Chaozhou-dialect film has long been a forgotten page in Hong Kong cinematic history. Fortunately, the Hong Kong Film Archive (HKFA) has acquired and preserved a number of the films so that these archival treasures can be shown again on the big screen.
The Southeast Asia market provided a lifeline for Hong Kong's filmmaking during the postwar years. The need to cater for overseas Chinese hailing from different provinces propelled Hong Kong to become a major "dream factory" in producing movies in Mandarin and Cantonese as well as the Amoy and Chaozhou dialects. Hong Kong's first Chaozhouese costume film, "The Story of Wang Jinlong", came out in 1955 while the real sensation came with "The Story of Sixth Madam Su" (1960). Most of the Chaozhou-dialect films are operatic films. The boom of the Chaozhou-dialect films subsided from mid-1960s onward, leaving behind a filmography of some 160 titles.
The HKFA's new programme, "Chaozhou Dialect Films - Key to Hong Kong's Multi-Cultural Heritage" will be held from October 1 to 19 to showcase 10 productions from different periods. In addition, a seminar will be held and a new publication will be released for audiences to rediscover this neglected yet important facet of local cinema history.
The films to be screened include the Xia Fan-starring period piece "The Scissors" (1958) and the modern drama "The Ill-Fated Flower" (1958); "The Story of Sixth Madam Su" (1960), a pioneering work considered by many as Chaozhou-dialect film at its best; "A Wronged Daughter-in-Law" (1960), starring the rare combo of famed actor Cheung Ying-yin and Zeng Shanfeng, a Chaozhou opera diva from Thailand; and "A Woman Sues Her Own Husband" (1961), a typical tale of the wicked husband in the Chaozhou dialect. There will also be three titles featuring home-grown actress Chen Chuhui, comprising "The Red-Haired Steed" (1963), her celebrated collaboration with well-known actress Fang Qiaoyu, and the colour films "Fairy Pearl" (1963) and "Mermaid Story" (1965), both with Zeng Shanfeng. Also to be screened are two works starring equally famed actress Chong Suet-kuen, namely the comedy "Wife in Disguise" (1963) and "The Perfumed Ball" (1963), with Chong playing two roles.
To tie in with the screenings, a seminar entitled "Chaozhou Opera from Stage to Screen" will be held at the Cinema of the HKFA on October 1 at 4.30pm after screening of "The Scissors". The guest speaker will be the well-known Chaozhou opera actor Cheung Ying-yin, and the Research Officer of the HKFA, Mr Po Fung, will be the host. The seminar will be conducted in Cantonese. Admission is free.
The new HKFA publication, entitled "The Chaozhou-dialect Films of Hong Kong", will feature the development history of Hong Kong Chaozhou opera. It will include articles from film scholars and aficionados on the sociopolitical factors behind the rise of Chaozhou cinema in the 1950s and '60s and discourses from the filmic perspective on the artistic character of this dialect cinema and its links with traditional opera. Also included will be oral history interviews with filmmakers including actors Chen Chuhui, Cheung Ying-yin, Chen Wenchang and Chen Lili, as well as director Law Chi, presenting a cinematic history not known to audiences. The publication will be in Chinese.
Based on a staple Chaozhou opera, "The Scissors" was famous actress Xia Fan's earliest operatic film. In the film, a beautiful and virtuous concubine is poisoned and buried in the backyard after labour, and the cat is let out of the bag after the husband hears of the situation in his dreams. The film transformed an opera piece into a melodrama readily enjoyable by both the elite and the masses. The popular appeal also preserved colloquialisms typical of Chaozhou culture. Folklore-inspired operas were the source for early Chaozhou-dialect films, which were mostly period costume pictures. On the other hand, the modern family drama "The Ill-Fated Flower", which also starred Xia Fan, was ahead of its time. The protagonist, whose mother died when she was a child, becomes a taxi dancer, starts a forbidden affair with her brother and is later arrested for murder. This audacious film mixes rustic regional flavours with modern sensibilities.
