From the Editor
1) The early 1950s were a prosperous period for the Hong Kong film industry. Although new gimmicks came on stream in 1953, including 3-D and CinemaScope, a downturn occurred the following year as producers cut back on production in response to public apathy. Independent production took off, with the preponderance of so-called 'one-film companies' establishing themselves due to the support of overseas financiers. However, standards were generally not high. Adaptations of literary works, folktales, and Cantonese operas were so popular that they dominated the production schedules. The Union Film Enterprise Ltd's production of Ba Jin's novel Family/Jia (1953) was very well received by the public and its success led to a rash of literary adaptations. Folktales with historical backgrounds and Cantonese opera with folktale elements were predominant. Folktales had ready-made story lines suitable for the popular masses so much so that some companies made more than one version of the same story, as in The Story of Chung Mo-yim/Zhong Wuyan (1955) and Dirty Work for Chung Mo-yim/Youshi ZhongWuyan (1955). Melodramas dealing with family ethics were an important genre but writing such a screenplay needed a timeframe of half a year, while the script for a period piece could be concocted in three days.1 Cantonese opera films were produced because of the popularity of opera stars idolised by the audience. The opera film genre reached a peak in 1958 coincided with the slump of Cantonese opera troupes, resulting in a craze for Cantonese opera films featuring opera stars in the cast.2 Martial arts and fantasy films were also prolific, along with the development of comedies which took on a healthy course. Hong Kong cinema's first experiment in a huangmei diao operetta film The Borrowed Bride/Jie Xinniang took place in 1958. It wasn't until the early 1960s that the huangmei diao genre took off, in the hands of director Li Han-hsiang/Li Hanxiang and star Ivy Ling Bo.
The interlinking ties of Hong Kong films listed in this fourth volume of the Hong Kong Filmography (1953-1959) offer an overview of the structure of the industry. We can steal a glimpse of the technical development, the humanist concerns, and the market prerogatives of the Hong Kong cinema in the 1950s. Several facets of the industry are worth noting:
Films Not Released in Hong Kong
Certain films in this volume have never been released in Hong Kong. There are two main reasons for this: 1/ some films (mainly Mandarin films) could not secure exhibition dates in Hong Kong,3 2/ dialect films such as Chaozhou and Amoy films were financed by overseas Chinese and were generally targeted at overseas Chinese audiences.
Dialect films prospered in the 1950s. Mr Wang Qinghe mentioned that in the early 1950s, people jumped on the bandwagon to make Amoy films because they were so popular with overseas Chinese audiences in the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, and Taiwan. Even major studios such as Shaw Brothers (Hong Kong) Ltd and Kong Ngee Company wanted to carve out a niche in dialect films.4 Amoy films reached a peak of production in the late 1950s (over 20 in 1957, over 40 in 1958, and over 60 in 1959). The rise of Amoy films in Hong Kong influenced people in Taiwan to make their own Taiwanese-dialect (which is related to Amoy dialect) films.5
The Chaozhou-dialect cinema was the next dialect cinema to flourish. Influenced by the successes of Hong Kong's respective Mandarin, Cantonese, and Amoy film industries, a group of Chaozhou speaking businessmen set up Tuojiang Film Company in 1955 to make Chaozhou-dialect films. Chaozhou films came into popularity in the early 1960s, which was the golden era of Amoy and Chaozhou dialect films. However, by the mid-1960s, these two dialect cinemas came to a halt.
Talent and Technology
Independent companies came into their own in the 1950s in the period before the two major studios, Motion Picture & General Investment Co Ltd and Shaw, were established. The most famous of the 'indies' was probably The Union, established in 1952. Its inaugural film Family, released in January 1953, realises the idealistic ambitions with which the company was founded. The Union Film Group spawned other little companies or units, including Shanlian, founded by Cheung Wood-yau/Zhang Huoyou and Pak Yin/Bai Yan; and Hualian, founded by Ng Cho-fan/Wu Chufan and Lee Sun-fung/Li Chenfeng. Other companies of note include Zhili Film Company, founded by opera star Fong Yim-fun/Fang Yanfen, Overseas Chinese Films, founded by Cheung Ying/Zhang Ying and Tse Yik-chi/Xie Yizhi, Baobao Film Company, founded by Tang Bik-wan/Deng Biyun, etc. Popular film and opera stars who wanted stakes in their own productions founded companies of which many lasted only for the momentum of one or two productions, such as Law Kim-long/Luo Jianlang's Guozhen Film Company, Yan Jun's Golden Dragon Films, Li Lihua's Lihua Film Company, and Chen Yanyan's Haiyan Film Company, co-founded by husband Wang Hao.
