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HK Film Archive showcases cinematic dreams of set designers Chan Ki-yui and Chan King-sam

     Applying deft touches of magic in both architecture and decoration, set designers help bring to the screen the world of fantasy visualised by directors. Veteran set designers Chan Ki-yui and Chan King-sam designed over 1,000 film sets, and they were also the designated set designers for many established directors including Li Han-hsiang and Chor Yuen. They worked with production conditions ranging from the most primitive to the most technologically sophisticated and with budgets varying from the most deprived to the most lavish. Their dedication to their craft is an embodiment of the best of the Hong Kong film industry.

     To feature the amazing accomplishments of the masters, the Hong Kong Film Archive (HKFA)'s new retrospective entitled "Father and Son: Two Visionaries of Cinematic Dreams - A Tribute to Set Designers Chan Ki-yui & Chan King-sam" showcases their works from different eras with screenings, an exhibition and workshops.

     Presented by the HKFA of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) and guest curated by the Cantonese Cinema Study Association, the retrospective is being held from now until November 18. Thirty-nine films featuring sets by the Chans and six reference films featuring sets by peer set designers are being shown at the Cinema of the HKFA. Films from a wide spectrum of genres, including melodrama, suspense, thriller, gangster, musical, comedy, Qing and early republic, historical, opera and wuxia films, will be screened. An exhibition entitled "A Touch of Magic: Veteran Set Designers Chan Ki-yui & Chan King-sam" is on display from now until November 4 at the Exhibition Hall of the HKFA. Three sets from films in different eras are being featured as well as the work, methods and secrets of set building and the oral history of filmmakers.

     To complement the screenings, seminars entitled "Over Half a Century of Great Set Design: In Conversation with Chan King-sam" and "Set Designers, the Unsung Hero of Cantonese Cinema" will be held at 4.30pm on September 30 and at 5pm on November 4 at the HKFA respectively. Chan King-sam and film art director Wong Yan-kwai will share their experiences at the seminar in September, while Wong and film critics Shu Kei, James Choo and Honkaz Fung will be the guests for the seminar in November. The free seminars will be conducted in Cantonese.

     Three workshops entitled "Introduction to Film Set Design", to be hosted by Chan King-sam and Wong Yan-kwai in Cantonese, will be held in October and November at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. Audiences can redeem a course coupon for any one of the three sessions with the presentation of six admission tickets or ticket stubs for different screenings in the retrospective. Course coupons will be available on a first-come, first-served basis at the box office of the HKFA from September 10 onwards. Details of the workshops will be announced on the HKFA's website and notices will be posted at the HKFA later.

     The first film with Chan Ki-yui (1908-1996) credited as set designer was director Wong Toi's "The Illegitimate Son" (1937). He worked for studios such as Nanyang and Wader in his early years and in the late 1950s joined Shaw Brothers, where he worked as a set designer and art director until his retirement in the 1970s. During his illustrious career, he worked on more than 400 titles, including Cantonese, Mandarin and Chiu Chow films. The directors he worked with included Ng Wui, Lee Tit, Lee Sun-fung, Griffin Yue, Li Han-hsiang, Chang Cheh and Doe Ching. He also helped build sets for the Hollywood films "Ferry to Hong Kong" (1959) and "The World of Suzie Wong" (1960). He won Best Artistic Direction awards at the Asian Film Festival for "The Kingdom and the Beauty" (1959), "Back Door" (1960) and "The Love Eterne" (1963).

     Chan King-sam joined his father to work in film studios upon his graduation from secondary school. He started by doing sketches for sets. The first film he earned the credit of set designer for was director Hung Suk-wan's "Wild Flowers are Sweeter" (1950). Later, he joined Shaw Brothers as a set designer and art director, and was soon promoted to Studio Head. He designed sets for over 500 films, and worked with directors including Chor Yuen and Li Han-hsiang. He won five Golden Horse Best Art Direction awards, for "The Empress Dowager" (1975), "The Adventures of Emperor Chien Lung" (1977), "The Dream of the Red Chamber" (1977), "The Tiger and the Widow" (1981) and "An Amorous Woman of Tang Dynasty" (1984).

     Cantonese cinema before Union Film was mostly made with scant resources and simple production. Chan Ki-yui overcame this disadvantage with creativity and style. In "The Pangs of Love" (1947), Chan Ki-yui conveyed a Shanghai flavour with patterns on the walls and windows of the set. With stark cinematography from Ho Look-ying and the restrained set design by Chan Ki-yui, "Sunset Rendezvous" (1951), which starred Pak Yin and Cheung Ying, reflected the aggravations and grievances of the characters. In director Li Han-hsiang's early film "A Mellow Spring" (1957), which starred Lin Dai and Chao Lei, Chan Ki-yui created the compartmentalised flat with meticulous design. In "Rose in Tears" (1963), Chan King-sam's sumptuous and extravagant apartment and the spacious wooden hut made the film a trend-setter for contemporary cinema in the 1960s.

