20A of HKFA

Symposium: ‘From Silent to Sound — Hong Kong Films of the 1930s and 1940s'

9/1 (Sat) 9:45am–12:20pm

Opening Speeches

Rowena Tsang
(Hong Kong Film Archive Head)
Law Kar
(Veteran film researcher and former Programmer of the Hong Kong Film Archive)
Sam Ho
(Veteran film researcher and former Programmer of the Hong Kong Film Archive)

Session 1: Film History and the Industry I

Moderator: Winnie Fu

Film researcher, curator and former Programmer of the Hong Kong Film Archive

‘Silent or Sound?' On the Importation, Production and Effects of Sound Films in China in the 1930s

Ching May-bo

Head and Professor of Department of Chinese and History; Director of Chinese Civilisation Centre, City University of Hong Kong

Ye Ruihong

An amateur screenwriter and film researcher

摘要 摘要 Abstract

In the first half of the 20th century, the road taken from importation to production of sound films in China was not a smooth one. In terms of investment, consumption, influence and aesthetics, people went from rejection and doubt to acceptance and adaptation. This change is closely related to the development of the production and projection techniques of sound films.

From the late 1920s to the early 1930s, some critics negated the value of sound from the point of view of the essence and aesthetics of film, while others believed that sound would help achieve realism, represent progress and they looked forward seeing further developments. Investors and producers in Shanghai and Hong Kong also swayed back and forth. The question ‘silent films, or sound films?' abounded; in the end, sound films won out and silent films faded into the background. The choice of ‘sound over silent' was profound in the development of film, actors and the fate of Cantonese films. Film, as an art form, began a fundamental change because of this decision.

The Dilemma and Metamorphosis of Hong Kong Film After the Outbreak of the War of Resistance (1937-1941)

Law Kar

Veteran film researcher and former Programmer of the Hong Kong Film Archive

摘要 摘要 Abstract

Between 1937 and 1941, the situation in and out of China underwent massive changes. The industry and aesthetics of Hong Kong film continued to change with the times. Under pressure from Japan, the UK, various Southeast Asian countries, as well as the leftist and rightest political forces from China, Hong Kong film had to compromise for the sake of survival, and also managed to turn crisis into opportunity. In keeping with market demands and political interference, the production and distribution businesses changed to new film genres and techniques, creating a ‘Hong Kong main melody'. However, those were also harshly criticised by those in political power and reviewers.

This paper will primarily discuss the evolution of Cantonese film from its burden of being a dialect film and subsequently being banned, to the political, economic and social origins of the sub-genres of ‘Patriotic Films', ‘Folk Tale Films', ‘Films with No Political Convictions', and to clarify on the ideals and actual situations of each. It will also analyse the concepts of women's rights, class, family morality and race, how they changed and were used to assemble and mobilise forces against the enemy. It will also examine filmmakers Hou Yao, Joseph Sunn, Tang Xiaodan, Ko Lei-hen, Wan Hoi-ling, Lui Lun and Lo Duen, the characteristics of their works and their contributions to the times.

The Dialectics of ‘Region' and ‘Country': The Structural Transformation of Hong Kong's Post-1939 National Defence Cinema

Chiu Kit-fung

Part-time lecturer of the Academy of Film, Hong Kong Baptist University

摘要 摘要 Abstract

This paper focuses on the transformation of Hong Kong National Defence Cinema (Guofang dianying, NDC) after Guangzhou fell in 1938, by which the cultural centre of south China moved to Hong Kong and led to a rapid increase in number of cultural associations and a craze for Canton (south-China) culture. This changed not only the conception of ‘home' (the place of living–where they live) and ‘homeland' (an imagined utopia–where they belong to) to the Hong Kong audience but also transformed Hong Kong NDC entirely towards a more realistic style, shifting its focus from historical imagination to migration mobility. NDC achieved great success in box office after 1939 and contributed deeply to Hong Kong social-realist cinema after the war.

