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Activities to mark 110-year anniversary of Lai Man-wai's birth


A series of activities will be held from September 12 to November 9 at the Hong Kong Film Archive and other venues to commemorate the 110th anniversary of the birth of the "Father of Hong Kong Cinema", Lai Man-wai.

Lai Man-wai (1893-1953) was a film and stage pioneer in Hong Kong and a leading reformist for the Chinese cinema, using film as a medium to advance social well-being, and to enhance art and culture.

With a mission to revitalise the Chinese cinema and to educate the public through films, the multi-talented Lai as producer, director, writer and cinematographer invested his life and entire fortune in pursuing this cause. Braving all kinds of hardships, he travelled to different parts of China to make documentaries to bear witness to the times. He also made a lot of high-quality feature films to educate and enlighten the people.

Born in Yokohama, Japan, Lai grew up and was educated in Hong Kong. He bought his first camera by saving two cents from his daily lunch money for two years. He was the founder of Hong Kong's first film studio, Minxin, and also a founding member of Shanghai's Lianhua Studio.

His first production office was set up in front of the Tin Hau Temple. A street in Tin Hau was later named Ngan Mok (Silver Screen) Street. Together with his brothers, Lai operated the World Theatre, Hong Kong's first film theatre with Chinese capital.

After encountering obstacles in filming in Hong Kong, he went to Xiguan in Guangzhou to produce Hong Kong's first feature-length film, "Rouge". In 1925, Lai moved his production base to Shanghai and continued to make high-quality Mandarin films. At the peak of his career, Lai had seven studios in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Tianjin and a Lianhua singing and dancing class in Shanghai to train film talent.

The Hong Kong Film Archive's new programme, "In the Footsteps of Lai Man-wai", aims to give the public a better understanding of Lai's contributions to the film world and also early Chinese and Hong Kong cinema. The programme is part of the 2003 "Legends of China" Festival organised by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department.

An exhibition will be held at the Archive's Exhibition Hall to showcase Lai's personal artifacts and through multi-media, chronicle his journeys in Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Shanghai. Admission is free.

On September 27 and 28, two guided tours will be held to revisit the Hong Kong neighbourhoods once frequented by Lai, followed by a visit to the rehearsal of Chung Ying Theatre Company's production, "Action! Mr Lai!", one of the highlights in the 2003 "Legends of China" Festival. The tours will be conducted in Cantonese and cost $30 each. For enquiries, call 2521 6628.

"The Diary of Lai Man-wai", published bilingually in English and Chinese, not only chronicles the life of Lai and his family, but is also an invaluable record of Chinese history and film history, spanning the early 20th century to the 1950s. Priced at $28, it will be on sale at the Archive later this month.

A series of seminars on Lai, one in association with Commercial Press and two co-organised with the Chung Ying Theatre Company, are scheduled for September 20, October 11 and 19. All seminars will be conducted in Cantonese.

Four films made by Lai and a documentary on his life will be screened from October 3 to 5 at the Cinema of the Archive.

"A Page of History" (1941), is an invaluable documentary produced by Lai, recording the Northern Expedition led by Dr Sun Yat-sen in the 1920s. Only 34 minutes of the footage were salvaged. For this new print, some shots have been replaced with better-quality images that were recently discovered. The film will be shown together with "The Battle of Shanghai" (1937, 26 minutes), which chronicles the Japanese invasion of Shanghai in 1937. Both films were discovered by Lai's son, Mr Lai Shek and donated to the Archive.

The "Romance and the West Chamber" (1927) is an impressive achievement in silent Chinese cinema, signposting generic elements which become standard in sword fighting and martial arts. A newly acquired black and white, freshly tinted version from Holland will be shown.

Based on a novel by Polish writer S Rosen Hoa, "Love and Duty" (1930) is a classic gem of the Chinese cinema starring "movie king" Jin Yan and China's answer to Greta Garbo, Ruan Lingyu. This film was long believed to have been lost until this reasonably intact version was uncovered in the early 90s in Uruguay.

Chung Ying Theatre Company will perform excerpts from "Action! Mr Lai!" before the screenings of "Romance and the West Chamber" on October 4 and "Love and Duty" on October 5, and both films will have live music accompaniment by William Loh Wai-leung and Yank Wong.

With archival footage and interviews, filmmakers Choi Kai-kwong and Law Kar chronicle the life of Lai as he witnessed Hong Kong at the turn of the century, through the Sino-Japanese War to the early 50s in the documentary "Lai Man-wai: Father of Hong Kong Cinema" (2001). This documentary was premiered at the 2001 Hong Kong International Film Festival and has been selected for many international film festivals.

Other than "A Page of History" which is in Mandarin, all other films including three silent movies and "Lai Man-wai: Father of Hong Kong Cinema" which is in Cantonese, carry Chinese and English subtitles.

Tickets priced at $30 per screening are available at all URBTIX outlets. Half-price concessionary tickets are available for senior citizens, people with disabilities, full-time students and Comprehensive Social Security Assistance recipients.

For programme information, call 2739 2139/2734 2900 or visit, Reservations can be made by phone at 2734 9009 or on the internet at

End/Monday, September 8, 2003

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