Lee Tit, one of Cantonese cinema's top directors, was known for his dedication to artistic excellence. He worked slowly, taking his time in directing and carefully preparing everything to his satisfaction. Lee was versatile and worked especially well with actresses, which gave rise to his sensitive portrayals of women. He captured his characters with sympathetic, evocative nuances, and coaxed gripping performances from his leading ladies like Pak Yin, Hung Sin Nui, Fong Yim-fun, Pak Suet-sin, Nam Hung, Kong Suet and Ting Ying.
The Hong Kong Film Archive (HKFA)'s new programme "Master of Versatility: Lee Tit", guest curated by film critic Mr Thomas Shin, will screen 15 films of different genres from October 23 to December 18 at the Cinema of the HKFA to showcase Lee's cinematic world.
The selected films include Cantonese opera film classics in "Butterfly and Red Pear Blossom" (1959) and two versions of "The Legend of Purple Hairpin" made in 1959 and 1977; the graceful work of Lee and writer-director Tong Tik-sang in "The Dream Encounter Between Emperor Wu of Han and Lady Wai" (1954); "Girl in Red" (1952) and "The Warlord and the Beauty" (1956), featuring women of strong personalities; and social-realist drama in the Union Film classic "In the Face of Demolition" (1953) and "Father is Back" (1961). Also showing are Lee's outstanding melodramas "Eternal Love" (1955), "The Ill-fated Girl" (1963), "Painstaking Lovers" (1964) and "Her Unrequited Love" (1955); the crime film "Murderer in Town" (1958); the brilliant thriller "We Want to Live" (1960); and the jewel-thief flick "Love at First Sight" (1967). All films are in Cantonese without English subtitles.
Two seminars, "The Films of Lee Tit" and "On the Legend", will be held at 5.30pm on November 19 and 26 respectively at the Cinema of the HKFA. Mr Shin will host the seminars, and speakers will include the programmer of the HKFA, Mr Sam Ho, and film critics Mr Shu Kei and Ms Natalia Chan. Some of the screenings will also have post-screening talks with film critics sharing their views. The seminars and post-screening talks will be conducted in Cantonese. Admission is free.
Director Lee was responsible for some of the best Cantonese opera films in history. His friendship and collaboration with Tong Tik-sang, the master librettist of Cantonese opera, produced many impressive films including several Cantonese opera classics starring Yam Kim-fai and Pak Suet-sin.
Two versions of the renowned Cantonese opera film "The Legend of Purple Hairpin" will be featured. The 1959 production brilliantly featured the performances of Yam and Pak as well as Lan Chi-pak and Leung Sing-po, and brought librettist Tong's graceful writing to the screen. The later production in 1977 features Lung Kim-sang and Mui Suet-see, the original stars' protégés. While the opera performances by the younger players are not as skilled, the later version is the most cinematically accomplished as Lee's mise-en-scène gets actively involved in the storytelling, reaching new heights in the blending of film and opera.
Based on a highly acclaimed Cantonese opera written by Tong, and performed by Yam and Pak, "Butterfly and Red Pear Blossom" is a near-perfect marriage of two art forms. The opera is brought to cinematic life with fluid and elegant direction by Lee, who finds the balance between the theatrical stylisations of opera and the requisite realism of film. Tong died a day before the film was screened, bringing to an end the collaboration of the four artists. In another adaptation of Tong's operas, "The Dream Encounter Between Emperor Wu of Han and Lady Wai", Lee downplays the work's musical and theatrical origins, going instead for a cultivation of mood and atmosphere, stunningly realised by the expressive photography of Ho Look-ying.
From maidens with turbulent fates to women of ambiguous morals, Lee sensitively portrayed different characters of women. "Girl in Red" was Lee's first collaboration with actress Hung Sin Nui. She played a dancer with simple vanity, spoiled by the flattery of adoring men and intoxicated by the lifestyle of her trade. The film features a nuanced performance by Hung and stylised mise-en-scène by Lee. Based on Giacomo Puccini's "Tosca", "The Warlord and the Beauty" starring Pak Suet-sin and Ng Cho-fan is a marvellous thriller featuring a melodramatic love rectangle. Lee deftly integrates political intrigue with dramatic twists and turns, establishing richly complicated relationships between the characters while using opera performances to enhance the drama.
In addition to the Cantonese opera films, Lee made some of the most memorable social-realist films, including "In the Face of Demolition" and "Father is Back". The former production features families and individuals sharing a crowded partitioned flat. Lee's camera glides through the cramped space with flowing elegance, and all the while the director orchestrates the movements and performances of the all-star cast. "Father is Back" is a gem of Cantonese cinema. It extends the social-realist concern of Lee's earlier films to include a treatise on social bias against ex-cons.
With Cantonese opera star Fong Yim-fun playing a woman with a turbulent fate, "Her Unrequited Love" features an interesting discipline-crossing touch: an opera angle animated by stage performances and backstage scenes. Adapted from Theodore Dreiser's "Sister Carrie", "Eternal Love" is one of the best melodramas, with director Lee effectively creating a moving portrayal of a man whose pursuit of happiness is repeatedly thwarted by cruel fate.
In another brilliant melodrama, this time played by Lam Kar-sing and Ting Ying, "The Ill-fated Girl" features a familiar story of a young woman having to endure catastrophic hardships. With a fresh approach, Lee gives the title character the blessing of strength more befitting of a modern woman as she stands up to the cruel hands of fate with perseverance. Adapted from Li Ngaw's airwaves novel "Painstaking Lovers", the work is an inspired rendition of the familiar stance against arranged marriage. Lee enhances his telling of the story through composition, camera movement and editing, resulting in another brilliant work.
One of Lee's unsung accomplishments is his excellence in genre films. The crime film "Murderer in Town" is a perfect demonstration of Lee's talent in genre pictures. The film rises above the occasional crudity typical of Cantonese crime films with an exceptionally constructed script and effective direction by turns stylish and restrained. "We Want to Live" is one of the best thrillers of Cantonese cinema. By infusing the action with neo-realism, Lee strikes a wonderful balance between commercial demands and production company Union Film's unwavering dedication to social justice. The film is a tale of four desperados who break the law in a desperate attempt to better their lives, and Lee portrays the characters with flesh and blood.
A thriller with trendy touches of cheesy Jane Bond silliness, "Love at First Sight" is marked by a tight murder-and-revenge story, witty plot twists and interesting central characters, played with intelligence and irony by Lui Kay and Nam Hung. Lee directs with a sure hand, his skills honed by years of making detective films.
Tickets priced at $30 are available at 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. 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/2011lt/2011lt_index.html.
Ends/Monday, October 17, 2011
A film still from "Girl in Red" (1952).
A film still from "In the Face of Demolition" (1953).
A film still from "Eternal Love" (1955).
A film still from "The Warlord and the Beauty" (1956).
A film still from "Murderer in Town" (1958).
A film still from "Butterfly and Red Pear Blossom" (1959).
A film still from "The Ill-fated Girl" (1963).
A film still from "Love at First Sight" (1967).
A film still from "The Legend of Purple Hairpin" (1977).