Shanghai Origins of Hong Kong Film Directors Before the Japanese Occupation of Hong Kong

Po Fung

Film researcher and former Research Officer of the Hong Kong Film Archive

摘要 摘要 Abstract

It was only in 1934 that the annual film production of Hong Kong reached over ten films. The industry began to prosper thereafter. By that time, the Shanghai film industry had been in development for more than a decade. The prosperity of Hong Kong's film industry before the Japanese occupation was largely due to the arrival of film talent from Shanghai. Although the contributions of these Shanghainese coming south has been discussed previously, this essay will attempt, through a statistical analysis of the number of film directors from Shanghai and the films they directed, to evidence their widespread, deep and far-reaching influence on the development of Hong Kong films. Also, through different but important examples, it will analyse the different backgrounds, paths to success and method of working of the directors from Shanghai, to show the ways in which the Shanghai experience established the base of the Hong Kong film industry.

Tales of Exile: Postwar Shanghai-Hong Kong Nexus

Poshek Fu

Professor of History and Asian American Studies, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA

摘要 摘要 Abstract

The Shanghai-Hong Kong nexus had deeply influenced the cinematic developments of the two major hubs of Chinese-language cinemas since the onset of the Japanese full invasion in 1937. The nexus continued to intensify in the years after China's ‘bitter victory'. While Shanghai's film production industry became increasingly dependent on smuggled goods from Hong Kong, increasing numbers of filmmakers fled to the colony to escape the chaos of the ensuing Nationalist-Communist civil war. Among these exiles were studio executives who endeavoured to take advantage of the flexible border to strengthen business connection and increase flow of talents between the two cities. There were also film artists who took advantage of Hong Kong's colonial neutrality to project their political alienation into popular dramas of ‘Returning Home'. This paper attempts to map out the shape and extent of Shanghai-Hong Kong nexus in the postwar development of Chinese-language cinema.     

9/1 (Sat) 1:20-3:20pm

Session 2: Film History and the Industry II

Moderator: Sam Ho

Veteran film researcher and former Programmer of the Hong Kong Film Archive

Hong Kong Films in the 1930s and '40s and Japan

Kinnia Yau Shuk-ting

Associate Professor of the Department of Japanese Studies, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

摘要 摘要 Abstract

After the Mukden Incident, films about fighting against the Japanese began to emerge in Hong Kong. Just as the first anti-Japanese war film, Return from the Battleground (directed by Wong Toi, 1934), was shown in Hong Kong, Lo Ming-yau, director of the United Photoplay Service Limited, travelled to Japan with Moon Kwan Man-ching as commissioner, to carry out study on European, American and Japanese film industry. They toured Shochiku's Kyoto film studio, as well as what was claimed to be Southeast Asia's one and only colour film developing and printing laboratory, the Kodak colour film developing and printing centre in Japan. From this we can see, although the Sino-Japanese relationship was becoming increasingly tense, the film industries of China and Hong Kong were already borrowing from the Japanese film technology in concept and in action.

During the Japanese occupation, due to lack of resources in Hong Kong and the large number of anti-Japanese activists, the Japanese military held a suppressive and destructive rather than a constructive attitude towards Hong Kong in general and its film industry in particular. For example, the Japanese decree in Hong Kong, the ‘Regulations for Censorship of Cinematography Films for Entertainment', was extremely strict. It was very difficult for Hong Kong filmmakers to produce any films without violating the terms of the edict. The resistance by the filmmakers caused the Hong Kong film industry to draw a blank. In terms of drama films, there was only one, Hong Kong Conquered (directed by Tanaka Shigeo, 1942), which was Japanese-produced. This paper aims to discuss the entangled relationships between Hong Kong film and Japan, from the Japanese attack on China until the 1940s, to supplement a very important but little-known chapter in Hong Kong film history.

Dialect, Politics and the Media Mobilisation of Leftist Filmmakers: A Discussion of Ta Kung Pao (Hong Kong)'s Criticisms of Cantonese Films (1948-1950)

Su Tao

Associate Professor of the School of Liberal Arts, Renmin University of China

摘要 摘要 Abstract

Ta Kung Pao (Hong Kong) was one of the most important leftist newspapers in post-war Hong Kong. The film criticisms it published forms an important part of Hong Kong's history of film criticisms. Cantonese films were an important target of Ta Kung Pao. Critics made detailed analyses of the many facets of Cantonese films, including market, local characteristics, subject matter, style, and existing problems. They also focused on criticisms of the crude production values of Cantonese films as well as their backwards thinking in terms of themes (such as fantasy, eroticism, wuxia, feudal views, etc.).

