Sounding the Modern Woman: The Songstress in Chinese Cinema
Jean Ma is Associate Professor of Art and Art History at Stanford University. She is the author of Melancholy Drift: Marking Time in Chinese Cinema, and coeditor of Moving: Between Cinema and Photography, also published by Duke University Press.
The Mambo Girl
Grace Chang was one of the biggest stars of postwar Hong Kong film and popular music, most remembered for her debut role in Mambo Girl, which introduced to Chinese cinema the figure of the singing and dancing teenager. Her performances introduced new, foreign musical styles—such as American rock ’n’ roll, swing, mambo, calypso, and cha-cha—to audiences. Moreover, Chang’s rise to stardom precipitated an important turn in the evolution of the songstress film. Until this moment, singing films far outnumbered song-and-dance films, and musical expression centered primarily upon vocal performance. But in Chang’s vehicles, we see dance promoted to an equal partner of song, incorporated into songstress routines on a regular basis. Dance is tied to another significant dimension of Chang’s star persona—an adeptness at crossing cultural boundaries, whether in the acquisition of foreign languages or the mastery of international musical styles.