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April 27, 2017

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Abba (阿爸)

"Abba" (阿爸) is a musical documentary about the life and legacy of Hong Yi-feng (洪一峰, 1927-2010), one of the most iconic popular musicians in post-World War II Taiwan. The film, produced by Hong's three sons, offers great music, nostalgic discoveries, a glimpse into creative minds, a complex and tender family story and some food for thought on the possible healing power of religion.

The King of Formosan Songs

Hong Yi-feng, the film's central figure, is known as the King of Formosan Songs (寶島歌王). Over his long career he made contributions as a singer, lyricist, painter, instrumentalist and film actor, as well as a manager of cabaret troupes.

Hong's career started with cabaret singing and went on to span the eras of records, radio, and television. He wrote hundreds of songs, including such hits as "The Hunk on the Mountain" (山頂的黑狗兄), "Love Never Ceases" (舊情綿綿), "The One I Yearn For" (思慕的人), "Tamsui Sunset" (淡水暮色) and "Formosa Mambo" (寶島曼波) — songs that for more than half a century accompanied many Taiwanese through repressive times.

With success in music, Hong crossed over to acting in the 1960s, starring in Hoklo films like "When Shall We Meet Again" (何時再相逢), "Best Wishes to You" (祝你幸福), "Drifting to Taipei" (流浪到台北) and "A Singer's Tear" (歌星淚). His handsome looks and husky voice made him a heartthrob; the premiere of "Love Never Ceases," for instance drew legions of fans.

It Runs in the Family

Hong devoted his life to music and was a poor father to his three sons. His eldest son Hong Rong-hong (洪榮宏), also known as Jung, received strict musical training from him, but the second son Hong Jing-yao (洪敬堯) and the third son Hong Rong-liang (洪榮良) felt left to their own devices. Their father's several marriages also left them estranged from him for many years.

Despite these difficulties, all three sons turned out as accomplished creative professionals. Jung (榮宏) became a singer of enduring popularity and a Golden Melody Award (金曲獎) winner. Jing-yao (敬堯) was recruited at the age of 19 as the keyboardist for Emil Wakin Chau (周華健), eventually establishing himself as a prominent producer, arranger and a musical director of many stadium-scale concerts. Rong-liang (榮良), who directed "Abba," has produced more than 1,000 episodes of music telecasts and been recognized with 17 nominations and 6 wins at the Golden Bell Awards (金鐘獎) ceremony.

"Abba" was first conceived when the three brothers organized a remembrance concert in 2010 after their father's death earlier that year. Footage from that concert, featuring many of today's best entertainers, are artfully incorporated into "Abba." In fact, the film's various elements of documentary, interviews, reenactments and concert footage complement each other very well, putting each other in perspective.

"Abba" impresses also on the level of simply offering great music. A-Mei (張惠妹), Jay Chou (周杰倫), Harlem Yu (庾澄慶), the pop-rock band Mayday (五月天) and many other artists offer ravishing renditions of Hong's songs. Not the least of whom is Hong's eldest son Jung, whose performance testifies to the artistry that runs in the Hong family.

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