These reviews triggered the third Cantonese film ‘clean-up movement' to occur. Critics conducted deep discussions on subjects such as the organisational style and production operations of Cantonese films, and rallied Cantonese film workers to flexibly adhere to their ‘united front' tactics. Generally speaking, the Cantonese film criticisms in Ta Kung Pao were useful in orientation of public opinion, turning around social morality, affecting creativity and winning people's hearts. They erased and cleaned up the impression that ‘Cantonese films are crudely made', suppressed the glut of subject matters such as fantasy, erotic, and folk tales. At least they instilled a certain positiveness into the industry. However, they also had some obvious faults. For example, the use of film criticism to directly serve a political goal, over-emphasis on substance at the cost of style and technique, and a tendency towards the mechanical and dogmatic.

A Preliminary Study of Hong Kong Documentary Films in the 1930s and '40s

Lee Daw-ming

Visiting Professor of the Academy of Film, Hong Kong Baptist University

摘要 摘要 Abstract

From 1914 to 1941, Hong Kong produced and exhibited over 90 non-fiction films. In the 1920s, the main production unit of these films was China Sun Motion Picture Co Ltd. After 1935 the main producer was Grandview Film Company Limited. Based on data in existence and the content of the films, this paper will attempt to explore the characteristics and background elements of Hong Kong documentary (non-fiction) films of that time. Over 60% of the total number of documentary films were exhibited between 1936 and 1938, which invites explorations into what subjective or objective factors, such as events and peoples, involved in causing the phenomenon. On the other hand, Hong Kong did not have the kind of government-sponsored documentary films advocated by John Grierson, who promoted them in other British (former) colonies. There must be a reason for that. After the Japanese occupation, the Japanese filmmakers produced The Birth of New Hong Kong (1942) and Hong Kong Conquered (1942). The latter is a propaganda film that combined dramatic and documentary elements. Tsi Lo Lin was the only Hong Kong actress appeared in the film. Japanese producers made her into an exemplary pro-Japanese Hongkonger for propaganda purpose. They sent her to Japan via Taiwan, and wrote My Personal Experiences in Tokyo, Japan in her name. This paper will briefly discuss that film as well.

Glimpses of 1940s and '50s Film Production and Distribution from the Tai Ping Theatre Collection

Priscilla Chan

Assistant Curator I (Programming) of the Hong Kong Film Archive

摘要 摘要 Abstract

Most films have to go through the processes of production and distribution before they are screened at movie theatres. Yet there are very few primary sources of information on these three interconnected steps in the production chain, as they often concern confidential information or the internal operations of film companies, and are therefore not widely disseminated. Most studies can only rely on oral accounts or secondary sources.

In 2006, the third-generation owner of Tai Ping Theatre, Ms Beryl Yuen, donated over 3,600 pieces of historical artefacts and documents to the Hong Kong Film Archive, most of which were from 1940 or earlier. A significant contribution to the understanding of early Hong Kong cinema, the collection is also remarkable in that it contains textual documentation of contemporary practices for film production and distribution, therefore offering valuable clues for further study and investigation.

This study will focus primarily on The Orphan's Rescue (1949), directed by Ng Wui and partially funded by Tai Ping Theatre. Through analysing over 100 pieces of material from the Tai Ping collection, the study will examine the processes of funding, production, equity distribution and film distribution of early Hong Kong films, further surveying the complex interactions between Hong Kong and overseas markets in the 1940s and '50s. It is hoped that these initial glimpses will lead to further studies and discussions. The Orphan's Rescue indicates that Tai Ping Theatre had extended beyond its original business of exhibition by venturing into the areas of production and distribution, putting into practice the business strategy of ‘vertical integration'.

9/1 (Sat) 3:40–4:40pm

Session 3: Film Music and Musical Films

Moderator: Angela Law Tsin-fung

Assistant Professor of the School of Arts and Social Sciences, The Open University of Hong Kong

Zhou Xuan and Chen Gexin in late-1940s Hong Kong Films

Yu Siu-wah

Scholar and musician. Formerly taught in the Department of Music at The Chinese University of Hong Kong and the Department of Cultural Studies at Lingnan University.

