The production companies Great Wall, Feng Huang and Sun Luen constituted a major presence in Hong Kong cinema in the 1950s and 1960s, before merging to form the Sil-Metropole Organisation Limited. To celebrate the 60th anniversary of Sil-Metropole, the Hong Kong Film Archive (HKFA) will present 16 films by Sun Luen produced from the 1950s to the 1970s and four films by Sil-Metropole, made in the 1980s and 1990s, running from November 19 to December 26.
The screenings of "60 Years of Movie Glory: From Great Wall, Feng Huang, Sun Luen to Sil-Metropole" will be held at the Cinema of the HKFA.
The Sun Luen screenings are: "The Prodigal Son" (1952), "Mutual Understanding" (1954), "The Postponed Wedding" (1954), "Loving Father, Faithful Son" (1954), "The Newlyweds" (1956), "An Ideal Couple" (1960), "Human Cargo" (1961), "So Siu Siu" (1962), "Those 72 Tenants" (1963), "Water Comes Over the Hills from the East" (1965), "The Valley of Death" (1965), "The Witty Bus Girl" (1966), "Who's the Real Murderer?" (1966), "Divorce Brinkmanship" (1967), "From Here to Eternity" (1969) and "The Best Friends" (1976).
The Sil-Metropole screenings are: "No Regret" (1987), "Gangs" (1988), "Full Moon in New York" (1990) and "Cageman" (1992).
To complement the screenings, film critics Lau Yam and Thomas Shin will share their views in the seminar, "A Few Things about Sun Luen" at 4.30pm on December 11 at the Cinema of HKFA. The seminar will be conducted in Cantonese. Admission is free.
In HKFA's publication "Oral History Series (2): An Age of Idealism: Great Wall and Feng Huang Days", nine film veterans who joined the Great Wall or Feng Huang film companies in the 1950s tell the saga of how a group of filmmakers, labelled left-wingers at the time, realised the ideals and expectations that they had for their country and society. The 2001 publication which contains over 100 precious photos is published bilingually in Chinese and English.
Great Wall, Feng Huang and Sun Luen, regarded as "left-wing companies" because of their affiliation with China, had produced many memorable films that were not only entertaining but also reflected on the social development of Hong Kong. The HKFA organised a major retrospective in 2001 focusing on the Great Wall and Feng Huang's Mandarin films. This time, the retrospective concentrates on the Sun Luen studio, which specialised in Cantonese films.
Sun Luen was formed in 1952 at a time when the Cantonese cinema was ready for change. Outcries had come from both inside the industry and out to clean up its act. The company answered the call by making quality films, made with the best filmmakers available, including directors and writers Lee Sun-fung, Chun Kim, Tso Kea and stars like Cheung Ying, Pak Yin and Ng Cho-fan. The actor-writer-director Lo Dun was the most active filmmaker among them.
With its first few releases like "The Prodigal Son" and "Mutual Understanding", Sun Luen quickly established itself as an outfit devoted to quality. It went on to groom a generation of younger filmmakers, especially actors like Pak Yan, Jiang Han and Ng Sau-fong. It became known as one of the big four companies of Cantonese cinema, together with Union Films, Kong Ngee and Overseas Chinese Films, all of which formed after Sun Luen - and were influenced by it.
While its productions are not overtly ideological, many of its films focused on the problems facing the poor and the working class, paying special attention to the characters and their lives. The "social realism approach" resulted not only in intimate portrayals of the people but also a strong sense of place in a Hong Kong that was going through rapid changes.
Sun Luen was prolific in its first years but production dropped drastically after the Cultural Revolution. Still, by then it had produced over 100 films. Its inaugural project "The Prodigal Son", by director Ng Wui, is a finely crafted work that animates deeply felt family problems in a context of well-observed social realism. Director Chun Kim's family melodrama "Mutual Understanding", which features a conflict between a young wife and her mother-in-law depicts the lives of ordinary people and their profound problems.
"Loving Father, Faithful Son" celebrates the traditional value of filial piety and the modern practice of medical care for the underprivileged. Seldom has Cantonese cinema witnessed such pathos and drama evoked by the mix of professionalism and traditional beliefs in this film. "Human Cargo", an epic drama on migrant labourers, was a rare big-scale production at the time.
