Joseph Koo, Hong Kong Musician and ‘A Better Tomorrow’ Composer, Dies at 91


Joseph Koo, a leading music composer during Hong Kong cinema’s golden era, has died in Vancouver, Canada. He was 91.

Local media report his death as happening on Tuesday Jan. 3, 2023, but do not state a cause of death.

Born in Guangzhou, China on Feb. 23, 1931, Koo Ka-fai moved with his scholarly and musical family from mainland China to Hong Kong in 1948.

Koo spent much of his career in the Hong Kong film, TV and pop music industries. And, even after he emigrated to Canada in the 1990s, he maintained active links with the Hong Kong industry.

As a youngster, Koo learned the piano and composed songs for his sister Koo Mei, who was a major recording artist in her own right. Later he became a performer and band leader performing at venues including the Luk Kwok Hotel in Hong Kong.

His first composition for a film was “Dream,” a song performed by his sister in the 1961 Shaw Brothers film “Love Without End.” The film and the song’s success caused Hong Kong movie mogul Sir Run Run Shaw to sponsor his formal musical training at Berklee College in Boston, U.S.

On his return to Hong Kong, Koo worked for the Shaw Brothers companies — he won a Golden Horse Award, Chinese language cinema’s most prestigious awards, for his work on The Shaw Brothers 1965 musical comedy “The Dancing Millionairess” — and for Shaw’s rival Golden Harvest. There he provided scores for two of the six Bruce Lee movies “Fist of Fury” and “Way of the Dragon.”

Versatile and prolific, Koo was appointed TVB’s musical director in 1973, a post he retained until his departure from the territory. While there, he produced scores and theme songs for films including 1980’s “Shanghai Bund” and the theme songs of the TV series “The Legend of the Condor Heroes” and “Five Easy Pieces,” which became all-time classics. He also penned the theme song for TV series “Below the Lion Rock” which remains Hong Kong’s unofficial anthem for many people, and for John Woo’s two “A Better Tomorrow” movies (1986 and 1987).

More recently, Koo provided songs for Ray Yeung’s 2006 “Cut Sleeve Boys” and Jia Zhangke’s 2017 film “Ash Is Purest White.”

Koo’s work and career attracted numerous national and international awards. Koo received MBE from the British government in 1982. With Hong Kong under Chinese rule from 1997, Koo received the territory’s Bronze Bauhinia Star award in 1988 and a Gold Bauhinia Star in 2015. He also received the Life Achievement Award at the Hong Kong Arts Development Awards in 2010, presented by the Hong Kong Arts Development Council.

“Joseph Koo’s works are evergreen pieces that have been a significant part of Hong Kong people’s lives over the years and have enriched the lives of Chinese people around the world. His spirit and the memorable touching melodies he created will be passed down from one generation to the next. We shall fondly remember him,” said Hong Kong’s Secretary for Culture, Sports and Tourism Kevin Yeung, in a statement on Wednesday.



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