During the postwar years, Southeast Asia provided a lifeline for filmmaking in Hong Kong in the forms of capital and market. During the 1950s and 60s, the need to cater for overseas Chinese hailing from different provinces propelled Hong Kong to become a major ‘dream factory’ which produced movies in Mandarin, Cantonese, as well as Amoy and Chaozhou dialects.
Have you ever imagined our Cantonese opera greats, such as Yam Kim-fai, Law Kim-long, Tang Bik-wan, Lan Chi Pak, would speak and sing in Chaozhouese? This is by no means a prank pulled by the film projectionist, but an outcome of the demand by Southeast Asia Chaozhouese population in the 1950s motion pictures that were dubbed in their native language. Such works were arguably predecessors of the bona fide Chaozhou-dialect films, their creators would also became the talents for this dialect cinema both behind and in front of the screen.
Hong Kong’s first Chaozhouese costume film, The Story of Wang Jinlong , came out in 1955. The female lead Xia Fan went on to star in a number of titles, acting somewhat as a driving force for the growth of the industry. In 1959, Dongshan Chaozhou Operatic Art Association came into existence, actively staging performances and readying itself for film production. The following year, Fang Qiaoyu, who once covered Cantonese operatic songs for Chaozhouese pictures, joined Dongsang and starred in Pearl Liu Thrice Tries Yu Zhi Lan (1960). But the real sensation didn’t come until May and June, 1960 during Guangdong Chaozhou Opera Troupe’s visit to Hong Kong, and Yao Xuanqiu’s star vehicle The Story of Sixth Madam Su (1960) that came to theatres soon after. Investment in Chaozhou film production thus became hugely profitable for Chaozhouese merchants across Hong
Kong and Southeast Asia. Even Goh Guan-siang, the Amoy film producer, also dabbled in the Chaozhou movie business.
Members of the Xin Tian Cai Chaozhou Opera Troupe, who first provided singing talents for Chaozhouese-dubbed films behind the scene, became hot commodities for film studios. Among them was Chen Chuhui, an actress who specialised in male roles and went on to earn fame far and wide. In a matter of years, Xin Tian Cai and Dongshan emerged as two major production teams of Chaozhou-dialect films. Their products became the tools with which Kong Ngee and Shaw Brothers, two major film
distributors in Singapore and Malaysia, contended with each other. Sadly, the
boom subsided soon from mid-1960s onward, leaving behind a filmography
of some 160 titles before it died down altogether.
Chaozhou-dialect film has long been a forgot ten page in Hong Kong cinematic history. Thankfully the Hong Kong Film Archive has acquired and preserved a small chunk of the films. This mini programme showcases local productions from different periods, including the Xia Fan-starring period piece The Scissors (1958) and modern
drama The Ill-Fated Flower (1958). Of particular note among the lineup are The Story of Sixth Madam Su (1960), a pioneering work considered by many as Chaozhou dialect film at its best, as well as A Woman Sues Her Own Husband (1961) by the Guangdong Chaozhou Opera Youth Troupe, a trendsetter in terms of music, acting, and production. In 1960, Xin Tian Cai brought out A Wronged Daughter-in-Law based on Guangdong Chaozhou Opera Troupe’s maple work of the same name, starring the hardto- see combo of famed actor Cheung Ying-yin, and Zeng Shanfeng, a Chaozhou opera diva from Thailand.
Also in the lineup are three titles by actress Chen Chuhui, a homegrown xiaosheng (young male roles) widely regarded as Chaozhou opera’s best. These include her celebrated collaboration with Fang Qiaoyu The Red-Haired Steed (1963), and two colour films Fairy Pearl (1963) and Mermaid Story (1965). Two works by the equally famous xiaosheng actress Chong Suet-kuen from the Dongshan Troupe are also featured, including comedy Wife in Disguise (1963), and the Shaw Brothers–Dongshan collaboration The Perfumed Ball (1963). The latter, in which Chong played two roles, is a major blockbuster with a stellar cast featuring Fang Qiaoyu, Chen Wenchang, Ding Chuqiao, Lin Jingyi, among others.
~ May Ng
Editor of The Chaozhou-dialect Films of Hong Kong
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.