60 Years of Movie Glory:
From Great Wall, Feng Huang, Sun Luen to Sil-Metropole
The Mission: Sun Luen Films
Great Wall, Feng Huang and Sun Luen, before they merged to form Sil-Metropole Organisation Limited, constituted a major presence in Hong Kong cinema in the 1950s and 1960s. Formed at a time when the Hong Kong film industry was quickly rebuilding after the war, these companies played major roles in the definition of our post-war cinema.
With the support of Sil-Metropole Organisation, the Hong Kong Film Archive is organizing this program to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the company, which officially started in 1950. We had mounted in 2001 and 2002 a major retrospective of the company’s work, The Progressive Tradition, focusing mostly on the Mandarin films of Great Wall and Feng Huang. This time, we will concentrate on the studio Sun Luen, which specialized in Cantonese films.
Sun Luen was formed in 1952, at a time when the Cantonese cinema was ready for change. Outcries had come from both inside the industry and out to clean up its act. The company recruited the best filmmakers to work on its projects, directors and writers like Lee Sun-fung, Chun Kim and Tso Kea and stars like Cheung Ying, Pak Yin and Ng Cho-fan. The actor-writer-director Lo Dun was the most active filmmaker among them, taking part in almost every film, often in multiple capacities.
With its first few releases, The Prodigal Son (1952) and Mutual Understanding (1954) for example, the company quickly established itself as an outfit devoted to quality. It went on to groom a generation of younger filmmakers, especially actors, the likes of Pak Yan, Jiang Han and Ng Sau-fong. It became known as one of the Four Big Companies of Cantonese cinema, together with Union Films, Kong Ngee and Overseas Chinese Films, all of which formed after Sun Luen and influenced by it, one way or another.
Sun Luen, along with Great Wall and Feng Huang, proudly wore the Progressive or Left-wing label during its days, maintaining close ties with China. Much of its work is informed by this relationship. A clearly stated ideological stance is avoided in the films, focusing instead on the problems facing the poor and the working class, paying special attention to the characters and the lives they live. The social realism approach results not only in intimate portrayals of the people but also a strong sense of place with a Hong Kong that was going through rapid changes.
Sun Luen was prolific in its first years, but production dropped drastically after the Cultural Revolution. Still it had produced over 100 films. The titles in this program represent only a fraction of the total output, but we hope it will provide a meaningful glimpse into this important company.
A Sampling of Sil-Metropole Films
Sil-Metropole was officially established in 1982 by consolidating Great Wall, Feng Huang, Sun Luen and several smaller companies. Since then, it had been active in supporting up-and-coming directors, often backing films of no ready commercial appeal. Herman Yau, a major filmmaker with over 70 titles to his credit, got his directing start at Sil-Metropole with the film No Regret (1987). So did Lawrence Lau (then known as Lawrence Ah Mon), a director renowned for edgy pictures, with Gangs (1988). Other directors like Ann Hui, Stanley Kwan, Jacob Cheung and Lee Chi-ngai were able to make key films of their careers with the backing of the company. The Hong Kong Film Archive is presenting this sampling of Sil-Metropole films to acknowledge the company’s contributions in grooming young talents and supporting adventurous projects.