There is an unsung legacy to Union Film Enterprise. While the company’s contributions to Hong Kong cinema is well known, even mythicized, the role of its many affiliates had been largely neglected.
The founders of Union Film were famously dedicated to quality, devoting more time and funds than other companies to their productions. Their effort was deservedly rewarded both commercially and critically. But then reality sank in. The founders started to find their income reduced, result of their taking discounts payments and making less films due to the longer production periods and bigger budgets.
Meanwhile, offers were coming in for the founders, not only because they were good filmmakers but also because Union Film’s early success had made them even more marketable. The founders began moonlighting. They made spinoff productions with satellite companies, such as Artland Films, established by director Chun Kim; Zhulian, headed by director Chu Kea; Tsi Lo Lin Film Company, formed by actress Tsi Lo Lin and Hwa Lien Film Co by actor Ng Cho-fan and director Lee Sun-fung. The companies were referred to collectively as Zhonglian Xiaozu (aka Union Group), Union Film affiliates.
They were also commissioned to make films for other companies, such as International Distribution, an affiliate of Singapore’s Cathay Organisation. Other projects were made with companies not set up by the founders but which engaged key Union Film personnel.
The spinoffs, most with lower budgets and shorter production periods, do not meet the overall excellence of Union Film productions. Yet there are no lack of outstanding works among them. Hwa Lien's It was a Cold Winter Night (1955) and Xinglian's Sunrise (1953), for example, can rank with the best of Union Film. And The Lone Swan (1955) takes advantage of Cathay’s financial backing to not only go on location in Japan but also to realize one of the most formalized works of Cantonese cinema.
There are others which, despite their flaws, offer a sophistication not found in the mother company’s films, such as The Lady in Black (1953) and Her Fickle Heart (1954), both providing ambiguous depictions of romance, desire and la dolce vita; and Far Away (1954), with a rare and intriguing portrait of a man consumed by ambitions.
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