Saturday, August 09, 2003

Em's note - Part of my mission is to try and make people understand artistes a little better - and this is an ideal chance... Don't brush off artistes such as Joyce because they aren't your mainstream good looking guy or gal, because if you look deeper into them as people, you might find something that is worth learning, change your outlook on life a little and even make your day a little happier!

Through the beauty of nature, the day I was supposed to meet with Joyce Koi for an interview, there was a typhoon 8 as I called and arranged to meet if the weather wasn't too bad. When the typhoon signal later changed to 3 and everyone had to go back to work, then so did we. As I arrived at our meeting place, there she was, true to her word, wearing a pink top that exuded youthfulness. Was this the real playful lady compared to the seriousness of her male role on the stage, Joyce replied merrily: "Oh, the one on stage is me too." Then she smiled a sweet smile.

In 1995, just before the filming for TV series "Do Ma Dan", experienced producer Lee Yuen Fo noticed Joyce's potential and asked to meet her. The two got on immensely and thus began her career in the world of television. The singing, stances, dialogue and gestures of the Cantonese Opera stage are a completely different world from that of the small screen. Joyce who is used to speaking from the abdomen said: "The director reminded me that they will be recording the sound live and the microphones are quite sensitive. I understood what he meant so I had to adapt my voice when I was speaking my lines." As well as this, Joyce had to learn at lightning speed how to adjust herself to the positions of three cameras and to act her scenes smoothly. The low number of NG's [outtakes] was not just down to her great talent, but she is also grateful to the encouragement and support of the crew behind the scenes. When she hears people mention the line: "When you eat from the same table, it's each man for himself." She disagrees: "Of course you have to do the best to your own ability, but to help each other out, isn't that so much better?" She has deeply experienced that in the world of performance, teamwork is essential and she has stood by this belief ever since the first day she appeared on the stage in her costume.

In 1987, the name of Joyce Koi Ming Fai first appeared in the Cantonese Opera magazines and after many sleepless nights and learning her lines until she would never forget them, the drums and gongs started and when she stepped upon the stage, a new star of the Cantonese Opera world was born. When she received her flowers and heard the applause of the audience below, she run to the backstage and thanked everyone there individually. She said: "I thanked the man who ironed my costumes and the people who prepared my food because they all worked extremely hard and as a performer, it is my duty to thank them all to show my gratitude." After undergoing her training at the Ba Wo Cantonese Opera Training Class, she has undergone the classical disciplines and has learned to bear the ultimate respect for everyone.

When asked whether she has ever had stage fright, Joyce thought for a moment before replying firmly: "I try my best to ensure that I am always 99% accurate, but if there are any errors, I hope that you will forgive me. Oh you have reminded me of something - when I first started performing, I was very nervous and thinking too much about my actions, I wasn’t able to cater for my costume and it was all very odd looking!" As she said this, she stuck out her waist and did a few hand gestures to illustrate her point before laughing mischievously.

Sharing with her the experience of watching many Operatic performances with the appearance of "subtitle projectors" she says that this is a great invention that can help the audience to understand better the content of the show as well as make sure that the quality of the performance is up to standard. This is because the subtitles are solid evidence that the artiste is not skipping sections or making mistakes that might otherwise go unnoticed. She says: "The importance of the lyrics is like the importance of lines in a script because through this is conveyed everything in the story and the experiences of the character. If a performer forgets some of these lines, it would be detrimental to the continuity and completeness of the show." Combining the classical traditions with the new technology, brings her art in line with modern times.

After performing for over 13 years, many around her refer to her as a grand master, but Joyce waves the comment away, saying that she is just a Cantonese Opera Performer and offers the comparison: "I am like a 12 hour clock that has only been running for ten minutes. In the remaining time of the twelve hours there is countless time ahead, like in the world of Cantonese Opera, there is still so much more to learn and I am just lucky enough to perform as I learn."

When the conversation moved onto some masters and legends of the opera world, Joyce's respect towards her godfather and master Lam Ka Sing was borne on her face. Everyone knows their relationship and this has caused many comments, but Joyce doesn't say anything apart from that he is a very great master who works hard at his art and study of Cantonese Opera, following the rules and she knows that if she was to step out of line, then she would be scolded. She daren't bring shame to her godfather and this is a unique love and respect that she has for him. She tells of one occasion in 1998, during a performance of "The Butterfly Lovers" where she injured her leg and had to go and see a doctor, yet every night, she would still continue performing despite having to take painkilling injections. As the show ended in rapturous applause, and after a time of observation from her master, he finally took her under his wing and adopted her as his goddaughter. At this point, Joyce is a little upset as she talks of her godfather: "My godfather and godmother were very dedicated to the rules of opera and maybe I was just doing my own role to put on a good show, but they continually encouraged me whilst reminding me not to become conceited." Through admiration, propogation, observation and examination, Joyce finally won over the affections of her godfather. When I [the writer] said to her "An important professional maybe require a year or two to test and examine, moreover the love of a goddaughter is not a joking matter." When Joyce hears this, she wipes away a tear of joy from her eye.

Many of Master Lam's daily mottoes are kept close to Joyce's heart, but the most important lessons will be used by Joyce for the rest of her life. When the eight most important words to him were discussed, Joyce reeled them off clearly one by one:

1) Drive: Before you enter the profession you must be clear about your passion and bring out your drive.
2) Determination: You must learn continually and keep this determination.
3) Morality: Always keep studying and don’t give up when you meet with difficulties.
4) Confidence: Ensure that you have prepared well and keep practising so that you have the full confidence when you are performing
5) Modesty: Have the will to accept the views of other people and the modesty to keep on learning.
6) Care: Offer your care and love to your elders
7) Ethics: You must follow your ethics in whatever you do and be true to the heaven and earth
8) Commitment: To every listener, viewer and supporter you must show the utmost commitment.

The meaning behind these eight words are deeper than what I can portray here and upon further thought, I said to Joyce: "They can be applied to any line of work and can spark off the meaning to everything we do in life." Joyce nods in agreement.

Every time Joyce performs, she will receive flowers: "I often have performances and my dedicated fans have become my friends, they buy tickets to see me and buy my flowers and I feel bad at the amount of money that they spend so I say to them, if I see them watching me I am already very happy." Successful examples show that many superstars such as Chan Po Chu, Siu Fong Fong, Nancy Sit... they all have a group of long time dedicated fans and seeing the idol before me, I can only say: "Feelings are grown mutually, a performer can capture an audience through a great performance, but to earn their respect is down to their talents and also their manners..." After a couple of minutes, I wished her success in her August performances and she instantly offered to save me a couple of tickets. I said: "No don't, we need to keep the economy afloat, I will go and buy them myself." But Joyce insisted and said with a stern look: "No no no..." Two hours of conversation passed by quickly and when the time came to take some photos, she immediately said that she needed to touch up her make up and put on her lipstick. And then she headed off to the washroom as I thought to myself, beauty is the top priority for women and regardless of the husbands, princes and scholars she plays on stage, off the stage, she will always still be Miss Joyce.

Writer: Jacky Chan To On


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