摘要 摘要 Abstract

This paper will examine several Mandarin films of the 1940s, including Forever in My Heart (aka An All-consuming Love, 1947), Orioles Banished from the Flowers (1948), Sorrows of the Forbidden City (1948), Waste Not Our Youth (aka Enjoy While Young, 1949) and Latecomer in the Snow (1949). Besides Latecomer in the Snow, the lead actress in all the films was Zhou Xuan. The music composer and songwriter for all the films was Chen Gexin. Zhou Xuan shot into stardom with Street Angel (1937), where her songs ‘The Wandering Songstress' and ‘Song of Four Seasons' created her image as an excellent xiaodiao (ditties) songstress. By the time of these films in the late 1940s, Zhou Xuan's singing style had changed considerably. Chen Gexin lived in Hong Kong from 1946 to 1950. There is not much written about his film music compositions nor his popular song creations. This paper will attempt to explore the characteristics of the Hong Kong film music of Zhou Xuan and Chen Gexin.

The Disunity of Body and Soul: Moral Anxieties in Postwar Hong Kong Song-and-Dance Film Portrait of Four Beauties

Timmy Chen Chih-ting

Research Assistant Professor of the Academy of Film, Hong Kong Baptist University

摘要 摘要 Abstract

Portrait of Four Beauties (1948), a Mandarin musical produced by Great China Film Company and directed by Hu Xinling in post-war Hong Kong, was seen as a major comeback for the ‘Four Sisters' and Hu. Portrait of Four Beauties starred Kung Chiu-hsia, Chen Qi, Zhang Fan and Chen Chuan-chuan, who had collaborated previously in Four Sisters (directed by Li Pingqian, 1942), a China United Film Company Limited production shot during the Japanese occupation of Shanghai. After their first film together, the four actresses became sworn sisters, and even partnered to open a café where they could perform onstage together as singers.

After the war, Hu was regarded as a ‘traitor' in the Shanghai film community because of his participation in the Sino-Japanese production, Remorse in Shanghai (1944), which he co-directed with Inagaki Hiroshi and Griffin Yue Feng. He and his wife, Kung, along with the other three actresses were therefore shunned by the film industry completely. After their café closed down, the sisters came to Hong Kong one after another to seek their fortunes. Upon release, Portrait of Four Beauties was unjustly derided as ‘a mere attempt to please the audience with singing and dancing'. In fact, the film exposes the moral anxieties of Shanghai and Hong Kong during and after the war, through the juxtaposition of fantasy and reality onstage and off, and the depiction of body and soul in disunity.

9/1 (Sat) 5:00–6:30pm

Session 4: Hong Kong ‧ Shanghai ‧ Abroad

Moderator: Emilie Yeh Yueh-yu

Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Lam Wong Yiu Wah Chair Professor of Visual Studies, and Director of Centre for Film and Creative Industries, Lingnan University

Lo Ming-yau and the United Photoplay Service Limited in the 1930s: Ideals and Setbacks of the Affiliated Company System

Lee Pui-tak

Honorary Professor of the School of Modern Languages & Cultures, The University of Hong Kong

摘要 摘要 Abstract

The 1920s to '30s can be regarded as a burgeoning era for the Chinese cinema industry. Marked progress was observed in terms of film production, distribution, screenings, market expansion, the amount of talent and fund invested, and the conception of film as the most accessible form of public entertainment. However, further development was stifled due to keen competition, political instability within China, as well as governmental controls imposed onto the film industry. Hong Kong had a relative edge in terms of fundraising, publicity, mobility of talent, importation of techniques and equipment, and non-existence of ideological control. It therefore attracted various film companies from the Mainland, one of which was Lo Ming-yau's United Photoplay Service Limited. In the era of opportunities and challenges, Lo attempted to turn the company into an ‘umbrella' of a number of affiliated enterprises and finally to become a giant in the film industry. Yet his efforts did not succeed in the end due to numerous reasons. This paper explores not only why the so-called ‘affiliated company system' made United Photoplay Service a failure but also Lo's tumultuous personal experience and the impact this created as a whole.

Paranormal Disruptive Forces and Melodramatic Twists: A Glimpse into the Cantonese Cinema seen by Chinese-American Audiences Based on Censorship Records of the New York State Archives

Kenny Ng

Associate Professor of the Academy of Film, Hong Kong Baptist University

摘要 摘要 Abstract

‘Sixty-three out of 2000 may not sound like a very large proportion, yet the 63 Chinese films, imported for showing in the United States, and puzzled over during the past year by the Motion Picture Department of the New York State Department of Education, were more than four times as many the number viewed in 1936.' In 1937, The Christian Science Monitor noted a surge of Chinese films—most of which Cantonese pictures—which were imported for showing in the US. By today's standards, it would be a significant number of Cantonese pictures that comprised 3% of the total number of movies (including films made in the US, Mexico, the Soviet Union, and the European countries) showing in the US theatres.

