“I give today’s glory and praise to God. I want to thank God for not giving me a smooth path, because only without a smooth path have I better learned to be humble and gentle.”
On April 16, 2023, Sammi Cheng won the Best Actress and Best Original Film Song Awards for her part in the movie Lost Love at the 41st Hong Kong Film Awards, and she thanked God in her acceptance speech. Over the past 20 years, Cheng has been nominated six times for Best Actress without winning. She looked excited and moved as she stepped up to the stage to accept the award.
Though Cheng is not the only Christian among the many Hong Kong entertainers, she is indeed a special one. At a time when many Christian entertainers have left the public view for various reasons or even abandoned their faith, she never seemed far from us. Not only has she been present for the growth of our generation of Hong Kongers, but she has also let us witness her own transformation.
Those days of smooth paths
“Chotto matte yo…” (Do not pour out your love at once). “Chotto” (“Wait”) is a Cantonese pop song cover of a Japanese song. (“Chotto matte means “wait a minute” in Japanese.) Cheng performed the song with cool dance moves and in cutting-edge fashion in the 1990s, beginning her path to Cantopop Queen. She won third place in a contest as an up-and-coming singer and, within a few years of starting her career, captivated the attention of music fans with this particular song, winning over many Hong Kong youth in the day.
Later on, Cheng switched label companies and came out with many familiar hits, such as “Miss You,” “Can’t Let You Go,” “Understanding,” and “Forever Beautiful.” Her album sales quickly reached multiplatinum levels (over a hundred thousand sold). Movies for which she was the main actress, such as Feel 100%, Needing You, and other romantic comedies, were well loved and had good box office sales. Excelling at both singing and acting, her career reached height after height in the ’90s.
But because she rose too quickly, she was given the nickname “Stinky Face,” referring to the fact that she often threw tantrums and that her behavior was unbearable. In later interviews, Cheng acknowledged that she had a terrible attitude back in the day and offended many people and that she felt sorry for that. The days of smooth sailing brought her fame and income, but she did not expect that unprecedented success would cause her to fall into a bottomless pit.
Encountering God in depression
Fighting to keep her career at its peak, Cheng accepted a role in the film Everlasting Regret, hoping to use this opportunity to transform her image. She held her performance to extremely high standards, but this pressure slowly pushed her to a breaking point. She said she felt herself being consumed by a nameless terror and sorrow and felt helpless in the face of life events, yet she had to continue pretending to be strong.
After completing the movie, she was unable to work and quietly disappeared for three years. During that time, rumors spread that she was terminally ill. When she looked back on this experience afterward, she said she knew at the time she was in a terrible situation but was unable to do anything about it. At one point, she “didn’t look in the mirror for a month and could go seven days without showering.” She described it as “living in a little wooden box, with only yourself alone; it felt as if you couldn’t breathe and couldn’t smell what the outside world was like.”
In this dark valley of her life, Cheng heard a voice telling her to pray. So she prayed for God to help her and save her. After a couple months, she miraculously met a friend who brought her to a Bible study at church. This began her path to restructuring her life, and she slowly walked out of the shadow of depression. In 2007, she officially joined the church through baptism.
In her baptism testimony, she wrote, “God used close to 1,000 days to let me thoroughly reflect on my past. I have seen clearly the reality of success and money. Though they can perhaps build up my existence, they cannot at all fulfill my life. Life should have a higher value, and I have found clear direction and orientation in God’s Word.”
An intruder in a fairy-tale marriage
It is not hard to write a stirring testimony, but a person’s beliefs cannot be separated from the testimony of their actions. After returning to public life, Cheng seemed different than before. She was full of energy—not only holding concerts but also coming out with a brand-new gospel album Faith, so people could get to know the Christian faith. She served as ambassador for different charity organizations, such as World Vision and Doctors Without Borders, raising donations for them and serving as a volunteer herself. These life changes were observed not only by her fans but also by her old boyfriend Andy Hui, who had broken up with her several years before.
Sammi and Andy had known each other since they first started out in show business and developed a romance that lasted more than 10 years. Fans considered them a perfect couple in the music industry. When they announced their breakup in 2004, many people were greatly disappointed.
In a 2009 concert, Cheng not only invited Hui as a guest singer but also sang “Do Not Awaken Love,” a song representing a Christian view of love: “Do not be surprised that we have not embraced. / God has taught me to wait. / Only when feelings flow as quiet waters / Will I promise you to spend a lifetime in exchange for love.” Fans wondered whether she and Andy Hui were back in a relationship.
They finally heard the good news in 2011: Sammi and Andy were together again. After two years of dating, they officially married, and Andy Hui joined the church through baptism in 2017.
Everyone thought it would be a fairy-tale ending now that they had married after many years of coming together and falling apart. But in 2019, the media released footage of Hui being intimate with actress Jacqueline Wong in a car, causing a citywide uproar. Hui held a press conference after the video leak and apologized to everyone for his actions, promising to reflect on his wrongs.
Two days after the event, Cheng still had not offered a response. Her fans were worried about her condition. Faced with her husband’s infidelity, she finally chose to forgive and to stand together with her husband.
On Instagram she shared 1 Corinthians 13:7 (NLT) in English: “Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” She also wrote, “Happiness is not simply one smooth and happy event after another. There are also trials, and there is experiencing the highs and lows together, so that deep affections can guide the husband and wife forward. They must enter each other’s hearts, look clearly at each other’s weaknesses, not give up on oneself, not give up on the other, correct each other, and remind each other. Through the trials of marriage, I truly believe that experience and guidance will help us get back on the right path, and our lives will be renewed.”
She acknowledged that “it is a most difficult time” but said she and her husband relied on prayer as a help and attempted to endure this trial together, doing all they could to repair the relationship.
Half a year after the incident, the media shared footage of Sammi and Andy buying snacks together at a grocery store. The storm had passed, and the sun once again shone on their relationship. Later, when Sammi was asked in an interview how she got through that trying time, she answered, “Any of my decisions are closely related to my faith and values system. Of course, forgiveness, understanding, and repairing relationships are good choices, but it may not be suitable in the same way for every couple.”
‘We All Grew This Way’
After she experienced depression and her husband’s infidelity, audiences’ love for Cheng only increased. This is likely because she did not cover up the difficulties in her journey but let us see that she was a flesh-and-blood entertainer with a relatable image.
She later came out with the song “We All Grew This Way,” which resonated with many. The lyrics say,
Who is without fear on this earth?
Who is without heartbreak?
Who is without regrets?
Every year we adapt, every year we age,
And wisdom is the distilled essence of experience.
Sammi Cheng succeeded in convincing her audience with her own life experience.
In recent years , she has attempted many new things in her work—breaking out of boxes to interact with new people, such as working with the philosophical group Corrupt the Youth, and acting in roles she had never attempted before. In her award-winning film Lost Love, Sammi Cheng played the role of a foster mother. She did not take any pay for this role , so that she could help a new director complete his work.
In this stage of life, perhaps she understands her own ability and limitations. Her past experiences have served as nourishment for her acting, allowing her to truly shine in this movie. All who have seen the film look at her with fresh eyes. And her pre-depression dream of becoming a serious actor has quietly come true.
Without a smooth path, but because of faith, we can become gentler and more mature. Though we walk more slowly, we can enjoy the scenery along the way. Thank you, Sammi Cheng, for being transparent about your struggles, for modeling forgiveness and grace, and for showing us the growth of an excellent entertainer.
Karen Wong lives in Hong Kong and loves to write. She is a believer who struggles with parenthood, thinks theologically, and constantly hopes in the gospel.
Translation by Christine Emmert