Ma­bel Che­ung

Hong Kong Tatler - - Features -

THE LEAD­ING FILM DI­REC­TOR, WHOSE POR­TRAY­ALS OF HONG KONG LIFE HAVE WON HER NU­MER­OUS AWARDS, EX­PLAINS HOW YOUTH­FUL RE­SPON­SI­BIL­ITY GAVE HER A HEAD START IN LIFE

Ma­bel Che­ung’s fa­ther died when she was 14 and, as the old­est of five sib­lings, Che­ung shoul­dered the bur­den of go­ing out to work while her mother took care of the home. The fam­ily lived in one of the poorer ar­eas of Guang­dong and Che­ung jug­gled a va­ri­ety of jobs with her school­work. She was of­ten forced to work late into the night to make ends meet.

“Please don’t feel sorry for me. I con­sider my­self very lucky. From a young age, I re­alised that if I worked hard, I would sur­vive, and that re­ally shaped my character. I also met some won­der­ful peo­ple­—one English­woman took pity on my sit­u­a­tion and paid me to teach her Man­darin, but she ended up teach­ing me English, which was such a priv­i­lege. I was also given an un­usual amount of free­dom for a young girl. While my friends had to be home at a cer­tain time, I was free to stay out as late as I pleased, as I was the head of the house­hold. And I had the joy of watch­ing my sib­lings flour­ish thanks to my hard work; they all com­pleted school, which made me very proud.”

To il­lus­trate how happy her child­hood mem­o­ries are, Che­ung picked toys and photographs from her school days as her prized me­men­toes. “I par­tic­u­larly love the teddy in the cheongsam, as it makes me smile to think that we were taught to be­have like ladies, when all we wanted to do was play out­side. I was sports-mad and was ob­sessed with base­ball in par­tic­u­lar. And I had to come first in ev­ery­thing, in­clud­ing swimming but­ter­fly, which no other girls would par­tic­i­pate in, so it was just me and the boys.”

Che­ung, who went on to study at Bris­tol Univer­sity and New York Univer­sity, also chose a small paint­ing of her Hong Kong Univer­sity dor­mi­tory, which was torn down in 1998. She was dis­traught when she heard about the planned de­mo­li­tion and per­suaded the school board to let her film a scene for City of Glass there, so that her happy mem­o­ries could be im­mor­talised.

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