The classical Chaozhou film "The Story of Sixth Madam Su" was a sensation across Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia and Singapore. The winner of multiple national Chinese opera awards, the original stage play was adapted to the screen and went on to pioneer a trend in Chaozhou opera films. It tells of Sixth Madam Su and her cousin developing mutual affection, but Su's father has betrothed the maiden to an unscrupulous man. The opening scene, "Peach Blossom Crossing River" with brilliant performances by Chen Shuihe and Chen Fugui, impressed the audiences, as too did a fan stunt by Cai Jinkun, side-splitting female impersonation by Hong Miao, and masterful singing and acting by Yao Xuanqiu depicting the many charms of opera films.
Based on a Ming-era "chuanqi" play, the film rendition of "A Wronged Daughter-in-Law" saw a return to the aesthetics of traditional theatre and starred Cheung Ying-yin and Zeng Shanfeng. The film tells of a matriarch forcing the divorce of her daughter-in-law, Third Madam Pang, after believing her neighbour's slanderous words and doubting the younger woman's fidelity. As opposed to the climax, which exalts filial piety and concludes with the couple's separation, the story ends with reconciliation and a family reunion. This offers a glimpse of how literary classics advocate unconventional values. "A Woman Sues Her Own Husband" tells a typical tale of the wicked husband in the Chaozhou dialect. In the story, a faithless man murders the two women in love with him. The film includes touches untypical of the genre, however, such as a scene in which the father interrogates his own son. Shot in black and white and with more in-depth camerawork, the film features a cast of younger actors and pared-down dialogue.
"The Red-Haired Steed" features a remarkable collaboration between Chen Chuhui and Fang Qiaoyu. The story sees a young beggar striking up romance with the prime minister's daughter, and the devoted woman goes as far as severing ties with her family to live in utter poverty with her love. But soon after, her husband is drafted and the newlyweds have to separate. All hardships finally pay off as the star-crossed lovers are reunited. The delicate, multi-angle camerawork makes the opera stunts, such as the hair-flinging and horsewhip-cracking performed by the leads, more powerful than ever.
The folklore story "Fairy Pearl" is a colour film starring Chen Chuhui and Zeng Shanfeng. In the film, a fairy wields her power to drown villains and seal the romance with her mortal lover. In addition to the fantasy-filled story plot, special effects work their magic as the fairies come vividly to life. "Mermaid Story", another collaboration between the two stars, is an unusual colour fantasy film directed by the renowned director Lee Sun-fung. Inspired by the Shaoxing opera "Chasing the Fish", the film tells the story of an impoverished scholar, played by Chen Chuhui, who is disliked by his fiancée Peony and is confined to stay in a study room. He gains the sympathy of the Carp Fairy, who transforms herself into Peony and visits him every night. The special effects and sets were aptly used to accentuate elements of the supernatural.
One of the few comedies in Chaozhou-dialect cinema, "Wife in Disguise" is a fun-filled romantic drama in which a poor scholar asks a beautiful maid to pretend to be his second wife. The two finally become a real couple, and along the way the hilarious plotline, an ugly maid and madcap antics make the film amusing and light-hearted. "The Perfumed Ball" is a widescreen colour Chaozhou-dialect picture with Chong Suet-kuen playing two roles. The story begins with a martial arts contest, and the fight scenes were made all the more convincing with the assistance of 50 martial artists.
"The Perfumed Ball" has Chinese and English subtitles while "A Wronged Daughter-in-Law" only has subtitles for the singing. The other eight films have Chinese subtitles.
Tickets priced at $40 are available at URBTIX. 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 69" 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/2013ccdf/2013ccdf_film.html .
Ends/Wednesday, September 11, 2013
A film still of "The Scissors" (1958).
A film still of "The Ill-fated Flower" (1958).
A film still of "A Wronged Daughter-in-Law" (1960).
A film still of "Fairy Pearl" (1963).
A film still of "The Red-Haired Steed" (1963).
A film still of "A Woman Sues Her Own Husband" (1961).
A film still of "The Perfumed Ball" (1963).
A film still of "Wife in Disguise" (1963).