From Small Town to the Big Screen: A Retrospective on Wei Wei

For many, when they think of Fei Mu's 1948 masterpiece, Spring in a Small Town, the first thing that comes to mind is its melancholic-looking heroine Zhou Yuwen, played affectingly by Wei Wei.

Originally named Mou Mengying, Wei Wei was born in Zhenjiang, Jiangsu in 1922. By the time she graduated from high school in Shanghai, she had developed a strong passion for theatre, which led her to join a professional troupe and begin an active career on stage. In 1947, upon invitation by Wu Xingzai, founder of Wenhua Film Company, Wei made her film debut with the minor role of a sex worker in Night Inn, based on Maxim Gorky's play The Lower Depths. While shooting the film, director Huang Zuolin asked her to redo a scene – where she got to deliver just one line – over 30 times. Infuriated, she went to Wu, asking to quit. It was Fei Mu who stepped in to pacify the budding actress, promising that he would give her a role worthy of her talent in the future. A year later, that promise bore fruit with Spring in a Small Town, now a world-renowned classic of Chinese cinema.

In the late 1940s, Wei followed Fei and Wu to Hong Kong and worked with their co-founded company Dragon-Horse Films on The Show Must Go On (1952) and Between Fire and Water (1955). In the wake of the resounding success of these social realist works, she furthered her career with the company Feng Huang, whose backbone largely came from Dragon-Horse. There she continued to impress audiences with the nuanced intensity of her performances in Love at First Sight (1955), They All Want a Baby (1956) and His Fabulous Wife (1957). The moral tale Year In, Year Out (1955) and the love triangle drama The Foolish Heart (1956), in particular, have been selected in this programme to showcase Wei's controlled and evolving acting style.

This retrospective also looks back on Wei's works from her early Shanghai and Beijing days. Screening for the first time at the Hong Kong Film Archive and possibly in Hong Kong, The Great Reunion (1948) is surely not to be missed, not to mention her debut Night Inn (1947) and the all-time classic Spring in a Small Town

A close witness of the turbulent and dramatic history of the film industry in mainland and Hong Kong from the 1940s to 60s, Wei's acting career is itself a fascinating story worth revisiting again and again. Drawing from different phases of her career, this retrospective will take audiences through her transformation from her theatre beginnings to a memorable figure of poise and elegance on the silver screen.

The contents of the programme do not represent the views of the presenter.
The presenter reserves the right to change the programme should unavoidable circumstances make it necessary.