Mandarin film classics “Mambo Girl”, “It’s Always Spring” and “Sun, Moon and Star” left an endearing impression on film buffs in the 1950s, their charm lasting even to this day. Evan Yang, the man responsible for them, was not only a film director and scriptwriter, but also a writer, journalist and lyricist. He was a man of letters well versed in the cultures of both East and West and a filmmaker with an indelible personal style.
As a contribution to the 33rd Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF), the Hong Kong Film Archive (HKFA) has organised a retrospective “In the Name of Love: The Films of Evan Yang” to showcase the work of this outstanding filmmaker.
A selection of 26 titles of Yang’s works produced from the 1950s to 1970s will be shown in 22 screenings during the HKIFF from March 28 to April 13 and 26 screenings from April 18 to May 17. All films will be screened at the Cinema of the HKFA.
The special selection includes well-known comedies and musicals produced for film company Cathay during its MP & GI (Motion Picture & General Investment Company) phase: “Mambo Girl”, “It’s Always Spring”, “Air Hostess”, “Because of Her”, “Our Dream Car”, “Happily Ever After”, and “Bachelors Beware”; and popular romantic melodramas “Forever Yours” and “Sun, Moon and Star”.
The programme also includes films directed or scripted by Yang for other companies: “Always in My Heart”, “The Little Girl Named Cabbage”, “The Beauty and the Dumb”, “A Torn Lily”, “Blood Will Tell”,”, “Halfway Down”, “The Girl with a Thousand Faces”. Works made during the last years of Cathay before the company halted production, “Springtime Affairs” and “Magnificent Gunfighter,”will also be featured.
To complement the screenings, an exhibition titled “In the Name of Love: Exhibition on Evan Yang” will be held from March 28 to June 7 at the Exhibition Hall of the HKFA, displaying archival photos, selected film footage and precious items donated and loaned by Yang’s family, including Yang’s personal diaries and calligraphic works. Admission is free.
The revised edition of the out of print HKFA publication, “The Cathay Story,” which was published in 2002 with in-depth articles and interviews, has been produced. The revised edition carries three additional interviews with movie stars Grace Chang, Kelly Lai Chen and Peter Dunn, a CD-ROM and English translations. The expanded edition together with a new book “Evan Yang’s Autobiography” will be released in a box set in late March to give readers a better insight into the memorable Cathay era in the Hong Kong film industry.
Two seminars will be held at the Cinema of the HKFA. Evan Yang’s children will share their memories of the director in “Evan Yang: The Man and His Work” at 2.30pm on March 29. Critics and scholars Shu Kei and Mary Wong will discuss “The Films of Evan Yang” at 4.30pm on April 11. Both seminars will be conducted in Cantonese. Admission is free.
Born in 1920, Evan Yang was raised on Chinese classics and later studied Western literature and acquired a fondness for Hollywood films. After graduation from St John’s University in Shanghai, he first worked as a war correspondent and editor for several newspapers and wrote eight novels and short stories. He entered the film industry as a scriptwriter in 1948 and his directorial debut “Notorious Woman” (1953) lifted the curtain on 40 subsequent features.
His early films were mostly sombre and melancholic, moods that resonated with the weariness of the post-war years. Joining MP & GI, he found a new voice in the modern city style and scripted and directed a series of charming musicals and romantic comedies that embodied the optimism of the 1950s. His capacity as a man of letters had equipped him well to keep pace with the times.
Yang’s early training in Chinese classics ingrained in him a yearning for idyllic romanticism. Always professional but never perfectionist, he was an artist of moments. He was in love with being in love and most of his memorable moments were those of a man and a woman engaging each other in the name of love. His films were often endearing and touching with moments that coalesced into a distinctive narrative voice. His films always had a personal touch, one of understated drama but stirring emotions. He died in 1978.
Joining MP & GI in the mid 1950s, Evan Yang entered the most memorable phase of his career with the production of some of the most endearing comedies of Mandarin cinema. His delicate touch for human drama shepherded “Happily Ever After” (1960) into a light comedy. The leading actress You Min was portrayed as the embodiment of purity and natural intelligence. Marked by sharp humour and wry humanity, the drama “Bachelors Beware” (1960) was filled with heartfelt emotions, embodied by Linda Lin Dai’s expressive performance.
