Cherie Chung a screen goddess, the Marilyn Monroe of Hong Kong, fans said – how she retired from acting at the height of her career and hasn’t looked back

Chung went on to appear in a succession of films, including Ann Hui On-wah’s The Story of Woo Viet.

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The political drama, which marked Chung’s first collaboration with frequent co-star Chow Yun-fat, served as the second instalment of Hui’s Vietnam trilogy, which delved into the plight of Vietnamese refugees following the Vietnam war.

Another of Chung’s early roles was in Hong Kong, Hong Kong, a dramatic film directed by Clifford Choi Kai-kwong.

Chung stars as Man Si-sun, an illegal immigrant who moves to Hong Kong from mainland China in search of a better life. Caught between a marriage that would protect her against deportation and an affair with an aspiring boxer (Alex Man Chi-leung), Man navigates romance and hardship against the backdrop of Hong Kong’s wealth divide.

Richard Ng and Chung in a still from “Winners and Sinners” (1983). Photo: Eureka Entertainment.

In the course of the 1980s, Chung appeared in almost 50 films, from action dramas to comedies and romances.

In the comic fantasy Spiritual Love (1987), the actress was once again paired with Chow, whose character gives up three years of his life so that a ghost – played by Chung – can escape from her forced afterlife marriage and return to Earth.

That same year, Chung and Chow starred in the critically acclaimed An Autumn’s Tale, the second film in director Mabel Cheung Yuen-ting’s migration trilogy. In the romantic drama, Chung plays Jennifer Lee, a Hong Kong woman who travels to New York to chase her boyfriend, Vincent ( Danny Chan Pak-keung).
Chung and Chow Yun-fat in a still from “An Autumn’s Tale” (1987).

Because Vincent is away in Boston when Lee arrives, a distant cousin nicknamed Figurehead (Chow) picks her up from the airport instead. Despite their contrasting personalities, Lee and Figurehead form a bond, especially after Lee finds out that Vincent has been cheating on her.

The film, lauded for its nuanced portrayal of romance, migration and identity, won best film in the 7th Hong Kong Film Awards in 1988. Chung received best actress nominations in the Hong Kong Film Awards and the 24th Golden Horse Awards in Taiwan for her performance.
Chung appeared in a number of other notable films, including the melodrama Last Romance (1988) and the heist comedy Once a Thief (1991). Without much warning, in 1991 she quit acting – her last film was Hui’s action thriller Zodiac Killers.
(From left) Maggie Cheung, Chung and Shingo Tsurumi in a still from “Last Romance” (1988).

“I was just sick and tired of the film scene,” Chung told the Post in 2006. “I was quite popular and people forced me to make movies I didn’t want to. There were a lot of gangsters back then.

“When everybody tries to gossip about you, you tend to seal yourself off – and bit by bit you lose touch with the outside world. That’s why I decided I had to leave it all behind – I even left Hong Kong for a while, to get some space.”

The same year she quit the film industry, Chung married advertising executive Michael Chu Ka-ting, one of the three sons of Chu Yuk-wah, a Shanghai-based filmmaker.

Together, the couple went on to open two furniture stores, called Nu Concepts and Nest, both of which have since closed. Chu would later die of cancer in August 2007.

Chung and her husband, Mike Chu, in 1992. Photo: SCMP

In the years since, Chung has pursued a long-standing interest in photography and even put on a charity exhibition called “To Hong Kong with Love” in 2014. The exhibition included 50 images of Hong Kong, among them photographs of the city’s nature.

“I want to show people the beauty of Hong Kong. The busy lives of city dwellers means they neglect the gorgeous nature and cityscape we have,” Chung told the Post in 2014. “All these so-called developments are not making the city better but are, in fact, destroying the best parts of it.

“The more I read about these developments, the greater my desire to capture these natural landscapes with my camera as soon as I can, because I don’t know if these places will exist in future,” she said.

Chung pursued a long-standing interest in photography. Photo: Handout

The exhibition also featured landscapes and cityscapes that showed glimpses of old districts and communities at risk of development.

“These small communities, the small shops and businesses, reflect the characteristics of Hong Kong. But many of these shops are being driven out by chains and property developers,” Chung said.

“It is a shame that a lot of what is worth preserving – the small shops, the little streets – [is] disappearing. The human touch is what makes places come alive. If there are no people, these places are no different from a movie set; they are like an empty shell. We are too dominated by economic values. We have forgotten about love.”

Chung at the launch of “Accredited Green Family Scheme” managed by the Friends of the Earth in 1995. Photo: SCMP

Sales from the exhibition went to the environmental organisation Friends of the Earth – Chung has long been passionate about environmental protection. She was pictured in 1993 with other volunteers counting smoky vehicles in Ngau Tau Kok, East Kowloon; as a Friends of the Earth’s “green ambassador”, Chung has appeared in campaigns relating to planting trees and saving plastic bags.

Aside from the environment, she is also fond of animals, having raised a Persian-American shorthair cat, turtles, guinea pigs and a parrot.

Chung at an interview with the Post in 2014. Photo: SCMP

Nowadays, Chung largely shies away from public activities and is not active on social media, but she has occasionally been spotted at fashion and beauty events, including those associated with luxury brands Chaumet, Louis Vuitton and Roger Vivier.

Does she miss acting?

“[All] I miss about being in the film industry is the creativity that goes into the production process,” she said in 2006. “After I left the scene, I felt my life had been enriched – I felt much happier and I learned so many things I wouldn’t have been able to if I had still been an actress.”

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