Multilingual vocalist Jacky Cheung of Hong Kong conquered the Asian music market in the mid 1980s, then expanded into the worldwide music arena and into motion picture markets as a popular screen star. His unique personal charm defied critical articulation, yet he captivated fans and held them spellbound. Indeed, Cheung, an airline reservation clerk turned radio singing contest winner, realized sales of 200,000 units from his debut recording alone. In the late 1980s, when he diverged into a film career, Cheung’s popularity surged to a level never before achieved in the modern pop culture of Asia. Kiss and Goodbye, his Mandarin-language album of 1993, sold three million copies by the end of the calendar year and achieved a sales mark of four million units sold by 1996. The perpetual endurance of his market presence, a rare quality among Asian pop stars, added further luster to the glow of his rising star.
A charismatic crooner, Cheung records in Mandarin, Cantonese, and English. He was born Zhang Xue-You You (Cantonese pronunciation Cheung Hok-Yao) on July 10, 1961, in what was then British-dominated Hong Kong. He was the son of a seaman and grew up in less than opulent surroundings. A small one-room apartment served as a residence not only for Cheung, his parents, and two siblings, but also for handfuls of relatives who passed through on an intermittent basis. Surprisingly, these disheartening domestic conditions failed to dampen Cheung’s passion for music, which surfaced early in his childhood. When he was very young, he enjoyed the music of the region, favoring such stars as Kit Kwan and Alan Tarn. Cheung’s musical interests broadened as he entered his teens, and in high school, he developed a preference for rock and roll, especially for the Beatles. He also reserved a fondness for the mellower crooning styles of pop songwriter Barry Manilow. With a natural bent for singing and with an excess of personal charm, it was no surprise that Cheung became a singer at a karaoke-style bar.
After a time, Cheung settled into a position as a Cathay Pacific Airlines clerk in the mid 1980s. It was in that capacity that he took first prize in the 18th District Singing Competition in his home territory. The contest, sponsored by a local radio station, offered a lucrative prize of a contract offer with PolyGram Records and attracted a field of 10,000 competitors. The contest win by Cheung proved to be as much of an asset for PolyGram as it did for Cheung, whose debut album scored platinum status and won the Golden Song Award from Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) in 1987. He established a fan base with little effort, and sales of his records soared into the millions of copies, an unusual feat in Asian music markets.
By 1990, to the dismay of recording executives, Cheung focused his energies increasingly on a budding movie career. He collected a following of fans through his film work as adeptly as he had charmed the public with his singing style. Cheung, as he detoured from so-called Cantopop music into Chinese cinema, earned a Golden Horse Award for his supporting role as a wayward street denizen named Fly in Wong Kar Wai’s As Tears Go By.
In all, Cheung has appeared in over 50 films, including the popular three-part epic, Chinese Ghost Story Trilogy, beginning in 1987. Cheung appeared in each of the three segments of the trilogy, first in the role of a Taoist monk called Autumn in the first two parts, and as a transient named Yin in the final sequence, which took place one hundred years after Part I and Part II. The story, according to the San Francisco Chronicle’s Michael Snyder, was “entertaining as hell… like a cross between Pretty Woman and Ghost Story” In 1990 Cheung appeared in Curry and Pepper and also in John Woo’s Bullet in the Head that year. Woo’s Bullet, in which Cheung co-starred with Tony Leung and Waise Lee, was described as “powerful, dynamic … an epic adventure…,” by Kevin Thomas in the Los Angeles Times. In 1991 Cheung was seen in Chinese Legend, followed by Once Upon a Time in China and Wicked City in 1992. He appeared in the role of a swordsman named Hong Qi in Wong Kar Wai’s well-received movie Ashes of Time in 1994.
In the mid 1990s Cheung abandoned acting to refocus on his singing career at the urging of his manager, Michael Au. Cheung’s subsequent release, Uncontrollable Passion, collected a series of awards largely as a
Born Zhang Xue-You on July 10, 1961, in Hong Kong; married to May Law Mei-Mei.
Signed with PolyGram Records after winning a radio-sponsored talent contest, mid 1980s; has appeared in more than 50 motion pictures, 1988—; has released more than 40 albums and sold more than 25 million records.
Awards: Golden Song Award, Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK), 1987; Golden Horse Award (for film acting), 1988.
Addresses: Record company —Universal Music Group, 825 8th Ave., New York City, NY 10019, (212) 333-8000.
result of the hit song, “Love You a Bit More Each Day.” Andrew Tanzer of Forbes acknowledged Cheung as the top Chinese pop star in a discussion of the Chinese entertainment industry and cited sales of three million copies for Kiss and Goodbye, Cheung’s highly popular Mandarin-language release. Tanzer suggested further that due to excessive levels of bootleg recordings in China, sales of illegal Cheung recordings accounted for an estimated ten million additional sales units. Cheung’s undisputed popularity in China and throughout Asia moved into worldwide markets. With concert tickets selling at premium prices, he expanded his tour itineraries. At the Brisbane (Australia) Convention Center on September 16, 1995, tickets for a Jacky Cheung concert sold for $148 apiece, far more than for other popular singers. Likewise, at Toronto, Ontario’s Air Canada Center in 1999, spectators paid as much as $168.50 to hear Cheung sing a program of 32 songs, backed by an 18-piece instrumental ensemble and six backup singers. Cheung by that time was a seasoned professional with more than three dozen albums to his credit.
Cheung was among the featured performers at a gala celebration hosted by the Chinese government when the colony of Hong Kong reverted to Chinese control on July 1, 1997. In anticipation of the historic celebration, Time International named him among the “25 Most Influential People in the New Hong Kong.” At that time, Cheung was recognized as the most popular Chinese singer in the world, based on record sales worldwide. According to Time, he was “an odd, unlikely heartthrob … [the performer with] the least fanatical supporters. But he has more of them than anyone else.” That year he undertook a new career project as a theatrical producer and brought a musical stage play to China entitled Swan Wolf Lake. It was the first production of its kind in China and starred Sandy Lam as Swan, opposite Cheung as Wolf.
Cheung released his first English-language album, Touch of Love, a PolyGram import, in 2000. He is married to his manager, the former actress May Law Mei-Mei.
Smile, PolyGram, 1985.
Jacky, PolyGram, 1987.
Forget About Him, PolyGram, 1993.
Kiss and Goodbye, PolyGram, 1993.
This Winter Is Not Very Cold, PolyGram, 1995.
Having Friends, PolyGram, 1995.
Wanna Hang with You in the Wind, PolyGram, 1996.
Release Yourself, PolyGram, 1998.
Jacky Cheung’s Greatest Hits, PolyGram, 1998.
Best of Jacky Cheung, PolyGram, 1999.
Riding 1999, Universal, 2000.
First Fifteen Years, PolyGram, 2000.
Touch of Love, PolyGram, 2000.
Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Australia), August 26, 1995, p. 11.
Forbes, December 20, 1993, p. 78.
Los Angeles Times, September 28, 1990, p. 6; October 4, 1991, p. 6; December 13, 1993, p. 2.
Time International, June 23, 1997, p. 22.
San Francisco Chronicle, August 29, 1991, p. E3.
Toronto Star, April 2, 1999.
All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (June 6, 2001).
“All About Jacky Cheung,” NBCi.com, http://members.nbci.com/dnk2311/starsinfo/jacky/jackyinfo.html (May 14, 2001).
“Jacky Cheung Heaven,” Yahoo! GeoCities, http://www.geocities.com/Tokyo/Towers/2252/jacky12.htm (May 14, 2001).