Joseph Koo Composer of “A Better Tomorrow” Dies at 91

Joseph Koo, who was one of the most important music composers during the golden age of Hong Kong movies, has died in Vancouver, Canada. He was 91.

Local news sources say that he died on Tuesday, January 3, 2023, but they don’t say why. Koo Ka-Fai was born in Guangzhou, China, on February 23, 1931. In 1948, he moved to Hong Kong with his scholarly and musical family from mainland China.

Koo worked in Hong Kong’s film, TV, and pop music industries for a long time. Even though he moved to Canada in the 1990s, he kept in touch with the Hong Kong business world.

As a child, Koo learned to play the piano and wrote songs for his famous recording artist sister, Koo Mei. Later, he became a performer and band leader. He played at the Luk Kwok Hotel in Hong Kong, among other places.

His first song for a movie was “Dream,” which was sung by his sister in the Shaw Brothers movie “Love Without End” in 1961. Due to the success of the movie and the song, Hong Kong movie mogul Sir Run Run Shaw paid for him to study music at Berklee College in Boston, U.S.

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When Koo went back to Hong Kong, he worked for the Shaw Brothers companies. For his work on the 1965 musical comedy “The Dancing Millionairess,” which was made by the Shaw Brothers, he won a Golden Horse Award, which is the most prestigious award in Chinese language cinema.

There, he wrote the music for “Fist of Fury” and “Way of the Dragon,” two of Bruce Lee’s six movies. Koo was given the job of TVB’s musical director in 1973. He kept that job until he left the territory, which was a long time.

While he was there, he made the scores and theme songs for movies like “Shanghai Bund” in 1980, as well as the theme songs for the TV shows “The Legend of the Condor Heroes” and “Five Easy Pieces,” which are now considered all-time classics.

He also wrote the theme song for the TV series “Below the Lion Rock,” which many people still consider Hong Kong’s unofficial anthem. He also wrote the theme songs for John Woo’s two “A Better Tomorrow” movies.

Koo wrote songs for the movies “Cut Sleeve Boys” by Ray Yeung in 2006 and “Ash Is Purest White” by Jia Zhangke in 2017. Many national and international awards were given to Koo for his work and career. In 1982, the British government gave Koo the MBE.

Hong Kong has been ruled by China since 1997. Koo was given the Bronze Bauhinia Star in 1988 and the Gold Bauhinia Star in 2015. In 2010, the Hong Kong Arts Development Council gave him the Life Achievement Award at the Hong Kong Arts Development Awards.

“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 released on Wednesday.

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