THE definition of 'ultimate' describes something as being 'the best example of its kind'. It is meant to imply that someone or something has reached its peak, and is therefore unable to get even better.
I'm not sure that applies to Karen Mok. In fact, after witnessing her scintillating performance last Saturday at the Axiata Arena in Bukit Jalil, Kuala Lumpur, I'm not even sure she has reached her peak yet, despite being in show business for more than 26 years now. But the fact remains that her first ever show in Malaysia is also her last, and it was close to THE ultimate performance Mok could have given at this point of time.
Part of her Ultimate Karen Mok Show world tour to celebrate her 25th year in showbiz last year, this tour is also meant to be a closing of a chapter in her career. Mok has said she will be temporarily retiring from touring and popular music in order to concentrate on other aspects of her career, which includes plans to produce a stage musical.
"Don't worry, I'm not retiring!" said the 49-year-old Hong Kong singer during an interview backstage after the concert. "I'm just letting go of the pop and touring side of my career, which is taking up so much of my time, in order to do other things, like acting and doing a musical.
"Producing a musical has been a dream of mine since I was a young girl, and now I'm finally going to have time to do it!"
Well, her passion for musicals explains why so much of her concert reminded me so much of one. The entire show was like a well-oiled machine (not surprising, as the tour has been going on for about a year now), and was seemingly divided into four 'acts' (not including the encore). Each act had an element of storytelling in it that shone a shining spotlight on Mok's multiple talents, from singing and dancing, to a little bit of acting and even playing the gu zheng Chinese traditional instrument.
Mok herself was like a shapeshifter, helped by costume designs that allowed her to morph from one character to another at the blink of an eye. The simple discarding of a cape or a sleeve here, the addition of a pair of shades or a wrap-around skirt there ... each little change in costumed helped her change from one character to another in between songs, helped also by her own considerable acting abilities and the slick stage production.
At one point, after singing the high-tempo Hei Mao Jing Zhang (Black Cat) in a sleek, black jumpsuit and cat's ears, she immediately transformed into a lonely chanteuse singing a mournful lament simply by letting down her long, bushy hair, and adding a skirt to the jumpsuit. That song, Ban Sheng Yuan (Fate Of Half A Lifetime), was for me, the emotional and vocal highlight of the entire show.
Later, she emerged sitting down in a blood red top with a mandarin collar to play the gu zheng for Yi Sheng Suo Ai (Lifetime Love), then just by standing up, the flouncy sleeves of the same costume transformed her into a feisty flamenco dancer for the Latin-flavoured Qing Yu Yi (Love And Loyalty).
With 25 years of hits under her belt, it was no surprise that she barely had time to get through half of her entire discography. Still, she managed to insert most of her biggest hits into the show, including ballads Ta Bu Ai Wo (He Doesn't Love Me), Man Man Xi Huan Ni (Growing Fond Of You) and Wai Mian De Shi Jie (The Outside World), to faster numbers like Love Yourself, and Jue (Ultimate).
There was also time for a 25 minute encore, in which Mok managed to do a bit of chatting. After explaining her desire to stop touring and her musical dream, she also announced that she has signed on to be an ambassador for the Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers (MyCat).
By the time she ended the almost two-and-a-half hour concert with a massive singalong of Hu Ran Zi Jian (Suddenly), I couldn't help feeling a little sad that we may not get to see Mok in this popstar mode in the near future. But at the same time, it's comforting to know that whatever she decides to do during her break from pop stardom, we can be sure that we'll be getting the ultimate Karen Mok each and every time.
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