The film houses for screening Chinese pictures were located in San Francisco, Boston, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and New York. In terms of screen time, Chinese films usually run at midnight after the regular day's programme. But the report noticed that a New York theatre had recently inaugurated a continuous Chinese programme throughout the day and evening to entertain Chinese audiences there. The report also indicated the favourable subjects of patriotic films were realistic and tragic stories that could remind Chinese moviegoers of their homeland.

This paper is based on my preliminary findings of the censorship records in the New York State Archives. I shall discuss a few titles of Cantonese family melodramas with the ‘Occidental modern tendency' in dialogue with Hollywood's melodramatic tradition.

Japanese Film Viewership and Filmmaking in Hong Kong, 1930s to '40s

Han Yanli

Professor of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, The University of Tokyo

摘要 摘要 Abstract

In the two short decades between the 1930s and '40s, Hong Kong cinema was in its early, fledgling years and already, it faced a series of challenges: the ban on Cantonese films, the Japanese occupation of the city, etc. Defiant and undefeated, Hong Kong cinema found itself stronger than ever after such a baptism by fire. Indeed, post-war Hong Kong films flourished. Throughout history, Hong Kong has opened its arms to people of various cultures, backgrounds, ethnicities, and creed, and those turbulent years were no exception. The city not only welcomed overseas Chinese film professionals from the US and Southeast Asia, but also attracted acting talent and industry heavyweights from all over Asia to come visit and observe. This paper collects and analyses original, recently discovered Japanese-language sources in the attempt to create a picture of the viewing and filmmaking activities of Japanese film professionals in 1930s and '40s Hong Kong. It hopes to provide deeper insight into the history of Hong Kong and its cinema during this period through such a novel angle.

10/1 (Sun) 9:45–11:45am

Session 5: Filmmakers ‧ Film Studios

Moderator: Winnie Fu

Film researcher, curator and former Programmer of the Hong Kong Film Archive

From Silent Films to Talkies: Re-discovering Moon Kwan Man-ching

Stephanie Chung Po-yin

Professor of the Department of History and Director of the Modern History Research Centre, Hong Kong Baptist University

摘要 摘要 Abstract

Moon Kwan Man-ching can be said to be a legendary figure in film history. Originally hailing from Guangdong Province, he studied in the US and brought back western filmmaking experience to China. He had a life well-lived. During WWI, the US saw an influx of European filmmakers seeking refuge, who later played a crucial role in the establishment of the big studios and film companies in Hollywood. In that time, Kwan participated in the filming of Broken Blossoms aka The Yellow Man and the Girl (1919), witnessed the birth of talkies, and gained firsthand experience of American-style film business operations. He helped introducing film production equipment to Asia and assisted local innovators Lai Man-wai and Joseph Sunn in building the foundations of their film businesses. Combing through old periodicals and newspapers, this paper seeks to retrace Kwan's footsteps and to reconstruct the fascinating story of his life. His story is a reflection of many significant developments in film history.

From Unique (HK) to Nanyang Film Company — A Preliminary Exploration of Shaw's Films in the Pre-War Era

May Ng

Assistant Curator I (Research & Editorial) of the Hong Kong Film Archive

摘要 摘要 Abstract

Unique Film Productions was established in Shanghai in 1925, and in many ways, it was the rock upon which the Shaw brothers' later film career was built. Unique (Shanghai)'s 1933 Cantonese-language release, The White Gold Dragon, was a collaboration with Sit Kok-sin, maestro of Cantonese opera, and an adaptation of his famous stage production. The talkie was a great success in Guangdong, Hong Kong and overseas, and since then the brothers were keen to develop the Cantonese film market, thereby establishing Unique (HK) in 1934. Runde Shaw, the second brother, and Runme Shaw, the third brother, spearheaded such efforts by producing Unworthy of Love (1935); they also invited Cantonese opera superstar Pak Kui-wing to star in the film adaptation of his signature play Mourning of the Chaste Tree Flower (1934). But the former film did poorly at the box office. His eldest brother, Runje Shaw, thus took over the reins of Unique (HK). The company's second attempt proved successful. Mourning of the Chaste Tree Flower rode on star power and opened the doors for two subsequent years of active investment in Unique (HK) productions. After two fire accidents at Unique (HK) in 1936, Runje left his role at the helm, and Nanyang Film Company was instead founded that same year. Runde Shaw officially led Unique (HK) in the end of next year, and he remained in his role until 1941, when Hong Kong was invaded by Japan during the Sino-Japanese War.

