Pop star Leslie Cheung shines like never before with the use of AI

Hong Kong pop legend Leslie Cheung's tour titled Passion, regarded as his most memorable and pioneering performance, was remastered with artificial intelligence to the joy of fans all over.


Leslie Cheung (PHOTO / MTIME / XINHUA)

April 11, 2022

BEIJING – In 2000, Hong Kong pop legend Leslie Cheung launched Passion, a worldwide tour. This is unanimously regarded by his legion of fans as his most memorable and pioneering performances. With 43 concerts, he also worked as the tour’s artistic director and collaborated with French fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier, who designed all eight costumes for Cheung.

Passion was Cheung’s last tour. He committed suicide by leaping from a hotel room in Hong Kong on April 1, 2003. He was 46 and reportedly plagued by emotional problems. Various commemorative events are held every year on April 1. Fans across the world still leave flowers outside the hotel every year to pay tribute to Cheung.

The improved visual quality makes it possible for viewers to appreciate details, such as Leslie Cheung’s hair, eyes and the outline of his face under dim lights, which was obscured in the original video

Cheung’s last concert of his Passion tour has been remastered by using artificial intelligence. On April 1, the video, produced by Tencent Media Lab, a multimedia research and development unit under China’s internet and technology company Tencent, was released at 8 pm online. It attracted about 17 million viewers. In the video, which runs for about two hours, the singer performs 24 songs, both in Cantonese and Mandarin, including hits such as MonicaTogether and I Am What I Am.

This restored Passion concert was enthusiastically greeted by fans. “Thanks to the technology, showing the magic of transcending time, this is as good as seeing him in person. He is a legend forever,” commented a fan who left messages online while watching the video. “It’s such a great time to watch him singing all those old songs, which takes me back to the year of 2000,” wrote another fan. “He will always be remembered.”

The video is from the original copy of the concert provided by the music label PolyGram Records. According to Xia Zhen, a Tencent researcher, who was among the team enhancing the video, the project started only a month ago. It has been given a nearly 4K resolution, and the sound and images have been upgraded.

“We’ve restored many old photos, movies and TV dramas with the latest technology. Concerts are relatively new to us,” says Xia. “With lights, colors and movements onstage, restoring concerts is very different from photos, movies and TV dramas. For example, when frequent lights change, the colors on the faces of the artists onstage change as well.”

For Xia, who has been a devoted fan of Cheung, it was an honor to restore such a classic.

“I’ve been listening to his songs since I was a middle school student. I bought lots of CDs of Cheung but never watched his concerts. This project allowed me to gain a fresh understanding about this artist,” Xia adds.

The improved visual quality makes it possible for viewers to appreciate details, such as Cheung’s hair, eyes and the outline of his face under dim lights, which was obscured in the original video.

“What we tried to do was to keep Cheung’s own artistic expression,” he says. His team used technology to detect, repair and enhance the singer’s facial features.

Born in Hong Kong, Cheung launched his show biz career after winning second prize at the Asian Amateur Singing Contest sponsored by a TV company in 1977 by performing American singer-songwriter Don McLean’s song, American Pie. Later he signed a contract with the TV company to sing and act in TV productions.

As a singer, he built up a large fan base and won awards with his songs, such as The Wind Blows On and Monica. As an actor, he also achieved great success with roles in movies, including Farewell My Concubine directed by Chen Kaige, A Better Tomorrow directed by John Woo and Days of Being Wild directed by Wong Karwai.

“It’s the first time that the singer’s concert has been remastered. We believe this content deserves to be seen by more people, and fans’ love for the legendary star motivated us to do just that,” says Li Songnan, director of video technology at the lab. “Hopefully more of his works will be remastered to share with today’s audiences.”

Tencent is among a growing group of technology companies in China using the latest technology such as AI and VR to restore old photos and videos.

Li says the goal is to bring an immersive experience to the audience and maximize the clarity of the original photos and videos.

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