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Introduction

Archival Gems - Worth a Thousand Words: Adaptations of Foreign Literary Classics

Literature has always been a rich source of inspiration for films and filmmakers. After all, they come with complete narrative structures and characters that are ripe for adaptation into films. When original stories couldn’t fulfill the demand, novels, theatrical plays and folklores filled the gap. 

However, it’s virtually impossible to be completely faithful when turning words into visuals, which means that the process of adaptation always sees filmmakers having to pick and choose what to include. Between the 1940s and 60s, both Cantonese and Mandarin cinema in Hong Kong adapted many foreign literary works. To fit the times as well as the region’s culture and ethic codes, those stories had to be localised for the Hong Kong audience. Filmmakers would also simply take the gist of the stories and transform them into works of different genres and themes. Some literary works took a longer road to the silver screen, first appearing as films in Western countries or Cantonese operas on the theatre stages of Guangdong and Hong Kong before being adapted into Hong Kong films. Issues of fidelity aside, the relationship between cinema and literature has always provoked interesting discussions.

Following the success of Worth a Thousand Words: Adaptations of Chinese Literary Classics, the Hong Kong Film Archive presents a new instalment featuring eight pairs of films adapted from foreign literary works, one in each month accompanied by a seminar exploring how different filmmakers approached the same classic as well as the crossover from literature to film. 

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.