Screenings of director Fei Mu's lost classic, "Confucius", in its initial phase of restoration last year met with overwhelming response. The film in its second phase of restoration will be unveiled in the 34th Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF) together with other works of the great director, including the masterpiece "Spring in a Small Town".
As a contribution to the HKIFF, the Hong Kong Film Archive (HKFA) has organised a retrospective "Fei Mu, Film Poet" to showcase the work of one of the greatest filmmakers of Chinese cinema.
A selection of Fei Mu's films as well as works adapted from his scripts will be shown during the HKIFF from March 26 to April 4 and another nine screenings from April 9 to May 2. The world premiere of the new version of "Confucius" will take place at the Grand Theatre of the Hong Kong Culture Centre and all other films will be screened at the Cinema of the HKFA.
Titles to be screened include the poetic masterpiece "Spring in a Small Town", his earliest available directorial work "Song of China", the remarkable fusion of film and Chinese opera "Murder in the Oratory" and "A Wedding in the Dream", the backstage comedy "On Stage and Backstage", the national defence film "Bloodshed on Wolf Mountain", the stylised short "Nightmares in Spring Chamber", the drama directed by an European couple "Children of the World" and the work based on his script "The Show Must Go On".
To enhance the programme, a seminar entitled "The Art of Fei Mu" will be held at 5pm on March 27. Film critic Wong Ain-ling and Programmer of the HKFA Sam Ho will share their views on the appreciation of the director's work. The seminar will be conducted in Cantonese. Admission is free.
"Confucius" (1940) is an important film not only from the perspectives of film and aesthetics, but also those of Chinese history, culture, art history, musicology and other disciplines. It is a remarkable artifact from the Orphan Island period, an extraordinary production of the Chinese film industry and a work of significance in the oeuvre of Fei Mu.
The film project was first conceived in Hong Kong in 1938 and later shot in Shanghai. It was considered lost for many years, until a set of the film's nitrate negatives was rediscovered in Hong Kong half a century later and restored by the HKFA. Its initial phase of restoration was screened last April with loose fragments shown at the end. Based on scientific evidence of the negatives and research on available literature, the HKFA has inserted break-off segments into the film, restoring the film to a condition much closer to its original glory. The film's rediscovery fills a significant void in Chinese cinema and has provided important clues in the study of Fei Mu.
The further-restored version will be screened at 6pm on April 2 at the Grand Theatre of the Hong Kong Cultural Centre. Wong Ain-ling, Sam Ho, film critic Shu Kei and HKFA's conservation personnel Koven Lo will share their experiences on film preservation in the post-screening talk. The other two screenings will be held at 2.30pm on April 17 and May 2 at the Cinema of the HKFA. Director Tian Zhuangzhuang and columnist Mao Jian will also discuss this film with audience in the seminar "Fei Mu's Confucius" at 4.30pm on April 17 at the Cinema of the HKFA.
A bilingual new book "Fei Mu's Confucius" will be released in late March. It consists of articles from Ms Barbara Fei and Professor Serena Jin, family members of the filmmakers, and also essays by renowned scholars and writers on different aspects of the director's art.
Born in Shanghai in 1906, Fei Mu was well versed in Chinese culture and Western thoughts. He was rare among his peers in taking film seriously as an art, diligently engaging himself in both theory and practice, working hard towards an aesthetics for Chinese cinema. He worked in theatre and loved opera and funnelled all these into his work, realising a style of poetic beauty and evocative subtlety that's uniquely Chinese.
Many of his works had been lost, partly as a result of the troubled times, but from what had survived, there is much to admire. He was not an ideologue but neither was he indifferent to the world around him. He made films that captured the difficult times in China and expressed the yearnings of the people and he never stopped searching for the best ways to do that.
A simple story marked by intense emotions, the masterpiece "Spring in a Small Town (1948) is regarded as one of the 10 best Chinese films ever made. The art of Fei Mu reaches its summit in the film, carrying Chinese cinema with it. He masterfully melts opera techniques into his decoupage, realising a work at once erotic and melancholic, poetic and psychological, striking a balance between love and duty, passion and restraint, family crisis and national calamity. Twelve years later, his younger brother Louis Fei directed "Romance in the Boudoir" (1960), seemingly as a tribute to his older brother's work. The bold and adventurous stylisations echo Fei Mu in spirit, fabricating a work of emotional intensity.
"Song of China" (1935) is Fei's earliest directorial work available today. The film represents Fei's transition from silent to talkies, using the settings to create dramatic effect. His evocative use of Chinese music on the sound track, the first in Chinese film history, demonstrates his understanding of the new medium. Two versions will be screened in the retrospective: a 47-minute print (Edited American Version) preserved by the British Film Institute as well as a DVD made from a 65-minute VHS (American Release Version) found accidentally by Mr Michael Campi in a Wisconsin video store.
Fei, an opera connoisseur, was one of only a few filmmakers who made an effort to integrate the art forms of film and opera. "Murder in the Oratory" (1937), starring the great Peking opera star Zhou Xinfang , and "A Wedding in the Dream" (1948) starring Mei Lanfang, another Peking opera great performer, are distinguished films capturing the formal aspects of opera, the latter including bold expressions of colour.
A backstage comedy written by Fei, "On Stage and Backstage" (1937) was made when casting issues forced the production of "Murder in the Oratory" to come to a halt. Fei made use of the set and costumes to produce a story around an opera troupe, whose top diva walks off, forcing everyone to scramble for a solution. His intimate knowledge of Peking opera operation is evident, as much humor is generated by parallel scenes onstage and back.
Fei's artistry is highly realised in the national defence film "Bloodshed on Wolf Mountain" (1936). The film is distinguished by Fei's poetic decoupage, informed by a lyricism that beautifully complements the wartime tone. Fei's imageries of men and environment, at once modernist and evocative of Chinese paintings, are particularly remarkable.
"Nightmares in Spring Chamber" (1937) is the second episode of "Lianhua Symphony", with Fei's innovative talent on full display in this 11-minute short film. He animates Japan's invasion of China in nightmarish images that coalesce into a symphony of light and shadow, its horrific effect enhanced by wordlessness. It is also evocative of both German expressionism and Chinese poetry.
Based on Fei's script, "Children of the World" (1941) is the collaboration between Fei and filmmakers Jacob and Louise Fleck. It features a love triangle of two young men in love with the same woman but all three eventually decide to abandon their personal feelings. The film is in many ways a warm-up exercise for Fei's great work "Spring in a Small Town". "The Show Must Go On" (1952), a story about an acrobatic troupe's struggles, is the third production of Loong Ma, the company established by Fei. He wrote the script but died before shooting began. Director Zhu Shilin stepped in to helm the project.
Tickets for the screening of "Confucius" are priced at $40, while the other 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 arrangement for films screened during the HKIFF will follow those of the festival with postal booking from Sunday (February 28) to March 6 and at HKIFF website ( www.hkiff.org ) from February 28 to March 10. Counter bookings at all URBTIX outlets and Internet booking at www.urbtix.hk for all screenings are available from March 11. Phone reservations can be made at 2734 9009 from March 12 onwards.
Some of the films shown are provided with English subtitles. Detailed information and various discounts can be obtained in "The 34th HKIFF Programme and Booking Folder" or the "ProFolio 51" 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 26, 2010
A film still from "Spring in a Small Town" (1948).
A film still from "Murder in the Oratory" (1937).
A film still from "Confucius" (1940).