Television culture reaped its harvest in the mid-1970s. Keen competition among local television stations and the recruitment of new talent in droves resulted in the production of more exciting programmes full of innovative and vivacious approaches. Well-known film and television director Patrick Tam was among the crop of passionate young filmmakers drawn to the creative freedom offered by television stations and was one of the most outstanding of both media.
Twenty television films directed by Tam during the period of “New Wave of Television” and demonstrating Tam's unique style and creativity will be shown at the Cinema of the Hong Kong Film Archive (HKFA) from September 19 to October 12 at the Archive’s new film series “e-wave: The TV films of Patrick Tam”.
Tam's works made for the Television Broadcasts Limited (TVB) between 1975 and 1977, including the drama “Seven Women”, the plot driven “CID”, the thriller “13”, the realistic “Social Worker” and The Underdogs” as well as the film star series “Superstar Specials” will be screened.
To supplement the screenings, a seminar “A Dialogue with Patrick Tam” will be held at 4.30pm on September 27 at the Cinema of the HKFA after the screening of “The Underdogs: The Story of Ah Suen”. Tam will be present to engage in dialogue with the HKFA programmer Law Kar, critics and the audience. The seminar will be conducted in Cantonese. Admission is free.
Affected by political and economic turmoil worldwide, Hong Kong also underwent fundamental changes in culture and the media in the 1970s. Newly fashionable, television took the lead in bringing in the world’s latest trends. TVB set up a new film division to produce television films. Director Tam and many young illustrious filmmakers of the era attempted to create works by transplanting modern Western ideas to local soil. He was a pioneer in using modern visual and audio language to express his thoughts on contemporary society.
Tam strove to break free from the formulae of conventional popular drama, borrowing from literary genres such as essays, poetry or even diary and opting for images and sound or music over dramatic language to convey feelings and ideas. Because of his rather innovative approach and treatment, he was then often misunderstood as too oblique, too highbrow for most palate, or too focused on style and form at the expense of content.
Viewing his works again today, one would notice his concern for the integration of content and form, and his endeavours at expressing and communicating through visual language, sound and music. He was an artist on the frontier of media.
Six series of his TV films are selected for the screening. “Superstar Specials” (1975) is the earliest TVB drama series shot on film with each episode featuring one film star. The series was made up with five half-hour episodes. One of the episodes, “Wong Chuen-yu” directed by Tam is an exemplar of his stylistic use of colours, framing and editing. It was awarded the 1975 New York Film and Television Festival bronze medal.
“CID” (1976) is a police drama claimed to be based on true crimes. The plot’s twists and turns leading to the denouement were anchored on four detectives. It was filmed entirely on cine film, many on location, which gave it a vivid sense of reality. It was rated the most popular show of the year. The first series comprised 13 episodes directed by Patrick Tam, Ann Hui and Law Kar. Among them are five episodes, known as “The Robbery”, “Missing Girl”, “Two Teddy Girls”, “Wai Chai” and “Dawn, Noon, Dusk, Night” which are directed by Tam. They displayed Tam’s keenly observant documentary style.
“Seven Women” (1976) is a controversial series comprising hour-long episodes, each pivoting on a woman’s emotional journey and depiction of female desire. The overall concept came from Tam and Joyce Chan. Directed by Tam, the six episodes to be shown at the e-wave are: “Liu Wing-seong”, “Miu Kam-fung”, “On Sai, Yeung See-tai, May Lee”, “Lee Si-kei”, “Lam Kin-ming” and “Lisa Wang”. The colour tone, graphic composition, music, social critique, and the composed and poised scene in some of the works have signs of influence from European films masters like Godard and Ingmar Bergman.
The “13” (1977) series sprang from Tam’s mind with the intention of making a thrilling late-night programme. Although the topics are the familiar ones of murder, crime and aberrant behaviour, they are handled with greater subtlety. Rather than din and ostentation, Tam and scriptwriters Shu Kei, Joyce Chan and Kam Ping-hing opted for composed and suspenseful images and simple mise-en-scène to depict characters’ moods and psyches, while allowing glimpses into the worldly logic behind seemingly sinister happenings and still leaving room for imagination. It makes each of these half-hour independent episodes look more like short stories, poems and essays than drama. “A Saintly Girl”, “Wife Murderer (Part 1)”, “Suffocation”, “Flower Calamity (Part 2)”, “To Murder Father” and “Traces of Her” will be shown.
The series “Social Worker” (1977) was inspired by the work of social workers which describes how they go to great lengths to help people adjust to social and family life. The film “The Girl Who Disappeared” puts the social worker and runaway girl on the same footing and extends compassion to the two women scarred by broken families.
Guest-directed by Tam, the episode “The Story of Ah Suen” from “Underdogs” (1977) is a story of growing up as a grassroots youth. Shot entirely on film, the seven segments tell of school days, first love, workplace exploitation, roaming in dejection and embracing life in fresh. The director and scriptwriter took advantage of the surroundings to give an understated but poignant portrayal.
“The Robbery”, “Dawn, Noon, Dusk, Night”, “Miu Kam-fung”, “Lisa Wang” (on September 28 and October 11 screenings), “A Saintly Girl” (on September 19 and October 4 screenings) and “Suffocation” (on September 28 and October 11 screenings) have English subtitles. “Missing Girl” and “Wai Chai” are classified as Category III and only ticket holders aged 18 and above will be admitted.
Tickets priced at $30 for all screenings are available at all URBTIX outlets. Half-priced tickets are available for senior citizens aged 60 or above, people with disabilities, full-time students and Comprehensive Social Security Assistance recipients. Reservations can be made by phone on 2734 9009, or on the internet at www.urbtix.hk.
Detailed programme information can be obtained in the “ProFolio 43” distributed at all performing venues of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. For enquiries, please call 2739 2139 or 2734 2900 or browse the website: www.filmarchive.gov.hk or www.lcsd.gov.hk/fp.
Ends/Tuesday, August 26, 2008
A film still from "Seven Women: Lisa Wang" (1976).
A film still from "CID: The Robbery" (1976).