His talent in celebrating the small things in life was amply displayed in “Our Dream Car” (1959). Much comedy is generated by the newlyweds’ obsession with the dream car and the struggle to make payments. Also displaying his awareness of the city beat was an earlier script work, “The Story of a Fur Coat” (1956), which featured the vanity and desires of the rising middle class.
The Mandarin musical classic “Mambo Girl” (1957) showcased Yang’s skills as a director and Grace Chang’s talent in song and dance. His success in the genre was probably a result of his training in poetry and his long-time tenure as a lyricist. The film was followed by productions of other wonderful song and dance movies like the memorable musical “Its Always Spring” (1962) with two of Mandarin film’s most sensuous stars Julie Yeh Feng and Helen Li Mei duelling to be the first lady of the club scene.
MP & GI’s first colour film “Air Hostess” (1959) depicted the glamour of the air hostess and the singing talent of Grace Chang. “Because of Her” (1963) was the final bow of Chang’s fruitful collaboration with director Yang. The eternal “Mambo Girl,” who quit the silver screen after getting married, essayed a divergence of personas as if offering a summation of her performance repertoire.
Yang was terminally romantic and directed several popular melodramas. “Forever Yours” (1960) was sentimental, even maudlin but also one of his deepest felt works. The box office hit, “Sun, Moon and Star” (1961), a love rectangle set in the turbulent times of World War II, was the closest Mandarin cinema came to producing its own version of Hollywood’s “Gone with the Wind” (1939).
His soft spot for romance was already evident in his early scripts. Starring Hsia Moon, “A Torn Lily” (1953) featured a woman fighting for the truth after being deserted by her husband. Based on Anatole France’s “The Man Who Married a Dumb Wife”, the comedy “The Beauty and the Dumb” (1954) is a story of a mute woman’s courageous acceptance of love despite her handicap.
Yang’s penchant for intimacy was on full display in “The Little Girl Named Cabbage” (1955). Instead of focusing on the corruption of the judicial system, Yang captured the tender feelings in an extra-marital affair of the heart but not the flesh with subtle details that expressed supple emotions heightened by Li Lihua’s brilliant performance with Beijing opera touches. Based on Yang’s own novel, “Always in My Heart” (1952) highlighted his strength in fostering intimate relationships and powerful emotions.
Well connected in the film industry and political circles, Yang also wrote uncredited scripts for film companies of different political ideologies. They included “Actress Pearl” (1956) for Great Wall and “Halfway Down” (1957), a rare film depicting the lives of refugees who fled to Hong Kong. He also wrote the story from which the musical “The Girl with a Thousand Faces” (1959) was adapted by an independent film company.
Yang was one of the first Hong Kong directors to work in co-production with foreign companies. In making “Blood Will Tell” (1955) engineered by producer Zhang Shankun, Yang experimented with Eastman colour technology. His “Madame Butterfly” (1956) was a Hong Kong/Japan co-production. The Taiwan road movie “Journey to Kwan Shan” (1956) was highly derivative of John Ford’s “Stagecoach” (1939).
MP & GI declined sharply in the mid 1960s after the death of studio head Loke Wan-tho. Its operation was eventually terminated by parent company Cathay. Many of Yang’s works suffered in quality during this period yet he managed to come up with a few interesting films like the melodrama “Springtime Affairs” (1968), with inspiring depiction of a love triangle, and the action film “Magnificent Gunfighter” (1970) with intriguing genre blending.
Tickets for all screenings are priced at $30. Half-price tickets are available for senior citizens aged 60 and above, people with disabilities, full-time students and Comprehensive Social Security Assistance recipients. Ticket arrangements for films screened during the HKIFF will follow those of the festival with postal booking from March 1 to 7 and at the HKIFF website from March 1 to 11. Counter booking at all URBTIX outlets and Internet booking at www.urbtix.hk for all screenings are available from March 12. Phone reservations can be made at 2734 9009 from March 13.
Some of the films have English subtitles. Detailed information and various discounts can be obtained in the 33rd HKIFF programme and booking folder or “ProFolio 46” distributed at all performing venues of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. For programme enquiries, please call 2739 2139 or 2734 2900 or browse the websites: www.filmarchive.gov.hk or www.lcsd.gov.hk/fp.
Ends/Friday, February 27, 2009
Picture shows a still of "It's Always Spring" (1962).
Picture shows a still of "Mambo Girl" (1957).