “Everyone is reading the script vertically, but I am the only one reading it horizontally. I am very upset. So, I started to learn hiragana from Miss Kishi [her interpreter].”41 To learn hiragana, she disciplined her nikutai. A diary-like report described her daily life: in bed at 11 pm and awake again at 6:30 am to memorize one row of hiragana vowel sounds.42 The publicizing of the daily practice established You Min as a learner.
If You Min's culturally proximate but subordinate body effectively enforced the idea of Japan as “in but above Asia,” she also embodied the essence of tōyō, which involved, recall, not only encompassing Asia but also facing the West. As discussed above, Japan yearned for the culture of the imagined entity “the West” during the Cold War. And You Min possessed a Western tinge that was critical for her embodiment of the imaginary of tōyō during this time, constituted by her costumes and spoken English in many scenes of the coproduced films she featured in. The Tōhō pamphlet for A Star in Hong Kong juxtaposed You Min in three national costumes: kimono, cheongsam, and “British” clothes (fig. 3). Of course You Min could not pass as British even if she put on a Victorian dress. Instead, the picture shows her in a laboratory coat at a hospital in Kuala Lumpur, from one of the scenes in the film, with a caption that designates the coat as “a British-style white robe.” Obviously there is nothing specifically British about the lab coat, but we infer from the caption text that to contemporaneous readers, the coat signified a Western doctor instead of a doctor of traditional Chinese medicine. Here, thus, You Min embodied Western scientific knowledge, which (in the film) she learned at a university in Japan. And in this way, again, Japan is cast in the role of mediator between Asia and the West.
One might think it natural that the characters in A Night in Hong Kong, Lihong and Tanaka, communicated in their coproduced films mainly in English, as it was their common language. But in reality, the actors also both spoke Mandarin. Takarada had learned it in his childhood years in Manchuria.43 Because of this life experience and his participation in the Hong Kong Trilogy, the construction of the male star's body and his imaginary are worthy of further study. However, due to space limitations, I only touch on Takarada's Mandarin proficiency to point out that You Min speaking English to him in the film was a deliberate choice to cultivate her Western tinge rather than an inevitability.
Also remember that tōyō was not only a cultural but also geographical notion, with implications for how we read the specific places You Min went for filming. The Hong Kong Trilogy was filmed in Hong Kong, Macau, Tokyo, Sapporo, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, and Honolulu, and a look at the publicity materials and the films themselves confirms that the locations outside Japan were a promotional highlight. For example, in Star of Hong Kong, Xing (from Hong Kong) has been dating Hasegawa in Tokyo and Sapporo. However, she decides to separate from him and goes to Singapore to be a medical practitioner. Distance pulls them apart, but they reencounter each other in Kuala Lumpur. One line in a poster—“Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Tokyo, Sapporo—a portrayal of bittersweet romance in the exotic tōyō”—gathers all these places under the rubric generalized as tōyō.44 However, as Tokyo was regarded as occupying a superior position with respect to other places, the official promotion materials cast the locations accordingly, by positioning Tokyo as a world-class, developed city and other places as exotic, for instance: Singapore as southern nation; Kuala Lumpur as full of ethnic color; Hong Kong as “the pearl of tōyō” for its beautiful night scenery.45 It is critical to note that Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur were then parts of the Japanese empire. Japanese cinema thus conceived not only geographical Asia but also formerly occupied areas as tōyō, the constructed geography of which Japan was the leader.
In Dyer's formulation, a film star's charismatic appeal can be especially effective when the social order is uncertain, and when the figure offers the potential to counterbalance this.46 This is borne out in You Min's embodiment of the tōyō imaginary as appealing in the context of the Cold War: the imaginary of tōyō provided Japan with a fantasy of maintaining its hegemony in Asia while facing the West and yearning for Western culture. You Min gained wide popularity in Japan. One day at Hankyū department store in Osaka for an autograph session, for instance, she was so overwhelmed by the crowd, she had to leave via the basement.47 When the Japanese director Chiba Yasuki traveled from Hong Kong to Tokyo with her, journalists packed the interview room of Haneda airport.48 And while Tōhō's bosses might have been inclined to exaggerate the number of Japanese magazine articles mentioning You Min, it is clear that she was the only Hong Kong actress who enjoyed such extensive coverage in Japan in the 1950s and 1960s.
