Cantonese actress Wong Man-lei (1913-1998) began her career at the age of 17. Known for her sophisticated acting, Wong's career as "The Divine Star of Tragedies" spanned 60 years. To commemorate Wong's 100th birthday as well as the 15th anniversary of her passing, the Hong Kong Film Archive (HKFA)'s "Morning Matinee" will feature eleven of her films at 11am on Friday mornings in April and May. A small photo exhibition will showcase her screen persona.
Titled "The Divine Star of Tragedies", the films being shown in April will focus on Wong's personification as a devoted mother, displaying her mix of kindness, glumness and gentleness. The films selected include her less known works such as "Spring's Flight" (1954) and "Complaints" (episode in "Kaleidoscope") (1950) on April 5 and "The House of Sorrows" (1956), "The Paradise Hotel" (1964) and "The Mad Woman" (1964) on April 12, 19 and 26 respectively.
Wong began acting at the age of 17 during the silent film era. She became well known for her brilliant but tragic roles in the pre-war era, and during her career witnessed the rise and fall of Hong Kong Cantonese cinema. In 1995 she received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 14th Hong Kong Film Awards for her contributions to and achievements towards Hong Kong cinema. Her consummate professionalism and devotion to her craft serve as a model to young actors.
In "Spring's Flight", Wong plays a scorned woman jailed for accidentally killing her husband, and is mother to Ng Cho-fan. Still in her 30's, Wong had already begun convincingly playing roles beyond her age. "Complaints" (episode in "Kaleidoscope") is the earliest available film image of Wong, in which she plays a poor mother who isn't able to find the money needed to cure her child.
In director Lee Tit's "The House of Sorrows", Wong lives up to her reputation as a tragedy star with a heartbreaking performance of a widow losing her son. And to make things worse she also has to face family chaos caused by two sisters-in-law. "The Paradise Hotel" attracts all kinds of customers. Wong is the hotel cleaning lady who will do anything to help her daughter in looking for a rich husband. Wong gives off the kind of motherly aura that audiences can easily fall in love with. In the thriller "The Mad Woman", Wong appears in only three scenes. An extended monologue and hysterical outburst, however, remain among the most memorable performances of her career.
Apart from her acclaimed tragedies, Wong is also known for her iconic performances playing various malicious characters. From the mother who plays favourites with her children to the bullying mother-in-law, "The Vile Wench" Morning Matinee series in May highlights a different side of Wong's on-screen persona. The films to be shown are "A Flower Reborn" (1953) and "Wilderness" (1956) on May 3 and 10, "The Great Pretender" (1959) and "Blood Sisters" (episode in "This Wonderful Life") (1954) on May 17, and "A Love's Tragedy" (1965) and "No Greater Love than Filial Piety" (1966) on May 24 and 31 respectively.
In director Lee Sun-fung's "A Flower Reborn", Wong changes from an understanding mother to a stubborn and mean villain when she finds out that her daughter-in-law is a jinx to anyone she marries. Wong plays a blind mother in the primal thriller "Wilderness". Her commanding performance as a clever, conniving woman, especially in the scenes with her daughter-in-law, played by Hung Sin-nui, makes for an impressive silver screen villain. Also playing a "vile wench" in "A Love's Tragedy", Wong is a widow whose husband was murdered years before. The grudge resurfaces when she discovers that her son's new wife is the daughter of her husband's murderer. As years of resentment and anger erupt, Wong's facial transformation is a sight to behold.
"The Great Pretender" is Pak Yan's film debut, in which director Lo Dun recruited the help of seasoned actress Wong for additional star power. Wong plays a greedy woman, and shows off her impeccable comic timing as well as her exceptional talent for the genre. "Blood Sisters" (episode in "This Wonderful Life") depicts a greedy woman played by Wong and her husband who mistakenly thinks her father has died from drinking too much alcohol. The brilliance of Wong's performance lies in her ability to turn greed, jealously and a sharp tongue into comic gold.
In "No Greater Love than Filial Piety", Wong plays a mother who spoils her son, and eventually bears the consequences as he expels her from her own home. Transformed from a "vile wench" to a kind, mother figure, Wong is truly the heart and soul of this heartbreaking story.
All films are in Cantonese without subtitles. "The Morning Matinee" series is guest-curated by film researcher Yuen Tsz-ying.
Tickets for April's "The Divine Star of Tragedies" films are now available at URBTIX outlets, while tickets for May's, "The Vile Wench" films will be available from April 3 onwards.
Tickets are priced at $20 are available at URBTIX outlets. Half-price 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 at 2111 5999 or on the Internet at www.urbtix.hk .
Detailed programme information can be obtained in the "ProFolio 67" leaflet, which is distributed at all performance venues of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. For enquiries, please call 2739 2139 or 2734 2900 or browse the website at www.lcsd.gov.hk/CE/CulturalService/filmprog/english/2011mm/2011mm_film.html .
Ends/Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Issued at HKT 10:00
A film still from "Spring's Flight" (1954).
A film still from "The House of Sorrows" (1956).
A film still from "The Paradise Hotel" (1964).
A film still from "A Flower Reborn" (1953).
A film still from "Wilderness" (1956).
A film still from "A Love's Tragedy" (1965).
A film still from "No Greater Love than Filial Piety" (1966).