Comedies about young couples are a staple of Sun Luen's library. "The Postponed Wedding", "The Newlyweds" and "Divorce Brinkmanship" can be considered as the company's marriage trilogy, tracking the matrimony process from wedding preparations to divorce.
Adapted from a popular Shanghai play, "Those 72 Tenants" focuses on the corruption and debauchery of the capitalist class and the reaction of the proletariat class. The film famously became the template for director Chor Yuen's history-making "The House of 72 Tenants" (1973) and inspired Stephen Chow's "Kung Fu Hustle" (2004). The documentary "Water Comes Over the Hills from the East" on water rationing and the engineering of import water was a huge success.
With a cast of Cantonese opera superstars, "An Ideal Couple" is a compilation of excerpts from four notable Cantonese operas. Its "Fung-yee Pavilion" features Luo Pinchao, one of the most beloved opera stars of his time and who passed away earlier this year, in the role that won him a major national award. The version screened has been recovered from San Francisco.
Sun Luen produced a variety of genres. "So Siu Siu" is made on location at the famously scenic West Lake in Hangzhou. It was also the highest-grossing Cantonese film of 1962 generating over HK$500,000 at the box office. "The Witty Bus Girl" was in response to Jane Bond films like "Black Rose" and "Lady Bond", with a young woman who outwits and out-kicks men. "Who's the Real Murderer?" is one of the best among the series of murder mysteries released.
The late 1960s and the period after the Cultural Revolution was a challenge for Sun Luen. The company answered with films like "From Here to Eternity", a family saga starring a new generation of young stars, putting them through trials of survival in the urban, capitalistic jungle. Loosely based on Balzac's "la Comédie Humaine", "The Best Friends" is marked by a consuming scornfulness, totally devoid of sympathetic characters.
Sil-Metropole was officially established in 1982 by consolidating Great Wall, Feng Huang, Sun Luen and several smaller companies. Since then, it has been active in supporting up-and-coming directors, often backing films of no obvious commercial appeal. Directors like Herman Yau, Lawrence Lau, Ann Hui, Stanley Kwan, Jacob Cheung and Lee Chi-ngai were able to make key career films with the backing of the company.
A sample of Sil-Metropole films is presented to acknowledge the company's contribution in grooming young talent and supporting adventurous projects. "No Regret" and "Gangs" features the explosive topic of juvenile delinquency. Starring Maggie Cheung, Sylvia Chang and Stchingowa, "Full Moon in New York" depicts three women from Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. The film won eight Golden Horse Awards, including Best Film, Best Actress, Best Cinematography and Best Screenplay. In "Cageman", the cramped conditions in a hostel in a poor neighbourhood generate intense human drama and delicious social satire.
All films are in Cantonese or Mandarin, and "So Siu Siu", "From Here to Eternity" and "The Best Friends" have English subtitles. "Cageman" 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. Detailed programme information can be obtained in the brochure "ProFolio 55" distributed at all performing venues of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. Credit card bookings can be made on 2111 5999 or on the Internet at www.urbtix.hk . For enquiries, please call 2739 2139/ 2734 2900 or browse the websites: www.filmarchive.gov.hk or www.lcsd.gov.hk/fp .
Ends/Thursday, November 11, 2010
A film still of "The Prodigal Son" (1952).
A film still of "Mutual Understanding" (1954).
A film still of "The Postponed Wedding" (1954).
A film still of "Loving Father, Faithful Son" (1954).
A film still of "The Newlyweds" (1956).
A film still of "An Ideal Couple" (1960).
A film still of "Human Cargo" (1961).
A film still of "So Siu Siu" (1962).
A film still of "Those 72 Tenants" (1963).
A film still of "Water Comes Over the Hills from the East" (1965).
A film still of "The Witty Bus Girl" (1966).
A film still of "Who's the Real Murderer?" (1966)
A file still of "Divorce Brinkmanship" (1967).
A film still of "From Here to Eternity" (1969).
A film still of "The Best Friends" (1976).
A film still of "No Regret" (1987).
A film still of "Gangs" (1988).
A film still of "Full Moon in New York" (1990).