A star embodies multiple meanings, as discussed at the beginning of this article. You Min's body, constructed by Japanese cinema, had to negotiate with You Min's self-packaging as constructed by Hong Kong cinema. By “self-packaging” I imply her agency—her understanding of her own body and actions. On the one hand, actions, speeches, and dress codes worked to constitute her body. On the other, what You Min acted, spoke, and dressed could provide room for negotiation. She tried not to offend either cinema, and her voice was mainly consistent with the Japanese publicity discourses. For instance she reiterated that she resembled Japanese women in physical appearance, and hence did not feel homesick in Japan—reasoning that confirmed the connection between physical similarities and cultural conformity.49 She also accepted her position as a language learner when filming the Hong Kong Trilogy.50 Although her voice was thus weak in contributing to an oppositional reading to her body as constituted by the Japanese publicity discourses, she did create room for negotiation. For instance whereas Japanese cinema signified You Min's body as culturally proximate to Japan while de-emphasizing her Chinese cultivation, You Min would often discuss in interviews her Chinese opera-performer father.51 When she visited different tourist attractions in Japan, she positioned herself as a tourist: exploring new places, looking at the historical architecture, sampling Japanese cuisine.52 Tourists are not participants in the local culture, but spectators.53 This performance of traveling was in congruence with publicity discourses of Hong Kong cinema that constructed You Min's embodiment of cosmopolitan fantasy, which will be discussed in the next section.
HONG KONG CINEMA AND THE COSMOPOLITAN
Hong Kong female stars are usually discussed in relation to Chinese musicals.54 As a result, female stars who could sing well receive more scholarly attention than those who seldom sang. Unlike the classical Hollywood musicals with production numbers interwoven into the narrative, the so-called musical genre as it existed in Hong Kong cinema from the early 1940s to the late 1950s was usually a melodrama or a comedy with song-and-dance sequences having little to do with the plot. It derived from Chinese singsong films—melodramas with a significant number of diegetic modern Mandarin tunes, while at the same time being influenced by the Hollywood musical.55 The unique development trajectory of Chinese musicals has elicited critical analysis that does not rely on Hollywood genre approaches and focuses on the representative figure—the songstress. For example, in the late 1930s, Zhou Xuan, whose screen persona was established in Street Angel (1937), epitomized the singsong girl, whose narrative functions were to offer audiovisual pleasure and serve as a protagonist suffering emotional distress.56 As the 1950s progressed, Chinese musicals drew more and more from Western opera, jazz, and rock 'n' roll, making the (often female) protagonists in the films seeming boundary-crossers who began to be discussed in cosmopolitan terms. For instance the Hong Kong actress and singer Grace Chang, a popular idol in the 1950s, is often connected with cosmopolitanism, and David Desser argues that the cosmopolitan qualities that she manifested were explicitly embodied in her films' music.57 In Jean Ma's 2015 anthology Sounding the Modern Woman, which attempts to understand the Chinese songstress as the sonic incarnation of the modern woman, Chang is described as having advanced the role of a modern female cosmopolite through her youth-oriented, liberal musical performances, particularly in Mambo Girl (1957).58 To brand Hong Kong cinema as cosmopolitan, Brian Hu argues, the studios used female stars (Linda Lin Dai, in the case of his particular argument in “Star Discourse and the Cosmopolitan Chinese” ) and the musical genre to showcase the actresses' ability to sing, dance, and display the fashion styles of the world.59
I agree that female stars who sang contributed to the cosmopolitan image of Hong Kong cinema. However, I want to shift focus from the voice to the whole body to shed light on how Hong Kong female stars who seldom sang still contributed to the world-class image of Hong Kong cinema. Although You Min sang some of the theme songs in her films, she was rarely cast as a songstress in musicals. Cathay typecast her, rather, as a filial daughter in melodramas and a gentle lady in romances. In the paragraphs that remain, I will focus on where the body goes, what the body acts, and how the body speaks to analyze You Min's discursively constituted body.
Cathay portrayed You Min as a frequent traveler. On-screen, her characters go abroad for study, work, and travel. Offscreen, she went back and forth between Japan and Hong Kong to participate in coproduced films. Although economic realities in the 1960s constrained Hong Kong residents' ability to travel overseas, cinema as imaginative travel projected a cosmopolitan fantasy. But how was this everyday sense of cosmopolitanism related to, or embedded in, the body? Jennie Germann Molz argues that cosmopolitanism is not philosophical but material—an embodied performance. Travelers' cosmopolitan sensibilities of flexibility, adaptability, tolerance, and openness to difference are literally embodied performances of fitness and fitting in in a variety of places. The embodied performance of fitness is what we do to make our bodies flexible for different locations, as captured by the phrase “fit to travel.” An embodied performance of fitting in, or what she calls “travel to fit,” is the part one performs to fit into a place.60
If what we do constitutes our body, it is also critical to pay attention to what we do not do—or in the case of movie publicity, appear not to do. Publicity materials produced by Shaw Brothers and Cathay about many of their actresses' training demonstrated that the women's bodies were conditioned, “fit to travel.”61 Indeed, when You Min was with Shaw Brothers, the publicity emphasized her body conditioning, showing her learning to dance and play various sports.62 She had to discipline her body for the training: “Within the 24 hours of each day, under whatever circumstances, You Min has to finish three courses: one hour of practicing piano, one hour of doing sports, and one hour of learning ballet.”63 This kind of drill for “fit to travel” was also manifested in Tōhō's publicity, which stressed You Min's Japanese language acquisition. Tōhō emphasis on You Min's language training routine played up the idea of conditioning her body even as it subordinated her as a foreign learner. However, Cathay decided against this type of promotional strategy: no more dancing, sports, or piano practice. By masking any training, Cathay presented You Min's body as naturally fitting in different places. One critical component of her training that was now hidden was the Japanese language acquisition required for filming in Japan. Overall, Cathay worked to construct You Min's body by concealing the actual efforts required for her physical body to cross borders, instead showing that she was at ease anywhere. In other words, the hidden “fit to travel” (the embodied performance of fitness) and apparently natural “travel to fit” constructed her body with cosmopolitan sensibilities for embodying a cosmopolitan imaginary.
