Charles Chaplin has been a major influence on Hong Kong comedies. His iconic appearance - bowler hat, walking stick, splayed feet and a ragtag moustache on his face - have been identically rendered by actors such as Yee Chau-shui, Fung Fung, Sun Ma Si-tsang, Cheng Kwun-min and Dean Shek. Like the original Tramp, the Hong Kong Charlies in films are kind-hearted, surviving tough times with humour and dignity. Unlike Chaplin's character in silent movies, most of the Hong Kong Tramps are good singers capable of generating laughter through music.
The Hong Kong Film Archive (HKFA)'s "The Tramp in Hong Kong: Re-imaginations of Chaplin's Charlie" will screen five films featuring the bumbling character Charlie from December 25 to January 15, 2012, at the Cinema of the HKFA.
The selected films are "Flower Girl" (1952), starring comedian Yee Chau-shui; "Great Chums" (1956), with Fung Fung as the director and also playing the beloved Charlie character; "Two Fools Catch the Murderer" (1959), with Sun Ma Si-tsang providing street-side dental services; "Let's Be Happy Tonight" (1968), starring the veteran character actor Cheng Kwun-min; and director John Woo's "Laughing Time" (1980), starring Dean Shek.
To complement the screenings, a seminar entitled "The Tramp in Hong Kong" will be held at 5pm on December 27 at the Cinema of the HKFA. The speakers will be film critics Mr Ka Ming and Mr Matthew Cheng and the host will be the programmer of the HKFA, Mr Sam Ho. The seminar will be conducted in Cantonese. Admission is free.
"Flower Girl" is a remake of Chaplin's "City Lights" (1931), transposing the story from Great Depression America to post-war Hong Kong in the early 1950s. Cantonese opera singer Hung Sin Nui plays the blind flower girl while Yee Chau-shui and Leung Sing-po, two of Hong Kong's best comic personalities, are paired as co-stars. Yee's Tramp is an inspired blend of Chaplin's slapstick gags and Cantonese opera routines, exemplified by songs in which Yee improvises lyrics to generate laughter.
Unlike Yee, Fung Fung's Tramp in "Great Chums" is only marginally interested in physical comedy, delivering instead a couple of monologues, one of which is performed with rap-like delivery, Canto-op style. The film nevertheless retains the spirit of Tramp comedies, featuring a Capra-esque scenario in which a group of impoverished street vendors, including a fortune-teller, a shoe-shine boy, a martial arts actor, a dentist and a letter-writing man, manage to survive by helping each other.
"Two Fools Catch the Murderer" stars the celebrated comedy team of Sun Ma Si-tsang and Tang Kei-chen, playing the Tramp and his sidekick respectively, together with Cheng Kwun-min, who is known in Cantonese cinema as the "Elvis of the East". Exercising his Canto-op prowess, Sun Ma launches into a loosely choreographed sing-song number, peddling his street-side dental service.
"Let's Be Happy Tonight" offers several clever duplications of Chaplin's gags and Cheng Kwun-min's Charlie retains much of the Tramp's essence, in both mannerisms and the determination to remain dignified despite poor social standing.
"Laughing Time", written and directed by a young John Woo and starring Dean Shek as Charlie, is an exercise in nostalgia for suffering. The story is set in the post-war period to create a climate of hunger and depravity, allowing for humanity to shine through in difficult times. Shek, an accomplished comedian in his own right, provides a sharp rendition of the Chaplin shtick.
The films are in Cantonese without subtitles, except "Laughing Time", which has Chinese and English subtitles.
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 60", 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/2011rcc/2011rcc_index.html.
Ends/Friday, December 16, 2011
A film still from "Great Chums" (1956).
A film still from "Two Fools Catch the Murderer" (1959).
A film still from "Laughing Time" (1980).