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An iconic figure of Chinese movie and popular culture, Lin dominated three decades with her unique performing art.
Her first appearance on screen was as the lead of female Taiwan-born novelist Chiung Yao's 1963 book Outside the Window when it was adapted into a film. Many of the novelist's bestsellers have been adapted into movies and TV series, proving extremely popular with viewers.
Lin shot to fame overnight after her debut. By 1982, she had played the lead in 12 movies adapted from Chiung Yao's novels, each a hit. "She was the top choice to bring my heroines to life with her elegant, beautiful qualities," the novelist opined.
"During the 1980s, soon after China's mainland opened its door wider to the outside world, its sky was lit by three stars from Taiwan: singer Teresa Teng, novelist Chiung Yao and actress Brigitte Lin," recalls Zhang Yihe, a famous Chinese writer, expounding on Lin's influence. "At their peak, people were listening to Teng's songs on almost every street corner, reading Chiung's novels in whatever light they could find, or watching movies starring Lin."
In the 1980s, Lin became a well-deserved leader of Hong Kong's New Wave movies. "I consider myself lucky," she grins. "In 1984 when Taiwan's movie market experienced a transformation, Ringo Lam from Hong Kong asked me to work on his movie, Gwan Ji Ho Kau. I said ‘yes.' I assumed I would return to Taiwan after filming, but I ended up staying another 10 years: Hong Kong turned into my second home."
A string of New Wave Hong Kong directors such as Ringo Lam, Tsui Hark, Patrick Tam and Yim Ho tapped into the star, transforming Lin to an iconic, fashionable, and independent woman through films including Love Massacre, Police Story, and Peking Opera Blues. In 1990, she starred in Red Dust directed by Yim Ho and took Best Actress at the 27th Golden Horse Awards in Taiwan.
In 1992, Swordsman II directed by Tsui Hark brought Lin one of the most memorable roles in the history of Chinese martial arts movies. In the film, she succeeded in portraying a male, a common convention of Chinese movies and operas. Her neutral beauty was first discovered in 1977 by Li Han-hsiang, a director from Taiwan, when she was asked to play Jia Baoyu, the male protagonist in The Dream of the Red Chamber. In 1986, director Tsui Hark offered her a more challenging role in Peking Opera Blues, and Swordsman II marked the peak of her career in terms of box office earnings.