Language ability and adaptability are embodied performances of fitting in in a variety of places, and You Min demonstrated her “naturalness” in this regard by switching to different languages at different locations. For example, in Star of Hong Kong, her character negotiates in English with Hasegawa in Hong Kong when she thinks he is a Japanese person working at a branch of Sony there—she wants compensation for a broken radio bought at the shop. When they run into each other on a plane to Tokyo, she starts to communicate with Hasegawa in Japanese, supplemented with English. Finally, when she arrives in Tokyo and meets her Japanese friend, she speaks Japanese. The change of language was, in reality, due in great part to the impossibility of You Min being able to memorize all of the dialogue in Japanese. However, it facilitates the on-screen effect of seamless geographic adaptation. On a business occasion like the one at the Sony branch in Hong Kong, she speaks to Hasegawa in English. During an informal encounter on a flight from Hong Kong to Tokyo, the transportation of the physical bodies parallels the shift from English to Japanese when she speaks to Hasegawa. The arrival in Tokyo is followed by speaking in Japanese to her Japanese friend and host family.
You Min's fitness to travel extended even to the West. Hong Kong and Japanese cinema may have had different star-making strategies, but both aspired to West-oriented cosmopolitanism. As discussed earlier, You Min's Western tinge was critical for her embodiment of the tōyō imaginary, given how Japan yearned for Western culture during the Cold War. Hong Kong cinema not only looked up to the West but also leveraged Hollywood to create a world-class image of its studios. Manufacturing stars just like Hollywood did was Cathay's strategy to create capital for itself in all the senses of the word, and it promoted You Min as on par with Broadway and Hollywood stars—reporting, for instance, that You Min had made a trip to the United States to explore the world before joining the studio, and had met Broadway directors who wanted her in their shows.64 Of course, she refused the invitation! The intent was not only to draw parallels between You Min and Broadway stars, but also to leave no doubt regarding her preference for, and the superiority of, Cathay over Broadway. On another occasion, Cathay reported that after returning from filming in Japan, You Min was invited by an Italian airline to visit Rome. And although Audrey Hepburn was not explicitly invoked, the official magazine dubbed her trip to Rome “Yu Ming's Roman Holiday.”65 The fact that You Min's literal border crossing extended to the West, and discourses of publicity that signified her embodied performances of flexibility and adaptability as qualities that put her on par with Hollywood stars, manufactured an imaginary in conformance with West-oriented cosmopolitanism.