Fine acting talent became the saviour of some of the most mediocre film productions. Stars like Ng Cho-fan and Pak Yin appeared in many films of dubious production value but were nevertheless distinguished by their performances. Big stars were proving to be too expensive and new companies sprouted in the mid-1950s purely to cultivate new talent with big productions and publicity machines.6 Sun Luen Film Company trained new talent such as Ting Lai/Ding Li and Chow Chung/Zhou Cong on the basis of 'artistic knowledge as well as improvised training'. Kong Ngee under Chun Kim/Qin Jian's management cultivated new starts such as Patrick Tse Yin/Xie Xian and Patsy Kar Ling/Jia Ling; Evergreen Motion Picture Company had Sheung-kwun Kwan-wai/Shangguan Junhui and Sima Wah-lung/Sima Hualong; Tai Seng Film Company had Christine Pai Lu-ming/Bai Luming and Wu Fung/Hu Feng; Liberty Film Company had Jeanette Lin Tsui/Lin Cui and Ting Ying/DingYing; Hsin Hwa Motion Picture Company had Peter Chen Ho/Chen Hou and Chung Ching/Zhong Qing; and Shaw trained Patricia Lam Fung/Lin Feng, etc. Although these new talent had their awkward moments to starts with, they became big stars in the 1960s, and some, such as Wu Fung, continue to be in demand event today.
As for the talent behind-the-scenes, directors of the calibre of Wang Tianlin underwent long years of training working in the studio system. Wang worked in all departments including sound, editing, script continuity, and assistant directing. Hsu Tseng-hung/Xu Zenghong began as a director of photography and went to Japan for further training under the aegis of Hsin Hwa (he apprenticed under Japanese photographer Kuribayashi Minoru). Xu left Hsin Hwa to join Shaw and was an important director of new school marital arts films in the 1960s and 1970s. Producers gradually learned to sculpt common film sources into films of different genres and styles, and had to learn all aspects of production, including artistic, industrial and commercial.
Hollywood pioneered technological breakthroughs in order to break the competition from television. In Hong Kong, on the other hand, deprivation of resources meant that technological breakthroughs had to be fostered by the dreams of film people. A self-confessed technological freak such as Kwong Tzan/Kuang Zan relied on his own efforts of experimentation, producing Hong Kong's first own indigenous 3-D film The Gold Hunt/Taojin Ji (1953) with his own special prismatic lens. Within a year, however, 3-D was no longer a novelty. The next gimmick was CinemaScope. Kwong Tzan again manufactured his own projection lens of Hypergona to make Mulan, the Girl Who Went to War/Mulan Congjun (1957).7 An innovative cinematographer like Ho Look-ying/He Luying also proved to be an indispensable asset for the industry. In My Life/Huashen Yanying (1953), Ho achieved the effect of four personas of Ouyang Shafei appearing in one scene.8
At this time, colour photography was just unfolding, and many films were partly shot in colour as an experiment, such as Hawaii Beauty/Tandao Jiaren (1953), The Heroine/Yang E (1955), and Moonlight/Yueguang (1956). Lacking capital, facilities and the technical personnel, many films were partly shot in colour, partly in black and white. Cooperation with foreign countries was one way of overcoming these limitations.
Zhang Shankun, the boss of Hsin Hwa, pioneered Hong Kong's cooperation with Japan in the area of colour photography and shooting in foreign locations. Zhang made Tokyo Interlude/Yingdu Yanji (1955) and Blood Will Tell/Haitang Hong (1955) in Japan. Later, Shaw took a more direct approach and hired Japanese directors and cameramen to make Mandarin films in Hong Kong.
The 1950s was the period when the Hong Kong film industry increased its transnational networks and contacts.9 Southeast Asia was Hong Kong's major film market and source of financing. Singapore's Cathay Organisation and Kong Ngee expanded their filmmaking business to Hong Kong. Many films were filmed on location in Singapore and Malaysia in order to increase the exotica quotient. Romance in Singapore/Xingzhou Yanji (1956, a production of the International Films Distributing Agency, a subsidiary of Cathay) was a Singaporean-based film. The Whispering Palms/Yelin Yue (1957) was filmed entirely on location in Singapore and Malaysia even though it was not financed by Singapore sources. Both films reflected the close ties between Singapore and Hong Kong. In addition, there were co-productions between Hong Kong's Golden City Film Company and the Philippines, such as Sarawak/Sheyao Dao (1955), and with Thailand (The Autumn Phoenix/Qiufeng, 1957, and Flame in Ashes/Dixia Huohua, 1958). Co-productions with Korea include Love with an Alien/Yiguo Qingyuan (Shaws, 1958), etc. These co-productions made an impact on production values and content.