This paper will examine the periodicals and media clippings of the era, as well as film copies and archival material collected by the HKFA from overseas sources, in the attempt to better understand the development of these two important film companies in the history of Hong Kong cinema. Specifically, it will look into how these companies broke new ground in areas of genre films, talents, film technology, and the overall business strategy of advancing the entertainment industry in order to stimulate the development of local cinema.

Nanyue's Production Strategies for Market Expansion

Stephanie Ng Yuet-wah

Guest Lecturer of the Academy of Film, Hong Kong Baptist University

摘要 摘要 Abstract

Chuk Ching-yin was one of the earliest local pioneers of film cameras and equipment. He was one of the first to develop sound-on-film cameras in Shanghai, but they were not widely adopted by his peers. Impressed by Hong Kong during a visit to the city, he decided to establish his Nanyue Film Company here. Chuk was passionate about the research and development of equipment, and was open-minded about the creative and production aspects of the films at his company. He welcomed and fostered a variety of talented professionals at Nanyue, empowering them to explore and create in a range of film genres. Under his helm, Nanyue's Cantonese productions sold for the highest prices in the early Cantonese cinema era. Nanyue's high-quality equipment rivalled that of overseas companies, and the company was also remarkable in its willingness to collaborate with international filmmakers. Thus, it attracted many overseas Chinese talents who lacked access to technology to join its ranks, who then went on to make films of various languages. Some even invited Nanyue to establish studio branches in their home countries. With the war raging on, Nanyue's technical superiority and openness made it the obvious choice for filmmakers migrating southwards. Indeed, the first-ever Mandarin production in Hong Kong, Sable Cicada (1938), was completed at the studio of Nanyue.

The Beginnings of Yung Hwa and Post-War 1940s Hong Kong Cinema

Kwok Ching-ling

Assistant Curator I (Research & Editorial) of the Hong Kong Film Archive

摘要 摘要 Abstract

At the time of its founding, Yung Hwa Motion Picture Industries Ltd (1947-1957) was poised to be a formidable player in the local film industry. It possessed the largest film set ever known in Hong Kong at the time, and had also amassed a great pool of talented filmmakers with different backgrounds and ideologies. Yet within two years' time, due to both internal and external factors, the company quickly entered into a downward spiral. Its turbulent fall from grace is somewhat a reflection of contemporary social unrest. No costs were spared for its first productions, The Soul of China (1948) and Sorrows of the Forbidden City (1948), which were then quickly followed up by a series of well-made films that responded to the trends and ideas of the time, such as Little Shrimp (1949). Through primary sources such as historical documents, interviews and first-person accounts from filmmakers, this paper will discuss some of the details involved in the business operations and production processes of Yung Hwa from 1948 to 1949. In doing so, it will look at the wider evolution of the Hong Kong film industry during this time, as well as the context and unique characteristics of Yung Hwa titles that were produced during such a period.

10/1 (Sun) 12:45–2:40pm

Session 6: Film Genres ‧ Aesthetics

Moderator: Lo Wai-luk

Retired Associate Professor of the Academy of Film, Hong Kong Baptist University; Chairman of the Arts Criticism Group of Hong Kong Arts Development Council

Genre, Socio-cultural Identity and Artistic Value: An Exploration of Hong Kong National Defence Cinema in the Pre-Occupation Era

Stephen Sze Man-hung

Retired Professor of the Department of Motion Pictures and Video, Kun Shan University, Taiwan

摘要 摘要 Abstract

In the period from Japan's invasion of China in 1937 to the fall of Hong Kong in 1941, a new cinematic genre emerged in local cinema: patriotic ‘national defence' cinema imbued with Hong Kong characteristics. Apart from certain sub-genre and genre characteristics inherent to national defence films, the genre also comprised other narrative modes, such as documentary, realism, and fiction. Produced in Hong Kong, they were subject to certain conditions and limitations that were a reflection of the times and society they belonged to. The films also highlight how their filmmakers perceived their political, cultural, and social identities. This paper seeks to explore the artistic value of these national defence films, such as how convincing their screenwriting is, their use of rhetoric, their use and meaning of realist narrative modes, their different narrative techniques employed, their use of film language, as well as their socio-political function and their role in enlightening the public.

