The enormous world-wide film industry today pumps out stars at a record rate. Or so it seems. Just under a century ago, Shanghai was poised to witness the emergence of an extraordinary film industry that produced a huge number of famous figures in tandem with its great volume of films. One of these famous figures was the legendary actress HU DIE (Butterfly Wu), who came to fame in Shanghai in the Republican era (1912-1949). “Hu Die” is the stage name of Hu Ruihua (1908-1989) who was born in Shanghai, and raised across China as the family travelled with her father, who worked for the railroad company. Her fame and popularity were such that she is described as one of a handful of actresses who made a major contribution to the film industry; and to the modernizing society that was Shanghai in the 1920s and 1930s.
In the 1920s, Hu Die emerged just as a new accent on realism in film saw women permitted to play lead female roles for the first time. Hu Die’s roles included aunt, mother, teacher, prostitute, celebrity, and working woman. She was the star of China’s first talking picture, Songstress Red Peony, 1931, and the first to wow audiences with martial arts skills. Her sophisticated acting skills and fine temperament earned her widespread popularity among local audiences, such that in 1933 Hu Die was publicly anointed “Queen of the Movies”. Today, Hu Die is still credited as one of the best actresses of early cinema in China.
Artfully riding the turning tides of the era, in 1935, Hu Die was invited to play the role of cultural ambassador being chosen to be part of a Chinese delegation to tour the USSR, beginning with the Moscow International Film Festival and on to Europe. The role of cultural ambassador, together with dispatches from her travels published at home in China, propelled Hu Die’s reputation to new heights. Following her marriage in November 1935, Hu Die continued to make films through the 1960s. She settled in Canada in 1967 where she passed the remainder of her life with her family.
“Butterfly Wu: Queen of the Movies” presents more than 200 photographs selected from the Poon family collection by Zheng Shengtian, Adjunct Director of the Institute of Asian Art at Vancouver Art Gallery. These photographs were originally collected and preserved by the actress and covering several decades of her acting career together with others from her personal life and travels. To film buffs in Shanghai and beyond, Hu Die will always be remembered as the original Shanghai’s Queen of the Movies.
“Butterfly Wu: Queen of the Movies. A Biography in Photography"
Until 18 March, 2018
Shanghai Center of Photography (SCôP)
2555-1 Longteng Avenue, Shanghai, China (near Fenggu Road)