Monday, May 11, 2009

Anguished by the Curse of Beauty – May Choo

Thanks Dave for posting the enigmatic Yang Pei Yun, which inspired me to initiate the new post for another little known Hong Kong Mandarin starlet in the 50s, the vivacious beauty May Choo.

Both Roth and I were fascinated by the her charming beauty, which frequently seen in calendar and magazine cover after mid 50s, with a thoughtful luminous eyes that speaks a thousand words, as well as her refined side profile.

Despite frequently appreciating her beauty that transcends time, we only knew so little about her, until Carrie Koo Mei came into picture.

In Koo Mei autobiography published in 2006, we realized that May was one of Carrie’s best friends since primary school. From there, we learnt that her life was shadowed by a wrenching guilt that tormented her so profoundly, not even a happy marriage and caring husband later could heal her deep slit beneath the soul.

Born Chen Meiqin (陈美琴) in a big family in Canton province in 1928, May was initially engaged to a married man at a very young age, and was abandoned after bearing two children with him. Single mother that living in rather deprived condition, May finally secured a job as an actress with Zhang Shankun’s Xin Hua Studio circa 1954, stage named as Zhu Ying (朱缨), having appear as rather ignorable supporting roles in a handful of films.

According to Koo Mei, In her Xin Hua Studio period, May was romantically engaged with later famous Chinese author Nan Gong Bo, having touched by his intense courting, but again this married man broke her heart, and she finally ended up with a mental breakdown, and Koo Mei claimed that her condition was not stable until 1958, whom an important man came to her life.

In 1958, renowned Chinese French painter Zao Wou Ki visited Hong Kong, and noticed Zhu Ying, who was playing the role of Concubine Zhen in the stage play of “Sorrow of the Forbidden City”, which later they immediately fall in love at the first sight, married and settled in Paris.

Zhu Ying enjoyed the most wonderful moment in her life with this caring and loving husband, she has recovered from the mental instability, and later this artistically gifted beauty has developed herself to become a sculptor.

However in early 60s, the news of her 13 years old son hit by severe mental illness that ended up in Hong Kong mental institution (according to Koo Mei that May’s son is still with the institution today), has again posted a huge impact on her, since then, having haunted by the guilt that her genetic inheritance might be the culprit of her son’s condition, both May physical and mental health condition has since deteriorated.

In 1971, while Koo Mei was in Taipei, she received a mail from May Choo, and an except of Tang’s poem with dreadful handwriting in red ink was the only content in the mail, stating:

“My heart is ice immaculate, abiding in a vessel pristine”

In early March 1972, May passed away from suicide by medicinal drug overdose in Paris, leaving her exhaustedly over-grieved Wou-Ki behind, which was unable to progress with his artwork for more than one year. Zao later has his mourn and profound love towards May turned into a painting named May's memory, which is now kept in National d'art et de Culture Georges-Pompidou Paris.

In November 1972, the Galerie de France presented an honorary exhibition of sculptures by May Choo, together with colour-washes and drawings in Indian ink by Zao Wou-Ki.

A brief film career spanning from 1954-1958 with appearance in only 9 features, May Choo did have a color feature with Shaw Studio, musical named Colourful Tokyo (1956), As the name goes, the film was shot in Japan, and this appear to be the only leading feature that she has in her brief filmography.

Sincerely hope May’s disturbed soul has rest in peace, you will always be remembered.


duriandave said...

Hi Dev! Glad to see a new post from you. :D

What a sad story this is. The first time I saw Zhu Ying was in an article about her Shaw Brothers film The Circus. Just from two small, b&w photos, she was able to enchant me with her look.

Glad to know more about her, especially her subsequent career as a sculpture.

oldflames said...

The Curse of Beauty reminds me of Hedy Lamarr, "the girl that is too beautiful for this world".....sigh!

Dev, What a treat it is to see the lovely (but sad) May Choo gracing your blog.Not only was she a breath-takingly beautiful actress, she was a devoted mother and a famous sculptor too.

May Choo came across as sincerely appreciative of her life, but not carried away by the false amplification of self that celevrity status often bestows.

The only sad thing is that she couldnt fight off her past demons which eventually caused her death.

MAY her rest in peace and we shall fondly remember her as, arguably the most beautiful woman in Chinese films.

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Jen Jung said...

I'm so happy to have come across this post. Zhu Ying is my grandmother, my mother was one of her first two daughters, that is mentioned in your post, to the married man. I will need to scan her photo to your email - the resemblance is bittersweet after seeing more photos in your post. Do you happen to know where we can buy some of these older chinese films? I read that Celestial Pictures bought Shaw Studio but will need to research as I'm in the US. Thanks!