Historical Period Dramas of the 1930s and '40s: Subversion and Return to Form

Joyce Yang

Film critic, researcher and programmer

摘要 摘要 Abstract

Period dramas of the 1930s and '40s were a revival of a genre popularised in the previous decade, but they shouldered an additional responsibility: cultural politics. Given the complexity of their political environment, period dramas, especially those of historical interest, were more than simple retelling of historical legends and stories, as one may expect from straightforward commercial logic. Instead, nationalistic narratives began to seep into traditional stories. For example, a tale of a beauty who uses her guile and her looks to save her country is told in a way that strongly asserts claims of national identity. History, in essence, is a text that is revisited time and again over the course of cinema history. Adapting historical stories not only enables filmmakers to distance themselves from reality and contemporary debates, but also allows them to allegorise and reflect upon reality through the depiction of power, gender, and other conflicts. With their ambiguity of meaning, period dramas of the time were like funhouse mirrors that distort old texts and narratives, but they also eventually restore order and balance. This paper focuses on period dramas of the 1930s and '40s, and explores how their narrative strategies and images of gender alternatively subvert and return to tradition.

The Hong Kong Nüxia Trajectory

Yau Ching

Adjunct Professor of the Centre for China Studies, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

摘要 摘要 Abstract

Wuxia and action genres have often been assumed as distinctive markers for Hong Kong cinema. However, Hong Kong Filmography Vol I (1914–1941) (Revised Edition) apparently reveals that the mainstream film genres of Hong Kong during 1914-1935 are modern melodrama and romance, with several comedies making sporadic appearances. There is almost no documentation found of any wuxia action film, with perhaps a few such as Memorial at the Pagoda (1934) which may contain wuxia elements. One had to wait until Hung Chung-ho accepted the invitation from Shaw Brothers' Unique (later renamed as Nanyang) to relocate to Hong Kong and made The Young Fighter (1938) for his own company. In contrast, record has it that there were some 50 companies in Shanghai making approximately 240 wuxia or ‘wuxia shenguai/martial arts fantasy' films between 1928 and 1932 alone, while the sub-genre of nüxia (re)produced a large number of screen heroines endowed with extraordinary body language and style distinctive from screen images of women from previous generations.

Hong Kong wuxia films have been discussed within the discursive framework of cultural nationalism, while the imagery of nüxia is usually evaluated according to its conformity to Euro-American feminist standards. This paper traces the career trajectory of Yam Pang-nin, one of the first generation wuxia directors, and that of his wife Wu Lai-chu, dubbed ‘The Oriental Female Fairbanks', from Shanghai to Hong Kong. Using several of their Hong Kong films of the 1940s as case studies, it seeks to further examine the characteristics and development of the nüxia sub-genre in early Chinese cinema, and explore the ways in which post-war Hong Kong cinema regained its strength through diversification.

North ‘Citrus', South ‘Poncirus': On the Art of Mandarin Films of Hong Kong from 1945 to the 1950s

Lau Yam

Film researcher, curator, founding member and board member of Reel to Reel Institute

摘要 摘要 Abstract

After World War II, a significant number of Mainland film professionals before and behind the camera left for Hong Kong for a new start in their careers. By 1951, Mandarin films in Hong Kong were already sizeable productions, and they evolved in the next 30 years into one of the key film categories in Hong Kong cinema, presenting themselves as a significant force to their counterparts in the Mainland and Taiwan.

This paper focuses on the foundational history of Hong Kong's Mandarin films from after the war to around 1951. By applying the lesser-used approach of film ontology, it analyses their narrative structures, stylistic qualities, themes and genre construction. At the same time, comparisons will be drawn with contemporary Cantonese, Shanghai Mandarin and Hollywood films, and related scholarship, to understand their mutual influence and their differences. Through this process, preliminary conclusions can be drawn about the art of Hong Kong Mandarin films in the post-war era, which also helps delineate the more conventional film genres and styles, distinguish the more unorthodox artists and their works, and also understand the way contemporary politics, cultural conflicts and paradigm shifts overlapped. It is hoped that this post-war investigation can inspire further studies into Hong Kong and Chinese-language film poetics.

