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Barbara Yung Mei-ling (Chinese: 翁美玲, 7 May 1959 – 14 May 1985) was a Hong Kong actress during the early 1980s. She died as a result of a suicide at the age of 26 while at the peak of her career.
2 Beginning of career
3 Rise to fame
5 TV dramas
Yung was born in Hong Kong to a civil service family as an only child. Her childhood was relatively uneventful until the death of her father when she was aged 7.
Yung left Hong Kong for England at age 15 (in late 1974) to rejoin her mother who had immigrated to the United Kingdom (TVB K100 Feature Interview, 1985). Yung, her mother and a family friend whom Yung considered as her “uncle” first moved to Barkingside, Ilford near London. Together as a family, they later settled in Histon, a small village in Cambridge, England. Yung’s mother and family friend operated a small fish and chips store at Histon where Yung helped out during the weekends. While in Hong Kong, Yung attended Rosaryhill School (located at Stubbs Road in Hong Kong), where she had completed her primary and some of her secondary education through Form 4 (TVB K100, 1985). She continued with her GCE O levels at a secondary school in Cambridge. After the completion of her ‘O’ levels, she was admitted to a 2-year foundations program at the Anglia Ruskin University (CCAT). Upon the completion of this program, she went to London to study textile design at the Central School of Art and Design. She spent 4 years at this school (TVB K100 Feature Interview, 1985).
Beginning of Career
Yung returned to Hong Kong and joined the Miss Hong Kong pageant in 1982, in which she was awarded 9th place. After the pageant, she was offered an acting contract by TVB. She made her acting debut in 1982, in a Cantonese wuxia series named Sup Sam Mui also known as The Legend of the Unknowns set in the Qing dynasty, co-starring Kent Tong and Simon Yam in which Yung played a Manchu princess, Princess Sheung (TVB K100 Feature Interview, 1985). This was the TV drama that shot her into the limelight. Although Yung played a relatively minor role in this drama, she managed to gain TVB’s confidence to cast her in what would become the drama (The Legend of the Condor Heroes) that would make her a household name in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam in the 1980s. Her popularity persists through present day due to her lead role in The Legend of the Condor Heroes (TVB K100 Feature Interview, 1985).
Rise to Fame
Yung’s most famous TVB swordplay series was The Legend of the Condor Heroes in which she portrayed the character Wong Yung. TVB made several costumed/period dramas in the 1980s based on famous martial arts swordplay novels by Louis Cha. Cha’s The Legend of the Condor Heroes, has been adapted numerous times to TV dramas and film, but none has attained a popularity as the one made by TVB in 1983. The innocent swordsman, Kwok Ching was played by Felix Wong. The cast in this edition also featured Michael Miu, Sharon Yeung, Patrick Tse and Louise Lee.
Yung’s other TV dramas included: The Foundation, The Man in the Middle, The Fearless Duo, United We Stand, The New Adventures of Chor Lau-heung, The Rough Ride and The Battlefield.
Yung was found unconscious due to gas inhalation in her apartment on Broadcast Drive, Kowloon on the morning of 14 May 1985 (Spiritus Temporis, 2007). According to her friend and actor (who was rumoured to have begun courting Yung), Stephen Chow Sai-lung, Yung had called him on the night of 13 May 1985. Chow asserted that she was troubled by her failing relationship with Kent Tong. After hanging up, Chow was concerned and he went to her home. However, he could not gain entrance to her apartment. He then thought that nobody was home and subsequently left.
Chow returned to Yung’s apartment on the morning of 14 May 1985. He knocked on Yung’s door again but no one answered. Chow said he smelled gas fumes through Yung’s apartment door. He then climbed up the exterior apartment building wall to her second floor apartment and prised open her front window. He entered Yung’s apartment (from the window) and discovered her unconscious and sprawled on the living room floor. Chow immediately alerted the building’s security and police. Yung was rushed to the nearby Baptist Hospital, Kowloon where she was pronounced dead on arrival.
There were many rumours regarding the cause of her death. Some had attributed it to an accident, suicide or perhaps even foul play. One of the most widely circulated rumours was that her suicide was the result of her depression over her supposed broken relationship with then TVB actor, Kent Tong Chun-yip. (It is to be noted that in an interview conducted by a Hong Kong radio station on 14 March 1985, when asked about rumours regarding her relationship with Kent Tong, Yung had explained that he was merely a friend and respected colleague.) The rumours concerning the association of her death with Kent Tong were largely based on Stephen Chow’s account of her last 24 hours. There were also rumours which claimed that Stephen Chow was Yung’s boyfriend. According to Yung’s TVB colleagues, she had not behaved abnormally in the days before the incident and there was no hint that she was depressed or suicidal. Yung also sounded very optimistic about her future in her radio interviews both on 14 March 1985 and one conducted two weeks before her death. Yung did not leave a suicide note. At the time of her death, Yung was involved in filming the final chapters of the TVB drama, The Battlefield. Filming was due to conclude in June 1985. TVB had also cast Barbara Yung and Kent Tong in another period drama, Kings of Ideas (橋王之王). Her role in this drama was later taken by Maggie Cheung.
Yung’s funeral was a big event and was attended by throngs of fans and many prominent Hong Kong celebrities. Her remains were placed in the World Funeral Parlor, Hung Hom, Kowloon for fans and friends to pay their final respect. Her friends and co-stars in her TV dramas such as Michael Miu, Felix Wong, Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Andy Lau were pallbearers for her casket. Yung had a Catholic funeral. She was cremated in Hong Kong on 19 May 1985 and her ashes were laid to rest at the Cambridge City Cemetery in Cambridge, England (YouTube, Fan Video, 2007).
The Legend of the Condor Heroes (1983 TV series)