Thursday, May 30, 2024

Adult film legend Amy Yip talks about her career

It has been 30 years since Amy Yip Chi-mei last appeared in a movie, and for much of that time the star of Hong Kong films such as Erotic Ghost Story and Sex and Zen has kept herself out of the public eye.

By all reasoning, hers would already be a name long forgotten by a fickle industry and certainly one that young millennial and Gen Z movie-goers would not recognise.

But Yip is no ordinary Hong Kong actress. During the most prolific era of Hong Kong films – when actresses like Dodo Cheng were making nine movies simultaneously and directors were churning out triad action, cheap comedies and exploitative porn like there was no tomorrow – Yip managed to establish herself as the first star of category III soft porn, without even baring a nipple.

It is to Yip’s credit that even after her long absence, the increasing public sightings of her of late have generated buzz and excitement over the possibility of a comeback.

Now 57, Yip is still stunning. Her smooth, tanned skin shows little of the ravages of age. Her diminutive 1.6-metre (5ft 3in) frame is clad in tight trousers and a form-sitting midriff top that shows she is still bestowed with that famous bosom and notoriously small waistline. She is happy, she tells me, that she can still fit into her clothes from her heyday.

She hesitates to call her reappearance in the public eye a comeback.

“My sister has told me not to say I am on a comeback,” she explains. “She says people will start gossiping and say I am poor or need to make money to survive!”

Still, she is not against dipping her toes into the movie world again – under the right conditions. One thing she knows she is not interested in doing is baring her assets again in sexploitation films – she’ll leave that to the younger stars.

“I’ve already done that. It’s not something I’m interested in repeating. It’d be too boring for the audience,” she says.

“If I find a script I really like, a script that would allow me to really show my acting skills, I would really consider it. I’m not a young girl any more so even the role of a mother would be interesting. I want something that I can get my teeth into and show people, oh this is what Amy Yip is like.”

While Yip’s biggest successes were in the category III arena, the other 30-plus films she appeared in during her brief six-year career (1988 to 1994) ran the gamut from a Stephen Chow comedy (The Magnificent Scoundrels, 1991) to the triad drama Queen of the Underworld (1991), where she plays the titular character from her teenage years till late in life.

She is particularly proud of the latter, with reviewers calling it her breakthrough role. Sadly, her acting was eclipsed by her famous physical attributes and the lusty success of the erotic romp Sex and Zen. She never got the chance to get her teeth into a similarly meaty role before she announced her sudden retirement in 1997.

Yip arrived on the Hong Kong film scene as the government was introducing a rating system in 1988, giving directors the freedom to explore more lascivious offerings under the category III (adults only) banner.

She had been a trainee at ATV before signing a two-year contract with the television broadcaster in 1985, but with the new rating system under discussion at the time, it did not take trained eyes long to see her potential in the category III arena.

Before she even finished her training she caught the eye of Raymond Chow, founder of film production company Golden Harvest, who discovered talents such as Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan.

“He asked to meet me and asked if I was interested in making movies,” Yip says. “Of course I wanted to, but I told him I couldn’t because I had a two-year contract with the television station.”

Chow did not give up, telling the then 20-year-old that he would wait out her contract. Yip signed on the dotted line a year later.

One could almost say she knew what she was earmarked for: even at her young age, she was savvy enough to insist that her contract included the clause that she would not “bare three points” (appear fully naked or show her nipples) under any circumstance.

Yip then spent two years appearing in small roles in films such as the Jackie Chan-Anita Mui vehicle Miracles (1989) and female actioner The Inspector Wears Skirts 2 (1989). Then came Erotic Ghost Story (1990), which cast Yip as one of three fox spirits out to seduce a young scholar.

Yip wasn’t exactly eager to launch into the world of soft porn.

“I’d already signed with the company and they had already agreed to my condition of not baring all. I couldn’t not do it. They honoured my conditions and they found a very good cinematographer [Simon Nam] who shot me beautifully.”

While her other female co-stars had to bare their tops, Yip managed to preserve her assets with clever camera angles, nipple covers and body doubles.

It was something she would continue doing for all her category III films, in what would be referred to as the “Yip tease” – something that both titillated and frustrated her fans.

“I was OK with appearing very sexy but where would the mystery be if I showed everything? If I bared all so easily, people wouldn’t appreciate it after a while. That would be quite short-lived,” she says.

While her less modest co-stars faded into oblivion, Yip enjoyed the popularity her sexy image afforded her. Erotic Ghost Story was followed by more sexploitation titles, including a sequel and films such as Ghostly Vixen (1990), before the cult hit Sex and Zen (1991) firmly cemented her as Hong Kong’s biggest sex bomb.

While she enjoyed the rewards, she was less enthused by some of the mean attention that came with it: the less-than-tastefully designed magazine covers, the pointing fingers and whispers, and even the nicknames.

One of her nicknames, “boba” (“champion of breasts”), is said to have inspired the name for the popular Taiwanese bubble tea, while a Singaporean restaurant offers a large steamed bun, called the “Amy Yip Big Pau”, to this day.

“[My figure] was mostly all people talked about at interviews or when talking about movies. It got a little tiring and there were times I just wanted to just hide myself away.

“That’s the business, not everyone will like you. There will always be haters but you just have to accept these things,” she says with a shrug.

But then in 1992, Yip met orthopaedic surgeon Sammy Lui Sek-chiu and it was not long before, at his behest, she disappeared from show business as quickly as she had exploded onto it.

She also could not ignore the fact that younger – and hungrier – actresses were nipping at her heels, willing to do and bare more.

So determined was Yip to start her new life that she changed her phone numbers and quickly settled into the quiet life of a homebody, exercising, cooking, and looking after her partner and two dogs. Other than a few glimpses of her walking her dogs in Repulse Bay, she remained reclusive.

Yip and Lui were together for 26 years but never married. In 2018, Lui – who had a heart problem – died on a flight to the United States.

“We’d known for more than a decade that he had a heart problem and that it was very dangerous. But he didn’t want to do the surgery that would require removing one of his ribs, so we agreed to just keep monitoring his condition,” Yip says.

“On the day, I knew something was wrong when his brother and sister arrived at my home and asked to come up to talk to me.”

Even after his death, Yip was content with her quiet life and only met up with her old showbiz friends, at a birthday party for producer-director Raymond Wong Pak-ming, in 2023.

Old friends such as Philip Chan Yan-kin and Michael Hui Koon-man welcomed her reappearance with open arms and made her realise how much she missed the industry.

“I was quite happy with my solitary life but it was also such great fun to meet up with these old friends again. Everyone started asking me if I was interested in getting back into the movies. I realised I have missed acting. I really love acting.”

She teases that she has already been given a script that has been written especially for her, but acknowledges that the movie business is a lot harder now than before.

“There’s really a downturn in the industry so people have to be really careful. Not many movies make money nowadays,” she says.

So for now, she will bide her time. As we know from the past three decades, being patient is something she is very good at.

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