Monday, September 11, 2006

[Ta Kung Pao 12/09/06]

After suffering from a stroke some years ago, veteran actor 'Uncle Ha' Kwan Hoi San passed away yesterday morning at Kwong Wah Hospital, aged 81. He suffered a stroke in 2001, leaving him paralysed from the waist down, Uncle Ha has been in the care of Auntie Ha for the last few years. Despite a slight improvement in his condition recently, he finally lost his battle with illness yesterday. Auntie Ha is very upset after being with him for over thirty years, but she is making preparations for his funeral, which will be a cremation.

The press waited patiently outside Auntie Ha (Tsang Tai Yung)'s home in Waterloo Road and she seemed rather unsettled still as she talked of calls from Ray Lui and Lee Heung Kam, she could not hold back the tears at one point. After gathering her thoughts, she recalled sadly: "Uncle Ha's health has been okay recent years, but he has had some blockage in his respiratory system, swelling in his lungs and high blood pressure. Originally he had been invited to attend an event on the 1st October National Day celebrations, but now he can't go. I went to check on him yesterday at around 1am and he was fine, but maybe the weather changed and this morning at 6am, he was very uncomfortable, his body was ice cold and he looked very pale. After being taken to hospital, he died at 7:15am. After coming home, I asked the maid to buy red paper to cover up the shrine and the Guanyin figure, because I am afraid that Uncle Ha will not be able to come home."

Auntie Ha says that Uncle Ha's birthday is not until the 23rd of October, so his age should be reported as 81 and not 82. She says that although she has been prepared mentally for the departure of her old partner, but she never thought it would be so soon. After all, they have spent several decades together and with her loss, then nothing is nothing. She has already contacted her son of his father's death and he was silent and speechless for a moment. She has told her son not to rush in returning and she will let him know when she has arranged the funeral. Auntie Ha says that Uncle Ha had no final words before he died, but in his life, he had indicated: "He had comforted me that birth, aging, illness and death are nothing to worry about and told me that the most important thing is to look after our son and keep healthy. My son (Kwan Ho Wai) is currently in Beijing and will return soon. (Have you contacted Uncle Ha's other wife?) No, we have not kept in touch and there is no need. I hope for him to leave in peace and not create so many problems. Financially, there are no problems and his student Al Wai is a great help."

At around 4:30 pm, Auntie Ha was accompanied by Wong Ha Wai, Al Wai and another woman as she tended to arrangements with the funeral parlour. After about half an hour, Al left first, without saying a word to the press. Wong Ha Wai later indicated: "Uncle Ha's funeral will be held in the funeral parlour, everything else will be decided when his son returns to Hong Kong tomorrow. From what I know, the funeral will be held after the seventh month has passed because many friends and relatives are abroad. Auntie Ha will be going to Tai Wai to arrange a memorial for him in the morning."

Uncle Ha, originally named Kwan Ning and when he was 11, he joined his father in the operatic arts. He was never greatly famous in the industry, but he this did not disappoint him as just the words "I've forgotten" would put everything behind him and he was able to leave this world in a happy state.

After turning from opera to drama, Uncle Ha filmed nearly 200 films and countless series, finding his success. He was chairman for the Pat wo Association (Cantonese Opera Union) and in 1991 and 1992, he ws awarded 'Best Supporting Actor' for the film "Lee Rock" at the Golden Horse Awards and the Hong Kong film awards, at the ripe old age of 67. In television, he was awarded the "Special Achievement Award" at TVB's Anniversary awards in 2001, but his most memorable performance was in 'Men and Women' with Cherie Chung.

Uncle Ha refused to retire, but his smoking and drinking vices and his record of drinking nine bottles of beer in a day led to a decline in his health. In March 2001, he suffered a blockage in a blood vessel in his brain and was rushed to hospital, where he was rescued from the edge of heaven and recovered, but was confined to a wheelchair and the care of his wife. There was some controversy about Auntie Ha not letting his daughter from his first marriage see him in hospital, but this died down after he was discharged.

