As in other countries, Chinese music stars over the years have often had the opportunity for a second career in motion pictures, sometimes in non-music, straight dramatic roles if they can act a bit. Such modern Hong Kong stars as Andy Lau, Karen Mok, the late Leslie Cheung, to name but a few, started out as pop stars and then capitalized on their popularity by moving to the screen. Perhaps the leading example of this from China's classic film era was Zhou Xuan. While Li Minghui was by no means the only Chinese pop singer to become a movie star, or the most successful, she was the first singer to make the transition, entering movies from the musical stage. But unlike the people mentioned above, she actually reversed the process, using her movie popularity to boost her singing career.
Li Minghui 黎明晖 was born to a scholarly family in Hunan province in 1909. (Some sources say 1911, but the earlier date is more likely given that she made her first screen appearance in 1925, and 16 was a very common age for actress debuts.) Her father was one of eight brothers known as the "eight great talents of the Li family," because of their individual accomplishments in arts or letters. For example, the future movie star's eldest uncle Li Jinxi 黎锦熙 (1890-1978) was a renowned scholar of Chinese language and literature; the youngest, Uncle Li Jinguang 黎锦光 (1907-1993) was a distinguished Shanghai composer of film music, with nearly 200 movie songs to his credit; and her father Li Jinhui 黎锦晖 (1891-1967), the second eldest brother, began as a composer, then organized and directed the Bright Moon Society, a touring song and dance troupe which was the breeding ground for many of China's future star performers, notably Wang Renmei and Li Lili (who he later adopted). Coming from such a background, it was only natural for Li Minghui herself to receive a musical education from childhood, and join the Bright Moon Society as a performer. And although it was acknowledged she was not the best of the singers, she became the first to make the transition to movies, initially in a minor supporting role in the Shenzhou Film Company's 1925 film "Conjugal Bliss," then moving to the Da Zhonghua Baihe studio, where her first lead was in that same year's "The Young Factory Owner." This was the first of several lead roles in major films for Li, but by the end of the 1920s she was still not that popular with the filmgoing public. This began to change in 1929, when she made a record titled "Mist," one of the first big hits in Chinese recorded popular music, and gave Li Minghui the favorable "Little Sister" image she had not achieved in cinema. She left movies, forming with her father Li Jinhui a musical act which for the next few years was a very popular attraction in entertainment venues in south China and Hong Kong. Her newfound popularity resulted in the Tianyi studio bring her back to the screen in 1933, as the the lead in《Pursuit》. By this time, popular actresses and fellow Bright Moon alumnae Li Lili and Wang Renmei had both become established stars with a very admired image (especially among young people), projecting robust and healthy female athleticism, and Li Minghui's image fit right in with this.
But despite her popularity, critics were not so favorable where her recordings were concerned: in live performances she did fine, but because (despite her musical heritage) she had never had much formal voice training, on record she often came across as somewhat flat, causing her female backup singers to sound shrill in comparison. The result was a sound the great writer (and pop culture fan) Lu Xun described as sounding like "cats in their death throes." (绞死猫儿)
In 1934, Li Minghui married one of China's most famous athletes, football star Lu Zhongen 陆钟恩. She continued in films for a few years after that, then retired from the screen in 1937. The marriage was apparently a happy one, but fairly brief: Lu died suddenly in 1951, leaving her a widow without income. She found employment in Beijing as secretary to Zhang Shizhao 章士钊 (1881-1973), a distinguished scholar and writer. After his death, she returned to Shanghai to live out her days, passing away there on December 9, 2003, aged 94.
Conjugal Bliss ... nurse
Battle Exploits ... Wang Yihua
The Young Factory Owner ... Li Aifang
The Newlyweds' Family ...
Transparent Shanghai ... Fufen
Reclaimed Wasteland ... Ah Zhen
A Visit Home ... Putao
Qiuxiang's Miserable Life ... Qiuxiang
A Complicated Plot (I,II) ... Huihua
The Person in Her Heart ...
Women ... Liang Yufen
The Eve of the Wedding ... Gao Zhuqing
Sad Song of Life ...
Memorial Day ...
New Year's Money ... Yang Lijuan
A Loving Couple ... Fang Mali