     From Hitchcock to James Bond, action films came to acquire new appearances. In Union Film's thriller "Adultery" (1958), the Chans created a Gothic mansion with mystery and suspense. In "Enter the Dragon" (1973), which was the last completed film of Bruce Lee, Chan King-sam designed dazzling sets with a mixture of elements from East and West. In director Chor Yuen's "The Man from Interpol" (1967), a typical spin-off of the James Bond series, he designed various multi-function sets with wonderful creativity.

     Set designers bring audiences the sense of imagination with their extraordinary film sets for musicals and comedies. In director Doe Ching's famous musical film "Les Belles" (1961), the impressionistic set design makes the film a pastiche of visual pleasures, pastel in tone and delicate in texture. In Chor Yuen's comedy "The House of 72 Tenants" (1973), the set is purposely theatrical to suit the actions of different tenants in a single tenement block. With limited resources, Chan Ki-yui's elaborate set design in Tso Kea's "The Chair" (1959) provides a touch of Portuguese style.

     In depicting the years of transition from the Qing dynasty to the early republic, the mix of East and West is a reservoir of inspiration for set designers. In the historical epic "The Empress Dowager", Chan King-sam reproduced royal courts of the grand Forbidden City despite studio constraint. Chan King-sam and Mak Woo's inventive sets in Jackie Chan's "Project A" (1982) conveyed the mood for the twisting plot and its breathtaking fights and stunt sequences.

     The Chans provided exemplary results for historical and period films by filling sets with meticulous details based on both the real and the imaginary. In Li Han-hsiang's historical epic "Beyond the Great Wall" (1964), the Chans created a magnificent royal palace; in "The Love Eterne" (1963), Chan Ki-yui's design helped to create a sense of lyricism and classicism; and in "Beyond the Grave" (1954), which starred You Min and Chao Lei, he produced elegant and stylish production design with an eerie graveyard and a derelict mansion, creating a sorrowful romantic atmosphere for the film.

     Wuxia and martial arts films criss-cross between history and the fictional. They provide for a wealth of creativity by set designers. With Chan Ki-yui's masterful design, the outstanding crimson colour in director Chang Cheh's classic "One-Armed Swordsman" (1967) signified happiness, heroism and bloodshed, and the sense of danger was formed by the cramped space of the shops. In Chan Lit-bun's "Paragon of Sword and Knife, Part One" (1967), Chan King-sam designed a studio set of labyrinthine woods, steep cliffs, drawbridges, bamboo forests and derelict temples to create a dangerous world, and in Chor Yuen's "Full Moon Scimitar" (1979) he created outstanding sets with a mysterious and dreamlike style.

     Six reference films have been selected for the retrospective. They are "The Flower Drops by the Red Chamber" (1950), with majestic sets by Wang Hang; "Backyard Adventures" (1955), featuring the almost real triplex by the Chans and Leung Hoi-shan; "The Wall" (1956), with Wan Man's subtle set design; "The Seven Kids" (1961), featuring Leung Chi-hing's precise set design; "The Wild, Wild Rose" (1960), with Bao Tianming's vivacious and effervescent Art Deco design; and "Affectionate Affairs, Part One" (1960), featuring the design of homes for three different classes of people produced by an anonymous set designer.

     The films mentioned above are in Cantonese, dubbed into Cantonese or in Mandarin. "Enter the Dragon", "Les Belles", "The Chair", "The House of 72 Tenants", "The Empress Dowager", "Project A", "The Love Eterne", "Beyond the Great Wall", "One-Armed Swordsman", "Paragon of Sword and Knife, Part One", "The Wild, Wild Rose" and "Full Moon Scimitar" have Chinese and English subtitles. Other films are without subtitles. There are also post-screening talks for some of the screenings.

     Priced at $40, tickets for screenings in August and September are now available at URBTIX outlets. Tickets for screenings in October and November will be available from September 6. Credit card bookings can be made on 2111 5999, or on the Internet at Discounts and detailed programme information can be found in "ProFolio 64", which is distributed at all performing venues of the LCSD. For enquiries, please call 2739 2139 or 2734 2900, or browse the webpage

Ends/Wednesday, August 15, 2012


A film still from "The Empress Dowager" (1975).


A film still from "Rose in Tears" (1963).


A film still from "The House of 72 Tenants" (1973).


A film still from "A Tale of Laughter and Tears" (1957).


A film still from "The Love Eterne" (1963).


A film still from "Beyond the Great Wall" (1964).


A film still from "Paragon of Sword and Knife, Part One" (1967).


A film still from the reference work "The Wall" (1956).




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