Cathay may have associated You Min with Hollywood stars, but it differentiated her from them by her purity. International Screen effectively cast aspersions on Hollywood stars such as Elizabeth Taylor, who had been married four times as of the mid-1960s, and used very different language to describe You Min's seriousness about relationships; she was yunu (jade girl).66 Shaw Brothers had called You Min the yunu of the silver screen because she was young, beautiful, and intelligent, and Cathay continued to promote her as a “jade girl” through the construction of her body as pure.67 You Min had been studying at a Catholic school in Macau, Sacred Heart College, when she was invited to join Shaw Brothers in 1951.68 When she later converted to Catholicism, her baptism constituted this through religious connotation, and the ceremony was reported on, even with pictures of the very moment she became a Catholic.69
You Min did not kiss in her films. Kissing on-screen was not in line with her serious attitude toward relationships—it would have contradicted her jade girl persona and contaminated her body. When the official magazine translated yunu for articles in English, it occasionally used “the virgin girl on the screen.”70 Probably because this was still sexualized language, this translation was rarely used. However, “the virgin girl on the screen” spells out what the promotion of yunu hinted at: a virginal body to connote sacredness. The prohibition against kissing on-screen caused a problem when filming A Night in Hong Kong. Specifically Cathay objected to the kissing scene between You Min and Takarada, which frustrated Tōhō. According to Takarada, Chiba, the director, was outraged about the objection, halted the shoot, and criticized in exaggerated language Cathay's attempt to promote You Min as “the princess of the empire of sacred girls.”71 But Cathay insisted, and the eventual compromise was a long shot that implied the two were kissing in silhouette. Cathay thereby not only protected You Min's pure body from “contamination,” but also avoided the controversy a Chinese woman kissing a Japanese man might provoke. Cathay was sufficiently worried about the portrayal of interracial relationships in the coproduced films that it attempted to convince Chiba not to portray You Min falling in love with Takarada.72
This was all very different from the manner in which songstress Li was promoted. Li was so well-known for her singing, she was referred to as “Manchuria's Nightingale.”73 A songstress at the time was imagined as a social flower (jiaoji hua) who lives off her male patrons, to whom she makes her voice and body available.74 Even if this availability is not explicit in a film's narrative, the conflation of voice and body relates her singing to her sexuality. Judith T. Zeitlin says, “To perform a song was to submit oneself to the gaze as well as the ears of another, and there was a perpetual tendency for the audience to conflate the physical beauty of the singer with the acoustic beauty of the song.”75 You Min's jade-girl purity was thus incompatible with a characterization of her as songstress. Tōhō did intend one scene in A Night in Hong Kong to invoke Li's singing, specifically her singing in the wartime film China Nights.76 In the film, Lihong (You Min) sings diegetically to Takarada while on a junk boat, against a beautiful background of Hong Kong at night (fig. 4). But Cathay never promoted her songs in the coproduced films, in part to support the associations of purity, and also to avoid connections with Li, which would provoke memories of war.
You Min's embodiment of the cosmopolitan imaginary was mostly a fantasy, but it was a useful one, as it enabled Cathay to brand itself as a world-class studio, on equal terms with Tōhō or anyone. Brian Hu has noted that Shaw Brothers and Cathay invested vast resources to depict their female stars' travels to enhance their own cosmopolitan images.77 I agree, but feel compelled to point out that the significance of the female stars' cosmopolitanism lay not only in them going outside Hong Kong, but also in them drawing people worldwide to the studios in Hong Kong. Cosmopolitan glamour refocused on Hong Kong through the presence of You Min in filming locations, studios, and theaters in Hong Kong. “The pearl of the East/tōyō” did not signify part of a territory contained by Japan and led by the world-class capital city of Tokyo. Instead, Hong Kong was asserting its own prestige as a prosperous city where international filmmakers and stars gathered. During the preproduction phase of A Night in Hong Kong, You Min's participation in a reception dinner drew audiences' attention to hitherto-unknown overseas faces: the stars and top executives of the Japanese studio who had arrived at Cathay for the coproduction.78 And then during production, You Min continued to be surrounded by Japanese stars and filmmakers who had come to Hong Kong to work with her on the coproduced films.79 Snapshots from the sets captured them acting and socializing together, and behind-the-scenes pictures of the film crew were captioned and discussed in the press in such a way as to emphasize that a famous Japanese director was leading the production.80
Supporting this image of Hong Kong cinema's international status was the concept of Hong Kong as a compelling filming location.81 In my research, I have only found a very few magazine articles about filming for the Hong Kong Trilogy at overseas locations, and these tend not to emphasize their unique characteristics. The skiing scenes and snow scenery of Hokkaido are in a report about the filming of Star of Hong Kong.82 And pictures of palm trees and beaches accompany stories on the filming of Honolulu, Tokyo, Hong Kong in Honolulu.83 But most pictures of filming locations outside Hong Kong do not really play up the places as overseas. For example, a beach in Hakone, Japan, used in Star of Hong Kong could easily be mistaken, without the photo caption, as a beach in Hong Kong (fig. 5).84 Whereas when You Min went on location shoots in Hong Kong, press photos tend to show unmistakable local spots such as Repulse Bay and Tiger Balm Garden, easily identifiable even without captions (fig. 6).85
The seemingly essential body of the star is a concept that must be called into question. Indeed, I hope I have demonstrated that the cultural struggles underlying Japan–Hong Kong film studio collaborations during the Cold War exemplify the contested territory that is the star's body. Many more articles could be written about stars demonstrating divergences in image as constructed by Japanese versus Hong Kong studios. Examples that spring readily to mind include Chang Mei-Yao, cast by Cathay and Tōhō in The White Rose of Hong Kong (1965), in which Takarada also participated; and Takarada himself, who later came to Hong Kong to participate in Cathay's production The Longest Night (1965). And just as Hong Kong cinema continued to leverage border-crossing stars to cultivate its world-class image, the hidden agenda of Japanese cinema for promoting these stars continued as well.