Brigitte Lin
By: David Smay | Categories: HiLo Heroes, Popular

When she was in high school, a film producer discovered BRIGITTE LIN (Lin Ching-hsia, born 1954) and turned her into the star of a series of Taiwanese romances about long-suffering women. She later moved over to the high-powered Hong Kong film industry, where Tsui Hark cast her in 1983′s Zu Warriors From the Magic Mountain, which revolutionized the wuxia genre. The movie also recast Lin’s image: no longer a simp, she kicked all kinds of ass. She co-starred with Jackie Chan in Police Story (1985), followed by Peking Opera Blues (1986) where she played an androgynous character and something clicked. In 1992, Hark cast her opposite Jet Li as the eunuch Dongfang Bubai in Swordsman II. This was a controversial decision, as the character — an evil sorcerer who cut off his own genitals in order to gain tremendous power, then has an affair with the story’s hero! — from Jin Yong’s popular wuxia novel The Smiling, Proud Wanderer was synonymous in Chinese pop culture with perversity and evil. In the West, if Voldemort cut off his junk and fell into bed with Harry Potter… or if Anakin Skywalker yanked back Emperor Palpatine’s cowl and found Tilda Swinton, whereupon they made with the humpty dance… it would have been a fiasco. In the East, Lin became the most popular actress of her era. For the remainder of her career — she retired in 1994 — she played characters with grey morals and cross-gender appeal. She radiated menace, steel and megawatt charisma. When Wong Kar-Wai gave her a cameo in Chungking Express, he wasn’t just giving a nod to Gena Rowlands in John Cassavetes’ Gloria, he was acknowledging one of the greatest stars of Hong Kong’s golden age.

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On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Walker Evans.

READ MORE about men and women born on the cusp between the Boomer (1944–53) Generation and the Original Generation X (1954–63).

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David Smay is the co-editor of two books about pop music, Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth, and Lost in the Grooves. He's also the author of Swordfishtrombones, the 33 1/3 series entry on Tom Waits. He lives in San Francisco with his wife and two children.