Brigitte Lin: My heart and soul belongs to Taipei

Recalling her days in Taiwan, Brigitte goes on a vivid journey down memory lane that’s as winding as the streets and alleys she dreams about.
Pictured in my house when I was 19 or 20. The big fat cappuccino sofa is behind me.
Pictured in my house when I was 19 or 20. The big fat cappuccino sofa is behind me.

(Photos provided by Brigitte Lin unless otherwise stated)

In countless dreams, I am wandering about quaint streets and alleys flanked by four-storey tall buildings. It seems as if someone I dearly miss stays in one of the upper rooms. Or that something from my memories makes me linger. Perhaps my old parents are inside, but I just can’t recall their phone number.

Summer, 2019. Taiwanese actress and film producer Hsu Feng (徐枫) invited me to Taipei to attend the premiere of Red Dust (《滚滚红尘》), which had been digitally remastered for the big screen. One night, my friend Hao Kuang-tsai (郝广才), a Taiwanese author and editor, told me he was going house-hunting the next day. I wasn’t interested in viewing houses and buildings, so I casually remarked, “Oh, where?” When I heard that he was heading to Yongkang Street, my eyes lit up. “Okay, count me in,” I said.

Knowing that I had once stayed at Yongkang Street, my friend thoughtfully suggested that we should also visit the estate where I lived.

I had long forgotten the exact street I stayed on — I haven’t been back for over 30 years. As if led by an angel, my feet brought me to Lane 6, right across from Yongkang Park. I stood outside a building, wondering if this was the place. Coincidentally, someone stepped out and I quickly slipped inside. I climbed all the way up to the fourth storey and saw a large metal gate at the stairwell. I exclaimed, “This is it! I found it!”

Lane 6, Yongkang Street, where I will still go in my dreams.
Lane 6, Yongkang Street, where I will go in my dreams.

So this was the place in my dreams: Yongkang Street, Lishui Street, and Lane 6 that sits in between them. I pressed the doorbell without hesitation and couldn’t be bothered if it was reckless of me to do so.

My sense of nostalgia was too strong. After I finished filming my first movie, Outside the Window (《窗外》), my entire family relocated from Sanchong District to Yongkang Street. We stayed there for eight years, and they were the most glorious, brilliant, and busiest eight years of my film career. It was also the time when Taiwan’s arthouse films were at its peak.

An 18-year-old girl opened the door. I explained that I once stayed here and asked if she could let me in. Alone at home, she was hesitant to do so, but Kuang-tsai exclaimed, “She’s Brigitte Lin!”       

The most glorious eight years of my film career

The metal gate opened, and a string of images flashed through my mind. Mother was cooking a bowl of noodles for me in the kitchen when I heard a peculiar honk that came from a vintage car downstairs. I dashed out of the house and went with him to sit by a stream for several hours. The metal gate was locked. Mother almost called the police. I was 19 then, and it was the night before I flew to San Francisco to film Long Way from Home (《长情万缕》)...

I walked to the balcony located on the fourth storey that resembled an entryway. Nothing has changed. It was the same balcony in my memories. The same one where Mother, with arms akimbo, stood chiding him. It was a different him standing on the street.

The metal gate that never changed.
The metal gate that never changed.

Walking into the living room, I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was as if time had stood still and I travelled 40 over years back in time. Everything looked exactly the same. Muscle memory took over and I walked to the bedroom of my youth. Tears welled up in my eyes as I looked at my room, completely unchanged. I’ve forgotten the number of times Mother would sit by my bed and remove my makeup with thick layers of Pond’s vanishing cream as I fell asleep after a long day at work. Behind me was my sister’s room, and my parents’ room was on the other side. Across my parents’ room was my brother’s room. I froze. That big fat cappuccino sofa was still there. I sat quietly in my brother’s room. That was the sofa I would sit on whenever I didn’t have to film and could spend time with Mother.

I stood in the middle of the living room, filled with memories of the past. Eight years. My youth, my growth, my fame, they’re here. They’re all here. This living room had hosted numerous famed producers who tried their very best to persuade me to act in their films. Taiwanese writer and producer Chiung Yao (琼瑶) and Taiwanese publisher and producer Ping Hsin-tao (平鑫涛) were once guests at my house. Here, I signed the contract to act in the maiden work of their Super Star production company, Cloud of Romance (《我是一片云》), which became the one and only “one Lin and two Chins” (NB: Brigitte Lin, Chin Han, and Charlie Chin, three of the most popular stars of their time, made up the "one Lin and two Chins” of the 1970s) production to date. Oftentimes, producers and directors would also sit on this sofa as they waited for me to wake up and continue shooting the next scene in the production.        

I shook hands with three of Taiwan’s presidents

I lived in a remote village when I was young and didn’t know such a place like Taipei existed. It was beyond my expectations that I would settle down in Taipei when I grew up and even shake hands with three of Taiwan’s presidents.

