Master of Versatility: Lee Tit
Lee Tit had a reputation. He was known for being slow, taking his time when directing. He was also known for his dedication, carefully preparing everything to his satisfaction. Such perfectionism was ahead of its time, but it earned Lee a reputation as one of Cantonese cinema's top directors.
Versatility describes almost every director of the 1950s and 1960s, as they were required to make films in different genres and in different modes. But Lee was both versatile and good. He was responsible for some of the best Cantonese opera films in history, The Legend of Purple Hairpin and Butterfly and Red Pear Blossom, both of 1959, for example. He also made some of the most memorable social realist films, like In the Face of Demolition (1953) and Father is Back (1961). And Eternal Love (1955) is one of the best melodramas in a history marked by outstanding melodramas.
An unsung accomplishment of Lee is his excellence in genre films, a much neglected, even maligned, area of Cantonese cinema. The Three Murderers (1959) and We want to Live (1960) are two of the best crime films of their times. The Warlord and the Beauty (1956) is an exceptional blend of action thriller and musical drama and Love at First Sight (1967) is a smart, witty rendition of the Bond-influenced jewel-thief flick.
Many established directors had great problems adjusting to the drastic changes in society during the 1960s, but Lee managed to turn out some brilliant works, such as The Ill-fated Girl (1963) and Painstaking Lovers (1964), both offering inspired, unexpected revisions of familiar stories.
Lee was well versed in the vocabulary of film, which he animated into effective and of ten powerful storytelling. Operating largely in the classical Hollywood mode, he was skillful in using compositions to establish drama and camera movements to bring out emotions, the latter expensive and time-consuming for Cantonese cinema and thus not frequently employed by others. This mastery of mise-en-scene was perfectly complemented by an editing touch that orchestrates layers of development, with a pacing more agile than most of his peers.
Trained early in acting, Lee worked well with actors, especially actresses. This attribute went hand in hand with his sensitive portrayals of women. From maidens of turbulent fate to daughters of strong personalities to women of ambiguous morals, Lee captured his characters in sympathetic, evocative nuances, all the while coaxing gripping performances from his leading ladies.
The Hong Kong Film Archive is proud to present this program on Lee Tit. Unfortunately, some of the titles in Lee's oeuvre are unavailable due to various reasons and it is our sincere wish that someday, a more complete showcase of this great director can be staged.
This programme is guest curated by film critic Thomas Shin.
The contents of the programme do not represent the views of the presenter.
The presenter reserves the right to change the programme should unavoidable circumstances make it necessary.