In life, Uncle Ha was not subscribed to the restrictions of marriage as he had four relationships and six children. His first wife was an actress, whom he met in Guangzhou and they lived together but did not get married formally. After two years, she suddenly left him. His second wife Ah Lai and third wife Yip Shui Ngo were met in Vietnam and Malaysia respectively and left him after a difference of personalities. His fourth marriage to Auntie Ha lasted over 25 years and she has not left his side during his final days. He had previously stated that he just had three sons and a daughter, but when he was admitted with his stroke, it was revealed that he had in fact three sons and three daughters.

Of his children, the most well known is Kwan Chung, who also became an actor, but Kwan Chung also brought Uncle Ha a lot of problems. After finding little success in Hong Kong, Kwan Chung headed to Taiwan to start a business, but he was left ridden with debts and was rumoured to have become a monk as well as being linked to some underground bankers and sent to prison. He has admitted that he has little contact with his father and has not even visited after Uncle Ha had the stroke.

Uncle Ha joined TVB in March of 1976 and after receiving the achievement award in 2001, he left the company in January 2002 because of health problems after 26 years with them. In order to remember this long-serving artiste, TVB aired a special edition of magazine programme "Scoop" celebrating his life and the Entertainment News Channel covered the story in full.

In many decades in the industry, Uncle Ha has worked with many artistes and most of them are full of praises of him, proving what a respected and admired actor he was. Among them, Carol Cheng worked opposite him for the first time in "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" and she says: "He is a good actor and senior citizen, always givin his all every time. When I NG'ed, he would teach me and there are very few people who would teach their juniors like he did. Although this is sad, it is also a release for him and I hope he has no regrets."

Cantonese Opera star Wan Fei Yin was very unhappy at the departure of Uncle Ha, but she has not called Auntie Ha yet to avoid upsetting her even more. It was thanks to Sister Yin that Auntie Ha met Uncle Ha when they met on a tour in Singapore and went on to date and marry. Sister Yin had been for Dim Sum with Uncle and Auntie Ha recently and she says that although he seemed rather thin in his wheelchair, he was in high spirits. As for his alcohol addition, Sister Yin says that he did not drink when he was in opera, so this must have been something he picked up when he was in television. Sister Yin reveals that Uncle Ha was very Westernised and the people in the opera troupe gave him the nickname of "Cowboy Ha".

With the news of Uncle Ha's death, many artistes have sighed at the loss and sadness. Among them, his student Ng Mang Tat, who is currently filming in Beijing, was very shocked when he heard the news and immediately called Auntie Ha before taking time out to return to Hong Kong. Ng Mang Tat indicates that he often used to sneak a peek at his teacher in action and he was taught many different forms of acting and it is all thanks to him that he is still able to stay afloat in the business today and he has had a lot of help from him. He says: "My master gave me a special motto and that is you have to depend on yourself in life. You have to put your all into everything and this has become my principle in life."

Lee Heung Kam has offered her condolences to Auntie Ha and knowing that Uncle Ha was very peaceful when he died and in no pain comforted her. She said: "Unable to walk or speak after his stroke, this led to many other conditions later. I was unable to see him recently because of my work. Uncle Ha was a great actor."

Ray Lui is working on the mainland at the moment and hearing that his godfather has passed away made him very sad. He says that if his godmother needs anything, then he will help her. Nancy Sit offers her condolences to Auntie Ha, saying that the contribution to the arts that Uncle Ha has made are great and he was a good senior, teaching so many people. Nancy worked with him during the filming for "A Kindred Spirit" and at the time, he played her father and looked after her well. She also says that she had wanted to go for dinner with Uncle Ha and regrets not having had the chance.

Lo Ka Ying has not seen Uncle Ha very much recently and the first time he played a supporting male in an opera was working with Uncle Ha. At the time, Uncle Ha was the leading male. He says that Uncle Ha loved his drink, but his acting was superb and was often touched by the gods. He was given the name "cowboy" by Leung Sing Bor. Ka Ying knows Auntie Ha and Uncle Ha's previous wife and says that he has plenty of romances because he was very good looking in his youth.

Kwan Hoi San 1925-2006
Rest in Peace

Em's note: From as far back as I can remember, Uncle Ha has been an integral part of my TVB memories as he became the 'universal grandfather' of my generation. His characters, whether good or evil, were always so memorable and he always stirred up strong emotions with his dynamic character acting. He was missed when he finally left TVB, and will be missed even more now he is no longer with us, but his spirit will live on with generations to come.


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