When I was 20, I went to Zhongshan Hall to watch Eight Hundred Heroes (《八百壮士》). I was the female lead of the movie. The movie ended and it was still dim in the theatre. A gentleman three seats away from me stood up, and so did the director and the people around him. That gentleman had an exceptional aura around him and was gentle and polite. The director introduced me as the female lead of the movie and we shook hands. I thought to myself, wow, his hands were soft like cotton. My parents used to tell me that a man’s hand should feel like cotton, while a woman’s hand should feel like firewood, as those are signs of good fortune. Realising that I was in a daze, the director was quick to add, “This is President Chiang Ching-kuo.” Before I could process all that had happened, President Chiang had already left with his entourage.

The second encounter happened over 30 years ago, when this individual was not yet president. Mid-way through a legislator cocktail party at The Grand Hotel, a dashing young man walked in. He was extremely handsome, suave and perfect in every way. When he shook my hand, I wished time would stand still so that we could shake hands for a little longer. He was President Ma Ying-jeou.

The third president whom I shook hands with was no longer president then. One day, I was at the golf course when I saw an old gentleman ready to take his first swing. The golf ball didn’t travel very far but the people around him clapped in unison — the atmosphere was rather strange. I curiously looked on as he sat in a golf cart by himself, and found him to be quite familiar. Unsure, I walked up to him and asked, “Are you Mr President?” He politely smiled and nodded, and shook my hand. He was President Lee Teng-hui.

When I was 18 or 19.
When I was 18 or 19. 

When I was nine, we moved to Taipei’s Sanchong District and stayed by the Tamsui River. Zhongxing Bridge was very near our house, and I was the happiest when the adults would bring us on trishaw rides to Taipei to have Shaomei ice cream (小美冰淇淋). We would always pass by the Zhongxing Bridge on our way there.

My days at Ginling Girls' High School were memorable as well. After school, I would always take the public bus with my friends who stayed at Taipei to have some signature Taiwan snacks. We would have to cross the Zhongxing Bridge again before we reached the eatery where we would order tempura with radish. The tempura was piping hot and I would eat it with chilli sauce drizzled over it. That sweet and spicy taste is one I’ll never forget. When I was in high school, I would spend practically every weekend at Ximending, where my friends and I would shop and watch movies. We wore the latest fashion of the 1970s — bell-bottoms, mini skirts, large-collared shirts, ankle-length midi skirts — and sashayed in style down the streets of Ximending. It was also at Ximending that I was scouted by people from the film industry to become an actress, right when I was about to graduate from high school.          

Curious to know Taipei in the 1970s? Watch Brigitte Lin’s arthouse romance films

Ever since I moved to Yongkang Street, my destiny became intertwined with Taipei, and I could no longer separate myself from films and the media — they practically took up all my time. I’ve already retired from showbiz for 25 years, but the paparazzi are still on my tail wherever I go. I guess I can never be separated from the media, so why not just accept it, and treat them as my friends?

Taipei’s streets and alleys, the villas atop Yangmingshan, and numerous cafes were all part of my film sets. If you’d like to understand Taipei in the 1970s, please watch Brigitte Lin’s arthouse romance films. Between 1972 and 1984, I was filming in Taipei. In these 12 years, I starred in roughly 60 to 70 films. My face often appeared on the billboards opposite Taipei Main Station. My movie signboards were also plastered across Ximending Cinema Street, a place where I often hung out when I was in high school. The transformation of my life seems dreamier than a dream. In retrospect, fate is so unpredictable, and yet so profound at the same time.

The female protagonist in Pai Hsien-yung’s (白先勇) book The Eternal Snow Beauty (《永远的尹雪艳》) stays at Taipei’s Ren’ai Road. The streets of Ren’ai Road are clean and wide, lined with neat rows of tall green trees in the middle — pretty sophisticated, I must say. I liked the place. In the early 1980s, I bought an apartment in a building called Shuang Xing Da Sha (双星大厦) located at Section 4 of Ren’ai Road with what I earned from four films. Since then, the genre of films I acted in shifted from romance to social realism. The people I worked with when I filmed social realist films were realists too. Then, I had so many films on hand that I could no longer take on new ones.

I especially remember this incident where producer Chou Ling Kang (周令刚) visited me one night. He carried a backpack full of cold, hard cash that occupied half of my coffee table when he laid it out. Seeing his sincerity, I couldn’t help but accept his offer. After he left, I tried to stuff all the notes into my tiny safe box but no matter how hard I tried, the safe couldn’t contain all of them. Left with no choice, I stuffed the remaining cash into my bedside drawer, and didn’t bother depositing them into the bank for a long time. My friend said that I was very daring — I was living alone in Taipei and yet I accepted so much hard cash, and stashed them at home.

A photo of me taking a stroll in the forest. (Photographer: Xu Fugang)
A photo of me taking a stroll in the forest. (Photographer: Xu Fugang)

After 1984, I spent most of my time filming in Hong Kong, only returning occasionally to shoot a few films in Taipei. It’s been 25 years since I got married in Hong Kong in 1994. But my heart and soul belongs to Taipei. This trip back to Yongkang Street made me realise that the door that I never got to enter in my dreams, the place where I always lingered in the chimera of my memories, was on the top floor of a building along Lane 6 across Yongkang Park, a place of my youth. 

(The article’s standfirst was added by ThinkChina)

Related Reading: Women of stories: Chiang Ching and Brigitte Lin