The Union Film Enterprise Ltd, known for its commitment to artistic excellence, produced 44 films in 13 years. The founders of the company, including directors Lee Sun-fung, Chun Kim and Chu Kea as well as stars like Pak Yin and Cheung Wood-yau, were famously dedicated to quality, and they extended that dedication to the spin-off productions they made with satellite companies. The filmmakers were more flexible in creativity and there was no lack of outstanding works among these films.
The Hong Kong Film Archive (HKFA)'s previous programme "All for One and One for All: Union Film", which featured the full catalogue of Union Film, received an enthusiastic response. To showcase the creativity of Union Film's many affiliates, the HKFA's new programme "Marvelous Spinoffs: The Work of Union Film Affiliates" will screen from September 24 to October 16, featuring 10 films produced by the loose-knit collection of companies usually referred to as the "Union Group".
The films to be shown include the darkly urbane romance "The Lady in Black" (1953), the thriller "Her Fickle Heart" (1954) and the comedy "The Noble Family" (1954), all with a sophistication not found in the mother company's films; "Malaya Love Affair" (1954) and "The Lone Swan" (1955), which were shot overseas; director Lee Sun-fung's classics "Sunrise" (1953) and "It Was a Cold Winter Night" (1955); director Chun Kim's melodrama "The Cuckoo" (1954); the delightful comedy "Far Away" (1954); and "The Actor's Romance" (1955), featuring an opera actor's love story. The films are in Cantonese without subtitles.
To complement the screenings, a seminar entitled "Union Film Affiliates" will be held after the screening of "The Actor's Romance" on October 1 at 3.30pm at the Cinema of the HKFA. Film critic Mr Ernest Chan and the HKFA's Research Officer, Mr Po Fung, will be the speakers. Some of the screenings will also have post-screening talks. The seminar and post-screening talks will be conducted in Cantonese and admission is free.
Union Film was established in 1952 with a devotion to quality. The filmmakers started to find their income reduced as they were taking pay cuts and making fewer films due to the longer production periods. The early success of Union Film made these good filmmakers more marketable. With more offers coming in, the founders made spin-off productions with satellite companies, referred to collectively as the Union Group.
Some of the satellite companies included Artland Films, established by director Chun Kim; and Hwa Lien Film Co, founded by actor Ng Cho-fan and director Lee Sun-fung. The spin-off productions, most with lower budgets, may not have met the overall excellence of Union Film productions, yet they were more diversified and many became classics in Cantonese cinema.
Directed by Chu Kea, "The Lady in Black" was made with tingling stylishness. It offers a sophistication not found in the mother company's films. Director Ng Wui's "Her Fickle Heart" was the inaugural project of Chun Kim's Artland Films and tackled issues that did not fit under the Union banner. The film is one of the most vivid portrayals of the femme fatale in Cantonese cinema, with the great Pak Yin playing a woman who stops at nothing to get what she wants.
A delightful comedy adapted from Li Ngaw's airwave novel, "The Noble Family" is a perfect illustration of the Union spin-off sensibility. Featuring a man who tries to save his cousin from decadence by asking his fiancée to seduce the cousin, the film is marked by an overall light-heartedness and occasional playfulness. "Far Away", another intriguing work rare in Cantonese cinema, chronicles how a country boy, played by Cheung Ying, capitalises on the attractions of the opposite sex to pursue his ambitions.
Some of the films produced by the Union film affiliates have location shooting in various countries. Union Film star Tsi Lo-lin was so impressed with the life of the overseas Chinese when she toured the then Malaya that she made "Malaya Love Affair" as an inaugural project of her company. The film strikes a balance between romance and a high-minded theme of education, flavoured by loving portrayals of the lifestyle of overseas Chinese and colourful local customs.
Adapted from the semi-autobiographical work of writer Su Manshu and shot in Japan, "The Lone Swan" was commissioned by the Singaporean firm Cathay for its affiliate, International Distribution. Directed by Lee Sun-fung, the film is highly formalised with carefully textured mise-en-scene and lyrical expressions of sentiments. It is a unique work in Cantonese cinema.
Also directed by Lee, "Sunrise" was a vehicle of excellence for actress Mui Yee, who financed the film and turned in a brilliant performance in a lead role. The film offers a remarkable portrayal of the business world, peopled by characters of flesh and blood. Another Lee production, the classic "It Was a Cold Winter Night", was the inaugural film of Union Film bigwig Ng Cho-fan's company Hwa Lien Film. Adapted from Ba Jin's novel, the film makes effective use of the family melodrama's genre conventions and harvests heart-wrenching emotions with vivid characterisations.
In "The Cuckoo", director Chun Kim tells a story of a maiden cursed with a life of misfortune and hardship with melodramatic twists. "The Actor's Romance" is an example of an un-Union film made by Union film people. Director Ng Wui executes it with sharp and sometimes ornate stylisation, giving the story a powerful dramatic punch.
Tickets priced at $30 are available at all URBTIX outlets. Half-price tickets are available for senior citizens aged 60 and above, people with disabilities, full-time students and Comprehensive Social Security Assistance recipients. Credit card bookings can be made on 2111 5999 or on the Internet at www.urbtix.hk.
Detailed programme information can be found in "ProFolio 59", distributed at all performing venues of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. For enquiries, please call 2739 2139 or 2734 2900, or browse the webpage www.lcsd.gov.hk/ce/CulturalService/filmprog/english/2011ms/2011ms_index.html.
Ends/Tuesday, September 20, 2011
A film still from "Sunrise" (1953).
A film still from "Far Away" (1954).
A film still from "Malaya Love Affair" (1954).
A film still from "Her Fickle Heart" (1954).
A film still from "It Was a Cold Winter Night" (1955).
A film still from "The Lone Swan" (1955).