In the 1950s and 1960s, film songs were a ubiquitous feature of Hong Kong cinema, and their performance was the exclusive domain of singing actresses. One of the biggest screen stars and recording artists of this era was Grace Chang. Chang made her debut in Mambo Girl (dir. Evan Yang [Yi Wen], Hong Kong, 1957), which introduced to Chinese-language cinema the figure of the carefree singing and dancing teenager. The figure she cuts in the film, and in many other of her vehicles, is sunny to the point of relentlessness and wholesome and upright to the point of unbelievability. But if Chang's films seem rather too insistent on positioning her within the bounds of propriety, we need only look to their extreme dependence upon modes of corporeal display that push those very bounds for the reason why. More than any other performer of her time, Chang was identified with new, unfamiliar musical fashions such as American rock and roll, swing, mambo, calypso, and cha-cha. Her performances stand out as key sites for the cinematic remediation of foreign musical styles, channeling and absorbing their connotations of otherness, exoticism, and sensuality. Moreover, Mambo Girl catalyzed a far-reaching shift wherein the goings-on of the dance floor began to influence screen culture to a greater degree than in the past, and choreography itself assumed a more emphatic presence in film's musical lexicon. In Chang's performances, we discover a seismograph of the process by which dance is recoded in its filmic remediation, emerging as a critical part of the imaginary of postwar Chinese modernity.
Jean Ma; Hong Kong Mambo. Camera Obscura 1 December 2014; 29 (3 (87)): 1–31. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/02705346-2801496
Download citation file: