Grace Chang's "Mambo Girl" and "Our Dream Car", Julie Yeh Feng's "It's Always Spring" and Lucilla You Min's "Happily Ever After" are only few of the endearing films directed by Evan Yang, a man of letters and a filmmaker with an indelible personal style. A total of 26 titles of his work will be screened from March 28 to May 17 at the Cinema of the Hong Kong Film Archive (HKFA).
Counter bookings for the retrospective "In the Name of Love: The Films of Evan Yang", which is also HKFA's contributory programme to the 33rd Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF), are now open at all URBTIX outlets.
Yang was not only a film director and scriptwriter, but also a novelist, journalist and lyricist. Born in 1920, Yang was raised on Chinese classics and later studied Western literature and acquired a fondness for Hollywood films. A respected newspaper editor and writer before entering the film industry, he debuted as a director with "Notorious Woman" (1953).
His early films were mostly sombre and melancholic, with moods that resonated with the weariness of the post-war years. He later joined MP & GI, where he found a new voice in the studio's 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 and a personal touch of understated drama but stirring emotions.
The screenings in the retrospective include 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", "Our Dream Car", "Happily Ever After", and "Bachelors Beware"; popular romantic melodramas "Forever Yours" and "Sun, Moon and Star"; films directed or scripted by Yang for other various companies: "The Little Girl Named Cabbage", "The Beauty and the Dumb", "A Torn Lily", "Blood Will Tell", "Halfway Down", "The Girl with a Thousand Faces" and works made during the last years of Cathay before the company halted production, "Springtime Affairs" and "Magnificent Gunfighter".
Evan Yang entered the most memorable phase of his career with the production of some of the most endearing comedies of Mandarin cinema at MP & GI. 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 small things in life was amply displayed in "Our Dream Car" (1959). Also displaying his awareness on city beat was an earlier script work, "The Story of a Fur Coat" (1956) which captured 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. The film was followed by productions of other wonderful song and dance movies like the memorable musical "It's 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. "Because of Her" (1963), another musical with sumptuous numbers, was the final bow of Chang's fruitful collaboration with director Yang.
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).
Not to be missed are his early romance dramas. Starring Hsia Moon, "A Torn Lily" (1953), is about a woman who fought 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 in full display in "The Little Girl Named Cabbage" (1955) in which he captured the tender feelings in an extra-marital affair of the heart but not the flesh with subtle details that express supple emotions heightened by Li Lihua's brilliant performance with expressive Beijing opera touches.
Being well connected in the film industry and political circles, Yang had written 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 color technology. 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) and the action film "Magnificent Gunfighter" (1970).
To complement the screenings, an exhibition will be held from March 28 to June 7 at the Exhibition Hall of the HKFA displaying Yang's personal diaries, calligraphic works, archival photos, selected film footage and precious items. Admission is free.
The revised edition of the out-of-print HKFA publication "The Cathay Story" carries three additional interviews with movie stars Grace Chang, Kelly Lai Chen and Peter Dunn, on a CD-ROM with 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 Hong Kong film industry.
Two seminars will be held at the Cinema of 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.
Meanwhile, counter bookings for the world premier of the restored classic "Confucius" are also open. Directed by the great Fei Mu, "Confucius" (1940) had long been considered lost until rediscovered and restored by the HKFA. This is part of the HKIFF programme and will be staged at the Grand Theatre of the Hong Kong Cultural Centre on April 1. Two other screenings will be held on April 10 and 19 at the Cinema of the HKFA. Tickets of all three screenings are also now available at all URBTIX outlets.
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. Reservations can be made at 2734 9009 or on the internet at www.urbtix.hk.
Detailed programme information and various discounts can be obtained in the "ProFolio 46" or the "33rd HKIFF programme and booking folder" distributed at all performing venues of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. For programme enquiries, please call 2739 2139/2734 2900 or browse the websites: www.filmarchive.gov.hk or www.lcsd.gov.hk/fp.
Ends/Friday, March 13, 2009