It was 1983 and during the casting session for a new and pretty ambitious McDonald’s commercial titled “Steppin’ Out”.
Michael Jackson had just happened on MTV and via Heavy Rotation, and many of us in advertising were jumping on the bandwagon like breakdancers McDonald’s weren’t going to be left out of anything happening that way this big, baby.
The production house- A1 with the quite resilient Hashima Rumjahn, simply known as Hash as Producer- had found the choreographer.
Stasch (Radwanski), who had only fairly recently begun directing television commercials, was behind the camera.
I believe the Director of Photography was the very much experienced film man from London- Joe Bruton.
Desperately needed were dancers- good looking young Chinese dancers able to, well, move in rhythm and were cool. Hong Kong was hardly New York nor LA when it came to dancers.
At the casting session, many professed to having conquered being able to dance the Moonwalk.
Many showed up insisting that they were breakdancers. I believe we ended up hiring stuntmen from Kung fu movies.
In all the excitement of producing our homogenised version of “Billie Jean”- “Thriller” was still some months away- the casting session was in full, well, kinda swing. Romy Diaz had produced the music track and I might have chipped in with some Jacko type yelps whilst clutching my crotch in the recording studio. Anything for art.
This was when Hash came up to me beaming. “You should see this girl who has shown up to be one of the dancers!”
This girl was a fresh faced 17-year-old named Maggie. She had returned to Hong Kong after having left for the UK when she was eight the day before and attending the University Of Edinburgh.
Maggie had an incredibly open and infectious smile, an accent that was slightly on the posh side, and, more importantly, she could more than Move Like Jagger or anyone else we could find in Hong Kong where usually the same old tired faces would show up for every casting session.
Here was someone NEW and whom you just knew was destined for bigger things than a McDonald’s commercial. Just to make sure we could have her for more commercials, she was tied down to appearing in 3-4 more spots.
We filmed “Steppin’ Out” at the McDonald’s in Aberdeen and which we were only allowed to do after the shop had closed for business.
It was also after we had made “nice” with the triad boys who controlled that area. They
kept us away from harm’s way, mainly harm they could inflict on us, and with Hash being able to speak fluent Cantonese being brilliant in her negotiation skills.
The commercial wasn’t exactly “high concept”. It was simply a group of friends snapping their fingers and dancing into McDonald’s and ordering their food, making some hokey moves at their table while eating their burgers and fries, and then dancing out into the early morning air at around 5am in the pretty rough area of Aberdeen on Hong Kong side.
It wasn’t long before Maggie- Maggie Cheung Man-yuk- placed second in the 1983 Miss Hong Kong Beauty Pageant competition and the film offers started to pour in.
She was a sweet, unaffected and very attractive and intelligent girl with the talent to be anything she wanted to be.
Movies were where she was heading and it wasn’t long before Wong Kar-wai was directing her in a groundbreaking Cantonese movies like “As Tears Go By” and “In The Mood For Love” opposite her favourite co-star Tony Leung.
When recently posting some of her photos on one of my company’s Instagram pages, I realised just how popular Maggie Cheung is- and not only in Hong Kong. Why not? She’s won numerous major international film awards for her work.
Seeing those photos were also a welcome reminder of a very different time in Hong Kong and the world.
It was a time in Hong Kong when we could step out and create whatever we wanted to do. The standards of everything were travelling in an upward trajectory and we weren’t restricted to those with whom we wanted to work.
We were stepping out without fear, without masks, and with no restrictions nor reservations. We were leading a life that’s so alien to many today.
We were extremely lucky to have been there when Hong Kong was cooking with gas and not when we were cooking our own goose. It was a time when everything was possible and we were guided by positivity.
I am extremely fortunate to say that I was one of the first people to have worked with the very lovely and talented Maggie Cheung- and in a McDonald’s commercial, no less.
It’s a big McDeal.