Early Cinematic Treasures Rediscovered returns with its third instalment this season. Thanks to the meticulous efforts of scholars and researchers bringing breadth and depth to their reading and analysing of individual films, then presenting and sharing their insights at seminars and essays written for publications, we have gained a preliminary understanding of the activities and interactions between China, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia prior to WWII, the strategic importance of Hong Kong as a British colony and an outpost during the war period, as well as the cinematic representations of human migration, commercial and business activities, everyday life and entertainment that took place on the crossroads between east and west.
Among the eight films selected for this instalment, Rivals in Love (1939) and The Blood-Stained Peach Blossom Fan (1940) are believed to have been completed before WWII; The Evil Mind (1947), The Inscrutable Heart of Women (1947), Return of the Swallows (1948), A Poor Lover's Tears (1948), The Birth of Kiddy Stone (1949) and To Kill the Love (1949) have been identified as postwar productions.
The first two titles, the only surviving prints of Cantonese directors So Yee and Mak Siu-ha respectively, are among the rarest of treasures. Rivals in Love borrowed liberally, though idiosyncratically, from Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan, casting Cantonese opera player Tam Lan-hing as the mother of the title character who returns to save her daughter from going astray. Fan, a war morale booster highlighting prevalent themes of patriotism and cowardice, tells how a group of businessmen is awakened from their comfortable, sheltered life to do their part for the war effort. The film also preserves in it the dazzling scene where Cheang Mang-ha (librettist Tong Tik-sang's wife) performed a sword dance.
Six leading Cantonese directors helmed the other selected titles: Fung Chi-kong, Wu Pang and Chu Kea, who later ranked among the ‘Top Ten Directors'; Gao Lihen, Hung Chung-ho and But Fu, three key figures of early Cantonese cinema.
Drawing widely from popular literature, their works offer a wealth of visual texts that enriches the study of pre-war cinema. For instance, A Poor Lover's Tears was adapted from Mong Wan's novel and To Kill the Love from Yee Hung-sang's serial novel in Sing Pao Daily News. There was no shortage of clues in these films to the noir-esque style or the attempt to delve into the mysteries of the female psyche inspired by Western literature and Hollywood.
The new instalment will feature a panel of scholars and researchers spearheading post - screening discussions and recommending reference films in relation to the selected titles. Evoking the sights, sounds and atmosphere of the 1930s and 40s, their recommendations will bring a whole new dimension to our cinematic experience. For this, a heartfelt thank you to Law Kar, Wong Ain-ling, Dr Chan Sau-yan, Dr Yau Ching, Dr Mary Wong Shuk-han, Lau Yam and Dr Stephanie Ng.
A total of 22 nitrate films salvaged from oblivion in San Francisco have graced our screen since the programme's beginning. This is made possible through the generosity of our donor, Jack Lee Fong, and the tireless work of our acquisition and conservation colleagues on preserving these films. Our sincere gratitude is due to all of them.
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.