There is something special between well-known writer Eileen Chang and film. She started writing film reviews at the tender age of 17. Not only did she write about films in her essays and novels, most of her scripts became commercially successful films. Notable directors including Ann Hui, Stanley Kwan, Hou Hsiao-hsien and Ang Lee also adapted her novels for the screen, resulting in a body of work that provides interesting study in the relationship between literature and film.
Hong Kong Film Archive (HKFA)'s new retrospective "Eileen Chang & Film" will be held from January 16 to March 7, presenting films written by Chang or adapted from her novels. The films screened are "Unending Love", "Long Live the Missis", "The Battle of Love", "June Bride", "The Greatest Wedding on Earth", "The Greatest Love Affair on Earth", "Father Takes a Bride", "Love in a Fallen City", "Eighteen Springs", "Rouge of the North", "Red Rose White Rose", "Flowers of Shanghai", "Lust, Caution" and "The Tender Age".
To enhance further understanding of Chang and her films, playwright Edward Lam, scholar Professor Kenny Ng, director Ann Hui, film critic Wong Ain-ling, Professor Leung Ping-kwan and Professor Mary Wong will discuss different aspects of Chang in five lectures, to be held from January 23 to February 27 at the Cinema or Resource Centre of the HKFA. The lectures, beginning at 2.30pm, will be conducted in Cantonese with a cost of $80 per lecture.
To supplement the screenings, a free seminar titled "Eileen Chang & Film" will be held at 2.30pm on January 17 (Sunday) at the Cinema of the HKFA. The seminar will be conducted in Cantonese.
Eileen Chang had written scripts in China and Hong Kong and the endeavour allowed her to develop a completely different aspect of her creativity. Most of her scripts were comedies, obliging her to fabricate a world much more upbeat and optimistic than that of her novels.
Her novels are richly evocative of images, making it very tempting for filmmakers to adapt, though it's difficult to successfully realise on screen. Many directors tried to translate her writings into film, resulting in a new form of work.
Her first script "Unending Love" (1947) is a melodrama about a love relationship between a single woman and a married man. The depth and genuineness of the feelings were expressed with Chang's subtle dialogues delivered by her exquisitely drawn characters. Her scriptwriting talent is in full display in her second credited film, "Long Live the Missis" (1947), a loving portrait of a modern woman, who's trying desperately to find balance between pleasing her ambitious husband, her demanding mother-in-law and her own father. To bring comedy out of this situation while remaining upbeat is no small task.
Chang excelled at staging battles between the sexes while exposing the cynicism behind romantic ideals. Her profound observations and witty interpretations of modern romance are in full display in "The Battle of Love" (1957), with Lin Dai projecting her skills as a comic actress and star qualities as a glamour queen. The print screened is restored recently by the HKFA by digitally merging the soundtrack of a donated VHS tape with the images of a print dubbed in Cantonese. The new print not only brings the film closer to its original condition, but also enables audiences to better appreciate the dialogues written by Chang in Mandarin.
Starring Grace Chang, "June Bride" (1960) ranks among the best of Mandarin comedies, due largely to Eileen Chang's skilful animation of screwball situations, that project the complexities of modern romantic relationships in all their mixed emotions and glorious absurdities.
Directed by Wong Tin-lam with scripts from Chang, "The Greatest Wedding on Earth" (1962) and "The Greatest Love Affair on Earth" (1964) show Chang's sharp observations of life's absurdities while exploring the conflicts between Hong Kong's southerners and northern émigrés. Starring Lucilla You Min, "Father Takes a Bride" (1963) features a family's conflict over a widower's desire to remarry. Chang skilfully projects an upbeat outlook in the film, telling the story with a mix of light comedy and gentle melancholy, enhanced by delightful observations of everyday details.
Ann Hui was the first director to adapt Chang's writing "Love in a Fallen City" (1984) to film. Her maiden try on this film, one of Chang's most accomplished works, may not approach the greatness of the original, but manages to capture the perils of Hong Kong on the eve of the Japanese invasion and the ironic cynicism with which love is realised at a historic moment.
Starring Leon Lai, Wu Chien-lien and Anita Mui, "Eighteen Springs" (1997) is one of the Chang's more unadorned works. Ann Hui animates Chang's sharply observed everyday details while evoking the author's development of feelings. She also manages to capture the general sense of loss and ironic melancholy of the original.
The novel "Rouge of the North" has been considered as Chang's best work. The film "Rouge of the North" (1988), starring Pat Ha, is a mostly faithful adaptation of the novel, marked by director Fred Tan's attention to production design. Starring Tong Leung Chiu-wai and Carina Lau, "Flowers of Shanghai" (1998) is likely the best cinematic adaptation of Chang's writing. Directed by Hou Hsiao-hsien with hypnotic grace, the film is scripted with fertile resonance by the sublime Chu Tien-wen, herself not only one of the best novelists of her time, but also a kindred spirit of Chang.
"Every man has two women in his life... one his white rose, the other his red rose..." "Red Rose White Rose" (1994) offers a treatise on gender psychology through a man's relationship with two women, which director Stanley Kwan works hard to duplicate. Scriptwriter Edward Lam, who goes on to an evolving dialogue with Chang's work through a series of innovative plays, stays close to the author's writing.
"Lust, Caution" (2007) is possibly the only adaptation of Chang's writing that's better than its source. Director Ang Lee has always been adept at portraying the unnerving mysteries of romantic attraction and sexual desires. In the film, he expresses them in the context of war and espionage, in which lust and caution become entwined. His instinct to realize the erotic allure of power and deceit only suggested in Chang's novella takes the story to its logical heights.
"The Tender Age" (1957) which is based on a novel by Zheng Hui, but amazingly similar to Chang's novel "Aloeswood Incense" will also be screened as a reference film.
"Rouge of the North", "Red Rose White Rose", "Eighteen Springs" and "Lust, Caution" have English subtitles. "Lust, Caution" has been classified as Category III and only ticket holders aged 18 and above will be admitted.
Tickets priced at $30 for the screenings are available at all URBTIX outlets. Half-price concessionary 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 by phone on 2734 9009, or on the internet at www.urbtix.hk.
Detailed programme information can be obtained in the "ProFolio 50" distributed at all performing venues of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. For enquiries, please call 2739 2139 or 2734 2900 or browse the website: www.lcsd.gov.hk/fp.
Ends/Monday, December 28, 2009
A film still from "June Bride" (1960).
A film still from "Eighteen Springs" (1997).