Survival, Recovery and Creative Spirits in and out of the War Period

At this historical juncture of exactly seventy years after the end of the war, the Mainland, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao all reflect on history and issues such as nationhood and the atrocities of war through various kinds of commemoration and activity. How did Hong Kong come by from being refugees living in crowded conditions, working in quarries and farming seventy or eighty years ago, to developing trade, economy and entertainment industry? How did the small fishing village make its way to a bustling metropolis? The stories and social conditions documented by photographic film are important references for understanding how Hong Kong, the so-called "blessed land" with its unique geographical location, adapted to the political-economic environment before and after the war.

Understanding history helps us to forecast the future. Watching early films will also give us enlightenment. From January next year, the Hong Kong Film Archive will continue to showcase six extremely precious Hong Kong films from the thirties and forties unearthed in San Francisco.

The earliest of these films, Pretty Lady (1938), also boasts the youngest cast among them. It stars the then seventeen-year-old Hong Kong actress Nancy Chan, opposite the dandy Kwong Shan-siu and the heartless lover Wong Cho-shan. While there is some incongruity between the first half imitating western situation comedy and the second half which suddenly turns tragic, it is still a meticulously made work.

Directed by Wong Toi, The Ghost Catcher (1939) is a bizarre fantasy that is a mix between Chinese and western imagery. An early cult film, it combines the motifs of hell, demons and damsel-in-distress in comics popular with both adults and children. The production is crude and the plot is somewhat incomprehensible. However, its element of absurdity, potpourri character and nonsense are precisely the root of Hong Kong-style comedy.

Directed by Mok Hong-si, Flames of Lust (1946) is a boy-meets-girl romantic comedy starring Miss Hong Kong Lee Lan. Featuring two leading men, Ng Chofan and Lee Ching, and two leading ladies, Lee Lan and Cheang Mang-ha, with a sprinkle of seductive scenes and a film-within-the-film, it was the second post-war big production (the first was My Love Comes Too Late directed by Wong Toi, which was released later in 1947).

Where is the Lady's Home? (1947), directed by Lee Tit, stars Cheung Ying and Siu Yin Fei. A junior teacher falls in love with a songstress but meets opposition from his uncle and mother. In the end, the songstress sacrifices her happiness to raise money to pay for his medical expenses. Lee Tit specialised in this kind of melodrama and tragic love story, which criticised the conservative views that stood in the way of free love and took up the cause of songstresses who were the subjects of discrimination.

Directed by Wu Pang and written by Chun Kim, Fishing Village in the War (1948) is a realistic work about the villagers in a fishing village who are oppressed and framed by the despotic landlord, and decide to fight back. The plot involves the relationships among multiple characters from three families, and shows the director's ability to handle complex storylines.

Lo Duen directed and starred in The Crazy Matchmaker (1948), based on a popular novel serialised in Sing Pao by Yi Hung-sang. Lo plays a bigtime blackmailer and swindler who swindles money and seduces women. It is another movie with South East Asian elements after Love Song of the South Island (1947) screened in the last series. The intricate relationships between three men and three women also reflected the perversities of postwar society and the fragility of love.

In terms of genre, directing, development of the plot and innovation in film language and acting, the six films show diverse characteristics, representing the creative energy of local cinema before and after the war. They are rare and precious material for researchers and the general public looking forward to seeing the glamorous stars in old movies from the thirties and forties.

Just like last year, we have commissioned several researchers and scholars to further analyze, study and interpret the films, in the hope of stimulating new passion for studying the history of Hong Kong film. We would like to express our hearty gratitude to Mr Law Kar, Ms Wong Ain-ling, Dr Yau Ching and Dr Mary Wong.

Upon the generous support of Mr Jack Lee Fong who donated these precious nitrate films in 2012, the Acquisition team of the Hong Kong Film Archive took length to ship the films back to Hong Kong. Afterwards, they were cleaned, scanned and previewed by the restoration team. The nitrate prints of more than ten titles have thus far been scanned into 2K digital copies. Due to heavy shrinkage and poor condition of the film copies, the cleaning and scanning of the entire lot will take time. We hope that another batch of Hong Kong films from 1949 or before can see the light of day again next year.


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