Cantonese opera star Yam Kim-fai (1913-1989) is warmly remembered for her elegant acting, natural and compassionate singing and superb male impersonations. Her stage and screen performances stretched from the 30s to the 60s, with over 300 film titles being made since the early 50s. To commemorate her 100th anniversary, the Hong Kong Film Archive (HKFA) will showcase 10 of Yam's films next month, with a selection that covers a number of her screen partners.
The "Yam Kim-fai Centenary Celebration" will be held at the cinema of the HKFA from January 6 to February 1. The programme also echos the "2013 International Seminar on Cantonese Opera in Memory of the Centenary of Madam Yam Kim-fai" organised by the "Yam Kim Fai Research Project", to be held on January 12 and 13 at the Chiang Chen Studio Theater of the Polytechnic University of Hong Kong.
Films to be screened include Yam and Tang Bik-wan's "Paying Nocturnal Sacrifice to Kam-kiu" (1954); her collaboration with Fong Yim-fun in "The Story of Little Cabbage and Yeung Nai-mo" (1956) and "Regret from the Spring Lantern and Feather Fan" (1959); Yam and Pak Suet-sin's famous movie "Butterfly and Red Pear Blossom" (1959) and "The Peach Blossom Fairy" (1958); her partnering with Yu Lai-zhen in "Fan Lei-fa" (1960); her acting with Tam Lan-hing and Ng Kwan-lai in "The Courtship of the Queen" (1961); Yam co-starring with Law Yim-hing and Yam Bing-yee in "The Story of Lee Sin" (1960) and "The Golden Cat" (1961); and "An Actress's Struggle" (1955), a newly acquired print rarely shown in recent years.
In view of the enthusiastic responses received, an additional screening for "An Actress's Struggle" will be held at 7pm on February 1.
Yam's image as a passionate lover won over many audiences. In "Paying Nocturnal Sacrifice to Kam-kiu", Yam plays the passionate son of a high official while Tang Bik-wan is an infatuated courtesan. The two perform brilliantly with sentimentality and charm. Yam's famous aria, "Paying Nocturnal Sacrifice to Kam-kiu", in the final sequence is so melodious it remains with the viewer.
Yam and Fong Yim-fun collaborated many times on stage and screen. The film "Regret from the Spring Lantern and Feather Fan" is adapted from one of Fong's popular operas, and these two pillars of Cantonese opera give a performance that is natural, harmonious and meaningful. Their collaboration in "The Story of Little Cabbage and Yeung Nai-mo" emphasises the affection between two protagonists, with Yam and Fong acting brilliantly to display an additional sense of loss and disconsolateness. Yam is attracted by Little Cabbage (played by Fong) and expresses her admiration and pity while Fong, bullied because of her lower class origins, puts in a powerful performance.
The pairing of a scholar and a beauty gives the film "The Peach Blossom Fairy" a sense that it's adapted from a Cantonese opera scripted by the great Tong Tik-sang, though in fact he did not write the screenplay. The story begins with To Yee-chun (Pak Suet-sin) dreaming of meeting Tsui Wu (played by Yam) and continues on to their actual encounters. The destined lovers swear under the moon that they will never separate. Yam, as always, is charming, gentle and cultivated, while Pak evokes a passion and surging emotion that no other actress collaborating with Yam has been able to surpass. The two's popular movie "Butterfly and Red Pear Blossom" with Lee Tit's elegant direction, will be screened in the HKFA's "100 Must-See Hong Kong Movies" series at the HKFA and Broadway Cinematheque. Yam's minimalist acting style suits her role perfectly, while the singing sequence and dance scene are splendidly performed. Cantonese opera actor Lau Wai-ming will share her views at the post-screening talk at the HKFA on January 19.
"Fan Lei-fa" is a superb work that allows Yam to give full play to her comic talent. Yam plays a distressed general Sit Ting-shan being buttonholed by the beautiful, flirtatious warrior Fan Leifa played by Yu Lai-zhen. It is highly enjoyable to watch Yu and Yam vie their acting skills against each other on three occasions, and most delightful of all are their versatile performances.
In "The Courtship of the Queen", Yam fills two separate roles as the charming scholar who wins the heart of the princess (Ng Kwan-lai) and the stuttering prince having to face the chubby and ugly palace maid (Tam Lan-hing), who stands in for the princess.
Yam and Law Yim-hing seldom collaborated on stage but they were accomplished partners in many popular films including "The Story of Lee Sin", which features the unswerving love between the son of a senior official and a renowned courtesan. Yam's splendid performance brings to life the infatuated and devoted lover. A rare treat from Yam in "The Golden Cat" is the combination of martial arts and singing. The gentle and frail-looking scholar is the cat - a Chinese Robin Hood. Yam is a charming lover for Law Yim-hing and excels in martial arts when fighting against the powerful magistrate (Lau Hak-suen).
Not to be missed is "An Actress's Struggle", in which Yam impersonates a man so she can learn how to perform Cantonese opera - and a comedy of errors follows. A short excerpt of "Mang Lai-kwan" from the film "The Beautiful Heaven" (1964) will also be shown at the screening. The short film shows the level of maturity Yam has achieved after years of struggle. With highly accomplished and superb opera acting skills, she knows how to improvise if it should become necessary. Such a stage demeanor can only be projected by a veteran virtuoso opera performer.
"Butterfly and Red Pear Blossom" will be screened with Chinese and English subtitles. All films are in Cantonese.
Tickets for screenings at the HKFA are priced at $40. Tickets are now available at all URBTIX outlets. Half-price concessionary tickets are available for senior citizens aged 60 and above, people with disabilities and their minders, 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 is available in "ProFolio 66", 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 at www.lcsd.gov.hk/CE/CulturalService/filmprog/english/2012ykf/2012ykf_index.html .
Ends/Friday, December 28, 2012
Issued at HKT 18:06
NNNNA film still from "Paying Nocturnal Sacrifice to Kam-kiu" (1954).
A film still from "The Story of Little Cabbage and Yeung Nai-mo" (1956).
A film still from "Regret from the Spring Lantern and Feather Fan" (1959).
A film still from "The Peach Blossom Fairy" (1958).
A film still from "Fan Lei-fa" (1960).
A film still from "The Story of Lee Sin" (1960).
A film still from "The Golden Cat" (1961).
A film still from "An Actress's Struggle" (1955).