Taiwan represented perhaps the most important transnational contact for the Hong Kong film industry. According to Tong Yuejuan, Hong Hong's pioneer of filmmaking in Taiwan, in October 1953, a group of Mandarin film personalities including Wang Yuen-lung/Wang Yuanlong organised a troupe to entertain the troops in Taiwan. This marked the first time that the Nationalist government had received a film team from overseas.10 The experience established the close relations between Taiwan and Hong Kong's film industry. Zhang Shankun had investigated Taiwan's potential for location filming and its cheap labour, eventually leading a crew to Taiwan in 1956 to make films of Taiwanese locality. Later the Hong Kong and Kowloon Cinema & Theatrical Enterprise Free General Association Limited was established (renamed Hong Kong Cinema & Theatrical Association Limited from 1997), paving the way for greater cooperation with the Taiwan film industry. The government in Taiwan provided tax and foreign currency initiatives to increase the rate of participation from Hong Kong film companies in the island. Taiwan was an ideal market due to its low capital requirements and big market. In the 1960s, producers such as Tong Yuejuan and Wong Cheuk-hon/Huang Zhuohan based themselves in Taiwan to make films. The close contact with Taiwan also led many stars, such as Julie Yeh Feng/Ye Feng and Diana Chang Chung-wen/Zhang Zhongwen, to come to Hong Kong to establish film careers.
2) In the process of editing the Hong Kong Filmography, we have encountered many problems in assembling and collating the primary materials. The objective in the Archive's publication of data from Hong Kong's film productions each year is to sketch an outline of the development of the film industry in the territory. This in turn lays a foundation for further research and study.
There have been four volumes published so far, covering Hong Kong's film production of the period before 1960. The industry developed into the 1950s and 1960s with a high rate of production, reaching outputs of over 200 films annually – a startling amount of films produced. To a degree, this high output reflected the prosperity of the industry. Beginning with Volume One, each volume offers a richer source of materials (even though individual films may lack complete data). The primary reference sources include newspaper advertisements and articles, film brochures and special issues, handbills, the filmographic records published in the Hong Kong International Film Festival's catalogues, records of film companies, film magazines such as The Great Wall Pictorial and Southern Screen, and specialised publications. About forty per cent (approximately 700 films) of the synopses contained in this volume are compiled based on audio-visual materials, sourced from collections maintained by the Archive, and from filmmakers and scholars. The Archive continues to look for extant copies of certain titles long thought lost. Synopses derived from copies of films are so noted in the volume. Films that are not supplemented by audio-visual resources must await future research.
There are many gaps that have yet to be filled. The Archive's publications plan is to run a parallel course in basic research and more specialised content. For example, we drew on the materials in the filmography volumes when we published The Age of Idealism: Great Wall and Feng Huang Days and The Cathay Story. At the same time, we were able to amend and add to the information in the filmography as we conducted our research for these two publications.
Volumes One to Three of the Filmography were published at a time when the Archive was still in its planning stages. The output of early production was quite limited and whatever materials of this early period that came into our hands were naturally considered precious and rare. All three volumes were published on the basis of one page per film title, with Chinese and English texts placed opposite each other. As we enter the 1950s, film production and their documentary resources now multiply immeasurably. Volume One (1913-1941) contains 582 titles, Volume Two (1942-1949) contains 438 titles, Volume Three (1950-1952) contains 587 titles, and Volume Four (1953-1959) contains 1,699 titles. It has become necessary to present synopses in Volume Four a more succinct way, as well as the credits. Each synopsis is limited to 150 words, supplemented with additional notes and comments from the cast and crew. We have separated Chinese and English editions. Since the opening of the Archive in 2001, the research materials of the published filmography volumes are entered into the system of the Archive's Resource Centre, for the benefit of researchers.
The most difficult problem in producing the Filmography was to verify the data. A title may contain conflicting information. Part of the verification can be worked out from understanding the processes and verities of the production system, and on this score, I would like to credit Mr Yu Mo-wan, Mr Law Kar, and Ms Wong Ain-ling for their expertise and suggestions. More valuably, we have managed to verify the facts with filmmakers active in the 1950s and 1960s. However, because of the passage of time, certain gaps and doubts remain unresolved. We have vigorously verified the data in several categories, as well as the names of personalities and film companies that appear in the indices. In this endeavour, I would like to thank Ms Winnie Yuen and Mr Po Fung for providing supplementary information, Ms Tong Ka-wai for verifying the variants in source content of Cantonese opera films and their originals, and Ms Liu Suet-wan for verifying the titles of original sources which in turn provide an insight into the transformation of literary adaptations by the film medium.
