A guide to: Leslie Cheung

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TW /: Mention of Suicide

Background

Leslie Cheung Kwok-Wing was one of the influential Hong Kong singers in the history of Chinese pop culture, especially in Cantopop (Chinese-Cantonese pop). He was known for his music and acting in Hong Kong films, particularly as queer characters. Along with his androgynous personality and bisexuality, he was an iconic LGBTQ+ pioneer in the conservative society of 1980s Hong Kong. Cheung released over 40 albums throughout his musical career, ranging from sentimental ballads to upbeat tunes. He also achieved many awards and nominations for his work.

In 2003, Cheung committed suicide due to diagnosed with having severe clinical depression. His death not only upset fans and the Asian entertainment industry, but also raised concerns in regards to mental health awareness, toxic media culture and social prejudice in the LGBTQ+ community. Despite Leslie’s passing, he is still a notably recognised celebrity by the Asian entertainment industry. His contributions inspired many modern Chinese artists and today’s Cantopop (including reworks of his songs by contemporary producers) which was later released as an album called REVISIT in 2020.

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Top picks:

  1. Monica

“Thanks, thanks, thanks, thanks, Monica…” has become an iconic line that summarises one of Cheung’s 80s Cantopop hits. Other than having catchy and memorable hooks, the lyrics use funky expressions to describe a breakup and regrets felt within a relationship. Besides, the choice of upbeat and cheerful instrumental style contrasts with the meaning of the song. Such sophisticated grooves make Monica an excellent choice for an 80s karaoke night.

2. 追(Chase)

Chase was one of the interludes for He’s a Woman, She’s a Man, a 1994 Hong Kong romantic-comedy movie starring Cheung. The lyrics reflect the romance from the movie where the male protagonist wants an ordinary life and relationship, no matter how successful his career was. Regardless of the film portrayal or live performance, Cheung performs it in a single expression consisting of happiness and sorrow. The piano sequence with soft drum and electric guitar towards the chorus and the end of the song, creates a feeling of realisation for a lost affection.

3. 我(I)

Another highly recommended piano ballad which from Cheung’s discography. Unlike most of the songs by Cheung, (I) has two different versions in Mandarin and Cantonese. The key differences between these versions are their meanings. Even though both lyrics shared a theme of self-appreciation, the Mandarin version explores this idea more proudly and confidently; the Cantonese version has more to do with acceptance and thankful for who they are. This makes the two versions of these lyrics unique in their way.

Fun fact: Cheung mentioned that (I) was his favourite masterpiece because it was a self-statement – especially the Mandarin version as it represents him the most.

4. 大熱(Big Heat/The Acca-Jungle)

The Acca-Jungle was released under an album (with the same title) for Cheung’s concert, Passion Tour in 2000. As the name suggests, this song brings a different burning, wild vibe dynamic from other love songs by Cheung. Not only does the word choice demonstrate the feeling of passionate love, the combination of rock and the violin, including the choir sequence towards the climax of the chorus also recreates the tension and danger from intense affections in which audiences might be able to feel it while listening.

*The Acca-Jungle also comes with two different versions in Mandarin and Cantonese.

5. 春夏秋冬(A Balloon’s Journey)

The lyrics of A Balloon’s Journey explored love as four seasons, starting from autumn, winter, summer and ending with spring. Each season represent a different stage of a loving relationship. With an instrumental intro, complete with acoustic guitar, it sets a melancholic atmosphere for the whole song. Followed by Cheung’s tender voice, a relaxed and nostalgic mood is created for this country Cantopop. For those that enjoy either folk or country music this might be a great one to begin with.

Other honourable mentions:

6. 無心睡眠(Sleepless Night)

7. 左右手(Left Right Hand)

8. 風繼續吹(Wind Blows On)

9. 不羈的風(Wild Wind)

10. 側面(Wa Wa Nee) – Originally by Sugar Free in 1989

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