With a career that began at the age of four, Anita Mui (1963-2003) was a revered and charismatic Cantopop music and movie icon of the 80s and 90s in Hong Kong. Often dubbed the ‘Madonna of the East’ by English-language media, she was at the vanguard of contemporary culture as a musician, actress, artist, and a constant influence on generations of singers and artists. Her music and films perfectly epitomise the golden age of Cantopop and Hong Kong cinema.
Her premature death at the age of forty crystallised her legacy, and the long-awaited biopic she deserves, simply called Anita, will finally be released on 12 November 2021, after years of conscientious preparation from Anita’s longtime friend and admirer Bill Kong, major Hong Kong film producer.
The film opens with her final concert and looks back on her life and legacy. Dressed in a stunning pearl white wedding gown and standing under the spotlight in front of tens of thousands of fans, Anita is rising up to the stage, mesmerising, though her sign of infirmity is evident. She is about to sing her last song at her farewell concert, when a sense of unease hits her. “Will I be missed?”… It’s 15 November 2003 and she has only a few weeks to live.
Anita’s story began with a dream. A gifted child performer at the age of four, she started singing alongside her sister Ann in small theatres. Coming from a humble background, she dropped school and started singing at bars and nightclubs to support her family. In 1982, her deep soulful voice catches the attention of a music producer who persuaded her to enrol for the New Talent Singing Competition, which she won. A star was born overnight, and the rest is history.
With one chart-topping single after another, such as Bad Girl, Break The Iceberg, Flaming Red Lips or Sunset Song, Anita’s musical career has skyrocketed. She stretched her talent into acting with equal success and became an accomplished actor. Her performance as a ghost in search of her former lover in Stanley Kwan’s classic Rouge won her the Best Actress titles at the Golden Horse Awards in Taiwan in 1988 and at the Hong Kong Film Awards in 1989.
While her roles and charisma on stage and screen were memorable, it was her sense of justice and act of selflessness off-screen that were truly revered. She utilised her fame for the good of the society and contributed to charitable activities, social activism and new talents mentoring.
The movie Anita is born from a promise made between Edko Films producer Bill Kong and Anita. Recalling a meeting with Anita in 2003, Kong (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Lust, Caution) said Anita was hoping to make a film that could leave a legacy for future generations. “Director Zhang Yimou and I then designed a role for her in House of Flying Daggers (2004). But we could not make her dream come true because she passed,” Kong said in a statement.
Kong remembered their decades long friendship and said he has never forgotten their promise. “We met a long time ago. Back then, Edko Films was still a small company while Mui was already a super star. But she still helped us to promote Laputa: Castle in the Sky, the film that we were distributing at the time. I am still grateful for her support even today,” said Kong.
It took years for Kong to find the right cast, director and screenplay for the biopic project across Asia. Eventually, Longmond Leung (Cold War series) was chosen to direct the film. Leung said that the movie Anita is not only a story about the star but also a mirror of the 1980s Hong Kong. “To me, Mui was the role model of the daughter of Hong Kong […] she never gave up no matter what the adversities.”
The production team spent over three years looking for an actress who possesses Mui’s charisma. A new face was eventually identified: 31-year-old Hong Kong model Louise Wong. The self-professed Anita Mui fan underwent intensive singing and dance training for months to prepare for the role.
Veteran actor Louis Koo plays the role of fashion designer Eddie Lau who was Mui’s image consultant while fellow actor Lam Ka-tung plays Mui’s other best friend, pianist So Hau-leung. Budding actor Terrance Lau plays Mui’s superstar buddy Leslie Cheung.
To recreate Hong Kong from the 80s and 90s, Leung and his crew were able to shoot some scenes in landmarks such as the Hong Kong Coliseum before its renovation, and Hong Kong Stadium, and they also showcased popular locations like Nathan Road, Lee Theatre in Causeway Bay, and the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade, as they used to be back in the days.
Whether you’re a fan or unfamiliar with Anita Mui, the biopic Anita is definitely a must-see. Not only it is a loving portrait of an icon full of courage and empathy, but it is also a portrait of Hong Kong and a story of its people.