In producing this filmography, we have received the unstinting support of the Archive's Research, Acquisition, Systems, Conservation, Administration, and Programming sections, colleagues from the Resource Centre and a team of dedicated editorial staff. We thank Keyoung Information Ltd for supplying computer software and word input systems, TomSenga Design for services in page layout and design and for solving our many design problems. Thank you to one and all
1. See Cangsang Ke, 'Hong Kong Film Industry's Trends in 1957, Part Four' ('Yi Jiu Wu Qi Nian Xianggang Yingtan Dongtai Zhi Si'), in The New Evening Post, 23 December 1957.
2. See Xu Yifan, 'Hong Kong Film Market, 1958' ('Yi Jiu Wu Ba Xianggang Dianying Shichang'), in The New Evening Post, 19 March 1959.
3. Only 36 Mandarin films were released in 1955. Diao Litang wrote in an article 'More Mandarin Films Shelved' ('Guoyupian Duo Bei Xuecang') published in Sing Tao Jih Pao (30 August 1955) that there was a backlog of over 50 films awaiting exhibition in 1955. The main reason was that Mandarin film producers wanted to release their films in first-run cinema circuits showing Western films but such cinemas were few and far between and generally had limited dates scheduled for screening Mandarin films. Mandarin producers were reluctant to show their films in second-run cinemas or Cantonese film circuits.
4. Taken from an interview with Wang Qinghe, Hong Kong Film Archive Oral History Project, 29 October 2002.
5. The rise of Taiwanese-dialect films is a subject mentioned in Ding Boshen, Memoirs of a Filmmaker (Yi Ge Dianying Gongzuozhe De Huiyi), Taiwan: Asia Culture Organisation, 2000, pp 108-109: 'Hong Kong's Amoy-dialect films were generally not well received in Taiwan because of the language problem. There were certain anomalies between Taiwanese and the Amoy dialect. Taiwanese audiences were not used to the sound and that's why the films didn't do so well. Some people thought of dubbing the dialogue with the Taiwanese dialect…later, the people in the business thought that it too much trouble to dub, why not make our own Taiwanese-dialect films? … from The Story of Xue Pinggui and Wang Baochuan onwards, the production of Taiwanese-dialect films took off.'
6. See Li Ping, 'The Radical Transformation of Mandarin Production' ('Guo Pian Zhizuo Da Zhuanbian'), in Sing Sian Yit Pao, Thailand, 31 August 1959.
7. At the time, Scope films utilized a Hypergonar lens to squeeze the image, which was unsqueezed on projection by installing in the projector another set of Hypergonar lens. Since this technique utilized only existing equipment, it saved costs for both the producers and the cinema owners. On Kwong Tzan's indigenous efforts at Scope production, see Xue Hou, 'On Scope Films: Hong Kong Produces Mulan, the Girl Who Went to War' ('Tan Kuanyinmo Dianying – Xianggang Ye Zhi Cheng Le Yi Bu Mulan Congjun'), in Ta Kung Pao, 2 June 1957.
8. Though some photographic effects appear simple to produce, the practice needed an elaborate process. Lao sun in 'The Art of Separate Photography' ('Fen Pai Zhu') wrote: 'The film has to be halved, left and right (or top and bottom). While exposing the left half, the subject gives his or her performance. At the same time, the right half is carefully covered so that it is not exposed to light. When it comes time to expose the right half, the subject moves to the right and gives his or her performance. The left side this time is covered. After going through this process, the film registers an image of the same actor appearing on the same film. Because the film needs to be exposed to light two times, the background must not be altered. The camera itself must be rock solid.' Wen Wei Po, 13 October 1956.
9. For more on the subject of Hong Kong's transnational co-productions, see Law Kar (ed), Border Crossings in Hong Kong Cinema, the 24th Hong Kong International Film Festival Catalogue, Hong Kong: Leisure and Cultural Services Department, 2000.
10. See Tso Kuei-fang and Yao Liqun (eds), Tong Yuejuan: Memoirs, Pictures and Accompanying Essays (Tong Yuejuan: Huiyilu Ji Tuwen Zhiliao Huibian), Taipei: Council for Cultural Affairs of the Executive Yuan, and Chinese Taipei Film Archive, 2001, pp 103-105.