This hauntingly beautiful song is the unofficial anthem of the Hong Kong democracy protest movement:
The title of the song is "Boundless Oceans Vast Skies" (hoi2 fut3 tin1 hung1 海闊天空) (" as boundless as the sea and sky; unrestrained and far-ranging"). It is performed by the Hong Kong rock band Beyond.
This video brings tears to my eyes and sends chills up my spine every time I watch it, not only because of the sentiments it expresses and the pure emotion of the voices, but especially because of the knowledge that the lead singer, Wong Ka Kui, died in a tragic stage accident in Tokyo at the peak of his and the band's career. This happened on June 24, 1993, just a month after the release of this epochal song.
Along with umbrellas and yellow ribbons, "Boundless Oceans Vast Skies" (hoi2 fut3 tin1 hung1 海闊天空) has achieved iconic status within the democracy movement. (See: "Icons of protest: Hong Kong's new symbols of freedom.") Here are the lyrics.
Let us turn to some linguistic aspects of the song.
Of course, the pronunciation is Cantonese, but to what extent are the grammar and vocabulary of the song also Cantonese?
The answer is nil. The subtitles indicate the song's vocabulary and grammar are written in standard Chinese which is regarded as the appropriate high (poetic) register for some songs. The subtitles have included such standard Chinese characters as bat1 不 (negative particle), liu5 了 (particle of completed action), naa6 那 (distal demonstrative), ze3 這 (proximal demonstrative), all of which have corresponding Cantonese forms that are commonly used in colloquial or casual speech.
I'd like to focus on a particularly poignant line of the song which recurs at 2:22, 3:34, 3:46, and 4:12): bui3hei3 liu5 lei5soeng2 背棄了理想 ("abandoning [one's] ideals"). My attention was drawn to this line because I saw it translated in various places as something like "giving up one's dreams", which gets into a whole other realm, that of mung6[soeng2] (Cant.) / mèng[xiǎng] (Mand.) 夢[想]. See:
None of this dream talk has anything to do with what "Boundless Oceans Vast Skies" (hoi2 fut3 tin1 hung1 海闊天空) is about.
By the way, I noticed written on the wall behind the singers in the video the phrase ngo5 dei6 aa3 我哋呀 ("we / us!"). Now that is real Cantonese!
As a Hong Kong friend who grew up with Beyond puts it:
…not only is this a super famous HK song, it is also one of the all-time most requested songs in KTV all across China. Non-Cantonese speakers would sing this song in Cantonese (although the pronunciation isn't exact…)
The grammar and vocabulary of the song are not Cantonese, but standard shūmiàn / syu1min6 书面 ("book; written") Chinese, but may not be 100% "Mandarin" (I can't tell, some wordings might sound / feel "awkward" to a Mandarin speaker perhaps?).
"Boundless Oceans Vast Skies" (hoi2 fut3 tin1 hung1 海闊天空) speaks to the hearts of Hongkongers for all of the reasons mentioned above, but particularly because its pronunciation is in Cantonese. Yet the song also touches all Chinese because it is written in the standard book language shared by speakers of all the topolects.
In the context of the Hong Kong democracy protests, perhaps the most powerful phrase in the song is the repeated oi3 zi6jau4 愛自由 ("love freedom"). This resonates with the sentiments of the students at the barricades when they face tear gas and pepper spray. I suspect that it, and the song as a whole, will sustain them right to the end of the present confrontation.
[Thanks to Robert S. Bauer and Mandy Chan]