10/1 (Sun) 3:00–5:00pm

Session 7: Transcultural Cinema ‧ Methodologies

Moderator: Kenny Ng

Associate Professor of the Academy of Film, Hong Kong Baptist University

Leo Tolstoy and Hong Kong Cinema: Cross-cultural Adaptations of Resurrection

Mary Wong Shuk-han

Associate Professor of the Department of Chinese, Lingnan University

摘要 摘要 Abstract

Some feats are unlikely to be repeated in Hong Kong cinema today. One example is adapting Leo Tolstoy's (1828-1910) Resurrection for the big screen for the contemporary Hong Kong market. Yet, looking back at cinema history, Resurrection was adapted four times, into both Cantonese and Mandarin productions: A Reborn Romantic (directed by Hung Chung-ho and Ko Lei-hen, 1948), A Forgotten Woman (directed by Griffin Yue Feng, 1949), Resurrection (directed by Chan Man, 1955), and An Unforgettable Night (directed by Richard Poh, 1958). This means that Resurrection has been adapted more frequently than Tolstoy's other masterpiece Anna Karenina, suggesting that the trope of a good girl turned fallen woman was more popular, or better-suited, to the cultural context of the time. This paper centres on the adaptations of 1948 and 1949, while taking into account other examples of cross-cultural adaptations. It seeks to explore interactions between Hong Kong cinema and world literature.

Research Methodologies for Hong Kong Cinema of the 1930s and '40s

Liu Hui

Professor of the College of Mass Communication, Shenzhen University

摘要 摘要 Abstract

This paper begins by looking at some two dozen Hong Kong films recently discovered and restored, as a way to further explore the conditions required for researching Hong Kong cinema. Film footage is the most important material for the study of film history, as it establishes an open text for analysis and discussion. Thus, film screenings are an excellent departure from the paucity of source materials and information for Hong Kong cinema of the 1930s and '40s. They also inspire further reflection on the comings-and-goings of early Hong Kong filmmakers and the artistic value of their work. Furthermore, this paper outlines the common challenges faced by Hong Kong and old Shanghai cinematic studies regarding the digitisation of film. It argues that the traditional method of collating information from filmmakers' journals and film magazines is flawed, and hopes that research methodologies based on historical structure can be established and formalised.

Seeing the Forest for the Trees: The Role of Active Imagination in Film Archaeology of 1930s Hong Kong Cinema

Lo Wai-luk

Retired Associate Professor of the Academy of Film, Hong Kong Baptist University; Chairman of the Arts Criticism Group of Hong Kong Arts Development Council

摘要 摘要 Abstract

When sound film technology reached China in the 1930s, it was quickly developed and adopted by the local industry. As a result, Cantonese films were popularised in Hong Kong, leading to a rapid expansion of the market. Hong Kong became a hub for Chinese-language cinema, and between 1933 (when the first Cantonese films were made) and December 1941 (when the city fell under Japanese occupation), over 500 feature films were produced in the city. Unfortunately, due to many external factors such as the war, fire accidents, and the lack of awareness around film preservation, most of these works are now lost. Only a dozen or so titles from that period remain. We can only reconstruct the synopses of the other lost titles through screenplays, dialogue scripts, handbills, brochures, newspapers or magazines of the time.

The study of film history and Hong Kong cinema culture is in dire need of the discipline of and challenges from ‘film archaeology'. For the past four decades, Hong Kong cinema culture studies has laid solid groundwork for the discipline by exploring and making connections globally. At the present stage, apart from simply collecting and inviting historical material, or engaging in film and textual analysis, we can also attempt to study the industry as an ecology or a production system. Using the limited materials we have on hand, we can open up our imaginations to construct the possible ‘cultural products that once existed, but have not re-appeared'. This paper will refer to multiple perspectives, such as comparative arts studies and structuralism, to explore Hong Kong cinema as a sub-system of wider Chinese cinema. It will study the dozen or so film titles from the 1930s and discuss them textually and structurally, so as to define angles or topics that are worth exploring further in the field.

10/1 (Sun) 5:20–6:30pm

Closing Speech

Betty Au

Chief Manager (Film and Cultural Exchange) of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department

Session 8: Roundtable Discussion



Law Kar

Veteran film researcher and former Programmer of the Hong Kong Film Archive

Sam Ho

Veteran film researcher and former Programmer of the Hong Kong Film Archive



20A of HKFA