Griffin Yueh Feng (1909-1999) was one of the most important figures in Chinese cinema from the 1930s to the 1970s. A young writerdirector influenced by a surge of new literary movements in the late 1920s and 30s, Yueh moved to Hong Kong from Mainland China and became one of Hong Kong cinema’s masters in the post-Civil War era. Through his 40-year career, Yueh has made over 100 films for multiple studios, covering a wide range of genres. Today, Yueh's works serve as important documents for the study of Hong Kong and China cinema histories.
Early in his career, Yueh made his name in Shanghai as a progressive filmmaker when left-wing culture swept the industry. However, Yueh's works were never confined to certain ideologies. Instead, he made film according to his own temperament and the studios he worked for. In the 1950s, Yueh made several films for Great Wall Movie Enterprises that embrace the arrival of "New China".
However, when he left Great Wall, Yueh began making melodramas, romantic comedies, Huangmei Diao (Yellow Plum Tunes) films and even martial arts films. For example, Sexy Devil (1939) and A Forgotten Woman (1949) were made exactly ten years apart, but audiences can see Yueh’s sensibility toward the naiveté of human beings and the inadequacies of his motherland. He also has the ability to objectively analyse human nature.
A humanist instead of an ideologist, Yueh exceled in creating drama from tensions among his characters. The young characters in his films often made sacrifices in line with traditional values, despite their will to take charge of their own destinies.
Yueh saw family as a microcosm of the changing society and culture and believed that families remain one of the most powerful forces in modern society. He believed that families should protect children, but not to the point of shutting them off from the real world. As he showed in The Deformed (1960) and Auntie Lan (1967), each person should mature by experiencing the various injustices in society. Yet, Yueh's stance doesn't mourn the death of tradition, but rather places hope in the future.
In addition to a broad variety of themes with strong scripts, Yueh was also highly acclaimed for his directorial skills. He was able to effortlessly jump between genres and bring fresh ideas that made his films slightly off-kilter. His camera moved elegantly through his intricately designed frames, showing a strong directorial voice that was also very delicate. He was perhaps one of the very few filmmakers who could film action scenes in a dramatic style and direct drama with the kinetic energy of an action film. Unfortunately, scholars of Chinese cinema, who mainly focused on themes, stories and actors in their research, often overlooked Yueh and his unique directorial style.
This retrospective showcases a selection of films Yueh made in Hong Kong. Through this treasure chest of Yueh's works, audiences and scholars can witness the changes that Chinese and Hong Kong cinemas underwent over the years, showing us the important role Griffin Yueh Feng played in both Hong Kong and Chinese cinema.
Griffin Yueh Feng:A Short Biography
Born under the name Da Zichun, Yueh Feng – called “Master Yueh” by his peers in the film industry – was born in Shanghai in 1909. In the early 1930s, Yueh found fame in the Shanghai film industry as the director of Angry Tides of China's Seas (1933) and Taking Flight (1935). His best-known works from that period covered various genres, including crime film Map of Treasures (1936), the film adaptation of stage play Sunrise (1938) and tragic drama Sexy Devil (1939). At the same time, he also worked as a scriptwriter. During the Sino- Japanese war, Yueh continued to work in occupied Shanghai under China United and Huaying Pictures Corporation. After the war, Yueh moved to Hong Kong and joined Great Wall Pictures Corporation and directed classics like A Forgotten Woman (1949), Blood Will Tell (1949) and Home, Sweet Home (1950). In 1953, Yueh established Dafang Film Company and directed A Love Story (1954). As an important early figure in Motion Picture & General Investment Co. (now known as Cathay), Yueh directed hits like Golden Lotus (1957), The Battle of Love (1957) and For Better... For Worse (1959). Even after switching to MP & GI’s main competitor Shaw Brothers, Yueh consistently produced acclaimed works. He picked up Best Screenplay prizes for dramas The Deformed (1960) and Bitter Sweet (1963). In Huangmei Diao (Yellow Plum Tunes) films Madame White Snake (1962) and Lady General Hua Mulan (1964), Yueh effectively combined the stage art with cinematic techniques. In The Swallow Thief (1961) and Revenge of a Swordswoman (1963), Yueh infused a rare sense of reality into the action genre.
While Yueh made action films like The Vagabond Swordsman (1968) and The Bells of Death (1968) as a new wave of action cinema began gaining popularity in the 1960s, he also made humanist dramas like The Younger Generation (1970) and Sons and Daughters (1971) during the same period. Yueh’s final film released to the public was Village of Tigers (1974). In 1991, the director received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Hong Kong Film Directors' Guild. Yueh passed away in Hong Kong on 3 July, 1999.
This screening programme is guest-curated by film researcher Lau Yam
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.