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A sentimental journey through world of melodrama

Chinese and Western literary classics by Ba Jin, Cao Yu, Dickens and Tolstoy inspired many Hong Kong filmmakers in the '50s and '60s. Talented directors and screenwriters such as Lee Sun-fung, Lee Tit and Chum Kim produced marvellous melodramas adapted from such works.

As a contribution to this year's Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF), the Hong Kong Film Archive has organised a retrospective, "Novel * Drama * Melodrama", for film buffs to appreciate the classics and the crossover culture. The performances of Ng Cho-fan, Pak Yin, Cheung Ying, Mui Yee and other silver-screen stars made the adaptations vivid portrayals of the stories of their era.

From April 6 to May 30, the Hong Kong Film Archive Cinema will showcase 40 Cantonese and Mandarin literary adaptation films produced in the '50s and '60s.

The retrospective comprises two sections. In the first instalment, 25 Cantonese classics will be screened during the HKIFF from April 6 to 30. The second series, from May 1 to 30, will feature 15 Mandarin classics including Grace Chang's early comedy "The Story of a Fur Coat", Hsia Moon in "A Widow's Tear", Betty Loh Ti in "The Eternal Beauty" and Li Hanxiang's "Blood in Snow".

A two-month exhibition and related workshops will complement the screenings, as will a seminar and publication on director Lee Sun-fung. The activities aim to enhance audiences' understanding of the interactive relationship between Hong Kong cinema and literature.

The exhibition, at the Exhibition Hall of the Film Archive from April 9 to June 6, will trace the literary origins of Hong Kong melodrama of the '50s and '60s through pictures, artifacts and moving images with in-depth analysis on the individuality and style of Cantonese cinema masters. Admission to the exhibition is free.

Lee Sun-fung was an outstanding director of Cantonese melodrama. He excelled in adapting Chinese and Western literary works - both classic and contemporary masterpieces for the screen. Film workers widely acknowledged his achievements.

The Hong Kong Film Archive's new publication, "The Cinema of Lee Sun-fung", will be published in April in Chinese and English editions. The director's notes are particularly valuable, giving readers a glimpse of how filmmakers of his time deliberated on filmmaking and attempted to strike a balance between the real world and the ideal.

Five of Lee's works will be screened. Three of them with newly translated English subtitles:
* "It Was a Cold Winter Night" (1955), an adaptation of Ba Jin's famous "Cold Nights";
* "Sunrise" (1953), based on Cao Yu's play of the same title; and
* the tragic melodrama "Anna" (1955), adapted from Leo Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina".

Cantonese cinema's prima donna, Pak Yin, performed superbly in two quite different roles, as a tough and open-minded new woman in "It was a Cold Winter Night" and a woman who was trapped in a miserable marriage in "Anna".

Another of Lee Sun-fung's contemporaries is director Lee Tit. His works include the masterpiece "In the Face of Demolition" (1953), a socialistic yet realistic drama focused on "neighbours helping each other" featuring a captivating performance by a young Bruce Lee. Director Lee Tit's talent is also reflected in the tragic "Everlasting Love" (1955) and "Father is Back" (1961), both starring Ng Cho-fan.

Other notable works include "Thunderstorm" (1957), based on one of 20th-century China's most famous plays, and Chor Yuen's "Winter Love" (1968), starring Josephine Siao Fong-fong and Patrick Tse Yin, made extensive use of European film techniques to lend a Western flavour to the story adapted from Yee Tat's popular novel.

"An Orphan's Tragedy" (1955) is a contemporary version of Charles Dickens' "Great Expectations" with local touches that appeal to Chinese audiences. A teenaged Bruce Lee plays the character based on Dickens' Pip.

"Love and Passion" (1964) by Wong Yiu, the touching piece "Autumn" (1954) by Chun Kim, "The Pipa's Lament" (1957) based on Charles Vidor's "Love Me or Leave Me", and "The Haunted Night" (1962), an adaptation of Hitchcock's classic, will also be featured in the festival.

Tickets for the screenings of "Novel * Drama * Melodrama" are priced at $30. Half-price tickets are available for senior citizens, people with disabilities, full-time students and Comprehensive Social Security Assistance recipients.

Ticket arrangements for films shown during the HKIFF will follow those of the Festival, with postal booking from tomorrw (March 5) to 16. Internet bookings can be made at . Counter sales will start form March 25 at all URBTIX outlets. Tickets for the second part of the retrospective will be on sale from April 1.

Detailed information and various discounts during the HKIFF can be obtained in the 28th HKIFF booking folder distributed at all URBTIX outlets, or in the "Profolio" available in mid-March. Enquiries can be made at 2734 2900; or browse the websites: or .

Ends/Thursday, March 4, 2004
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