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Film Archive to hold conference on history of early Chinese cinema (with photos)

     Is 2009 the 100th anniversary of the Hong Kong cinema? Is the short film "Stealing a Roast Duck", which was made in 1909, the first film in Hong Kong? What constitutes a Hong Kong film and how to define "first film"? Until recently, little effort had been made on the preservation of film. As such, many early films, records and related documents were lost, making an understanding of early Chinese cinema extremely difficult.

     To encourage a better understanding of Hong Kong cinema's early history and its relationship with Chinese cinema, the Hong Kong Film Archive (HKFA) will stage a conference entitled "History of Early Chinese Cinema(s) Revisited" from December 15-17 at the Convocation Room, 218 Main Building of the Hong Kong University and the Resource Centre of the HKFA.

     More than 20 scholars and film researchers from mainland China, Taiwan, Japan and the United States will discuss different aspects of the issue, including early pioneers, film industry during the silent era, Japanese influence on early Chinese cinema, the relationship between film and audience, film music, film genres and the development of film language.

     Presented by the HKFA, the conference is held in association with the Hong Kong Institute for the Humanities & Social Sciences (inc. the Centre of Asian Studies) of the University of Hong Kong and is sponsored by the Center for East Asian and Pacific Studies, University of Illinois as well as the Centre for Media and Communication Research of the School of Communication of Hong Kong Baptist University. It will be conducted mostly in Mandarin. Admission is free. People can make reservations at 2119 7372 (HKFA) or 2859 2460 (the University of Hong Kong)

     To tie in with the conference, HKFA will present the "Developing Images - Early Chinese Films" from December 16-20 at the Cinema of the HKFA, showcasing some of the early Chinese and Hong Kong films available as well as the American and European films made in 1909. Some of the screenings are accompanied with live music by the silent-film accompanist Ernesto Maurice Corpus.

     1909 was a mythic year for Hong Kong cinema as the short film "Stealing a Roast Duck" was supposedly made then, marking the beginning of Hong Kong cinema. Yet, no solid evidence had been produced to support that claim. "A Hundred Years Ago" presents a sample of European and American films from 1909, providing reference when contemplating the early Chinese cinema, including "Julius Caesar", "A Trip to Jupiter", "The Fable of Psyche", "In Love with the Bearded Woman", "Two Naughty Boys" and "The Country Doctor".

     Early film pioneer director Lai Man-wai put together a small crew in the 1920s to shoot documentaries in Hong Kong and China, following and recording Sun Yat-sen's efforts in the reunification of China. The footage, including precious records of Sun's Northern Expedition, was edited into feature length and shown publicly as "A Page of History" (1941). The film deteriorated over the years and in the 1970s, Lai's descendents managed to salvage 34 minutes of the footage. The restored print was donated to the HKFA a few years ago.

     Hong Kong has undergone tremendous changes culturally and socially in the past 100 years. Unfortunately moving images of the changes in the early decades are extremely rare. "Early Images of Hong Kong" includes three collections of shorts: "Views of Hong Kong" (1936), "Hong Kong Sceneries" (1930-1940) and "Pre-war Images of Hong Kong" donated to the HKFA by Ms Dolores Wang Chuen-chu, whose family members risked their lives safeguarding the films during the Japanese Occupation. Also, " The Edison Shorts" (1898) represents the earliest available moving images of Hong Kong and scenes of Shanghai and Macau.

     Benjamin Brodsky was a Russian-born American who made films in China and Japan and had supposedly teamed with Lai Man-wai and Lai Buk-hoi to make "Stealing a Roast Duck" and "Zhuangzi Tests His Wife". Although the two films cannot be found, "Travel with Brodsky" will present shorts that he made in China, including "The Chinese Revolution" (1912) and the commissioned work "Seeing China as it is by the YWCA" (1909). The program also includes a documentary about this fascinating figure - "Search for Brodsky" (2009).

     Shot over a span of 10 years, "A Trip Through China" (1917) records life in the new Republic. Brodsky's images reveal a pictorial sophistication, a storyteller's touch and a sense of humour. The film received favourable reviews in "New York Times" and "Variety" during its American release.

     Directed by Zhang Shichuan and written by Zheng Zhengqiu, the delightful comedy "Labor's Love" (1922) is the earliest Chinese film available. It offers a glimpse of turn-of-the-century city life, with depictions of small businesses, street thugs and gambling dens.

     "The Pearl Necklace" (1926) is the cautionary moral tale that examines the perils of vanity. It's directed by C Y Lee, an engineer who directed many of the Great Wall's films.

     Both starring Lam Cho-cho, "Way Down West" (1927) and "A Poet from the Sea" (1927) were directed by notable Chinese director Hou Yao. He brilliantly interprets the classic novel "Romance of the West Chamber" with a fertile imagination and state-of-the-art special effects, turning "Way Down West" into a dreamy fantasy. This print is a tinted version recovered from the Netherlands. "A Poet from the Sea" is available now only in fragmented condition. Hou made the film "to portray the conflict between material life and spiritual life" and he also played the role of the "alienated poet" who tries to escape from modern civilisation. The incomplete version shown, was recovered in Europe and restored by Cineteca di Bologna.

     The popularity of the martial arts novels had paved the way for the booming of martial arts films in the 1920s. "Swordswoman of Huangjiang" (1930) is the first chapter in a popular series, based in turn on a popular novel. The beginning and the end are missing from this survived print, yet the exuberance of the genre is already evident, with various forms of special effects employed to visualise the fantastic nature of the martial arts imagination.

     All the films are silent films, except "A Page of History" and "Search for Brodsky" which are in Mandarin. Most films have English intertitles or subtitles. "Julius Caesar", "The Fable of Psyche" and "In Love with the Bearded Woman" are accompanied by live English interpretation.

     Tickets priced at $30 for the screenings are available at all URBTIX outlets. Half-price concessionary tickets are available for senior citizens aged 60 and above, people with disabilities, full-time students and Comprehensive Social Security Assistance recipients. Reservations can be made by phone on 2734 9009, or on the Internet at

     Detailed programme information can be obtained in the leaflets distributed at all performing venues of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. For enquiries, please call 2739 2139 or 2734 2900 or browse the website:

Ends/Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Issued at HKT 19:38


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