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HK Film Archive's "From Child Prodigy to Stage Royalty" showcases Yuen Siu-fai's acting talents (with photos)

     Renowned Cantonese opera star Yuen Siu-fai made his debut as a child prodigy at the tender age of seven and in more recent years has spared no effort in promoting the traditional art of Cantonese opera. As 2013 marks the 60th anniversary of Yuen's career as a performing artist, the Hong Kong Film Archive (HKFA)'s "Morning Matinee" series will pay tribute to this member of Hong Kong's stage royalty with a selection of his films as a child actor and his different roles in wuxia and fantasy films. Yuen will discuss his life in movies with audiences in a seminar on August 3.

     In 1953, Yuen signed with Evergreen Motion Picture Company as an actor when the company started. He also appeared in films produced by the Union Film Enterprise Limited, launching his career as a child actor in both Cantonese and Mandarin films. Be it the poor little dejected urchin or the mischievous troublemaker, Yuen's natural talent and cuteness enabled him to play a wide range of characters with equal ease, leaving audiences with a memorable impression.

     Yuen became a disciple of the renowned opera star Mak Bing-wing after reaching his teenage years. He was also a student of martial artist and actor Yuen Siu-tien, and he had a physique that made him suitable for roles in both wuxia and fantasy films. As a master of the Nanying singing style, Yuen has performed with many of Hong Kong's most renowned Cantonese opera troupes, and has even taken part in scriptwriting. In 1971, Yuen established the Group of Hong Kong Experimental Cantonese Opera to further the development of the opera art form in Hong Kong, and soon after he joined a television network as a contract actor. He received the Hong Kong Artist of the Year award in 1991, the Badge of Honour in 1992 and the Award for Arts Achievement in 2003. In recent years, Yuen has dedicated himself to promoting Cantonese opera to future generations.

     "Yuen Siu-fai's 60th Anniversary in Performing Arts: From Child Prodigy to Stage Royalty" will screen a series entitled "The Child Prodigy" at 11am on August 2, 9, 16, 23 and 30 at the Cinema of the HKFA. The films to be shown are Yuen's debut, "Honour Thy Father and Mother" (1953); "Two Sisters in Phoenix Bower" (1954), with Yuen as a youngster with a grown-up's mind; "Orchid of the Valley" (1954), which displays his tearful performance; the comedy "Wong Fei-hung and the Lantern Festival Disturbance" (1956), in which he is the little prankster; and his first film playing Nazha, "Nazha's Adventures in the East Sea" (1957).

     The seminar entitled "Yuen Siu-fai on His Movie Life" will be held at 4.30pm on August 3 at the Cinema of the HKFA. Yuen will discuss the interesting experiences of his career in the past 60 years. The seminar will be conducted in Cantonese and admission is free. An extra screening of "Nazha's Adventures in the East Sea" will be held at 2.30pm before the seminar.

     The 7-year-old Yuen already showed his talent with some poised and natural acting in his film debut "Honour Thy Father and Mother", in which he plays an innocent child who constantly complains about being hungry, without knowing that his father makes a living as a rickshaw puller. Yuen's acting skills were put to the test in "Two Sisters in Phoenix Bower" and he passed with flying colours. The film's transformation of an innocent child into the arrogant, headstrong and mature Yuen was the perfect portrayal of a youngster forced to grow up before his time. Yuen's tearful performance during his beatings in "Orchid of the Valley", co-starring Pak Yin and Cheung Wood-yau, makes the audience's hearts sink and eyes well up.

     Yuen plays the mischievous, quick-witted, banana-loving nephew of Master Wong Fei-hung in "Wong Fei-hung and the Lantern Festival Disturbance", and his hysterical fight scene with the up-and-coming Lee Hong-kum makes for some side-splitting laughter. "Nazha's Adventures in the East Sea" was the first of five films in which Yuen played Nazha. With his energetic performance, Yuen looks just right as the mischievous and cheeky deity.

     A series entitled "The Master Prodigy" will be screened on September 6, 13, 20 and 27. The selected works are "The Twins" (1960), in which Yuen co-starred with Connie Chan Po-chu; "Fairies and a Monkey" (1965), with Yuen, Chan and Josephine Siao Fong-fong forming an iron triangle; and the television drama series "Below the Lion Rock" - "Pawn" (1977), "Wild Child" (1977) and "Revisiting the Shum's Garden" (1994) - and the film "The Legend of Lee Heung Kwan" (1990), with Yuen taking on heavier dramatic roles.
     At the age of 14, Yuen had already been skilfully trained in Cantonese opera and martial arts. In the fantasy adventure "The Twins", he co-starred with his real-life master Mak Bing-wing and Connie Chan, who played his twin brother. The two show off eagerly in their fight scenes, adding an extra degree of enthusiasm to their performances. In "Fairies and a Monkey", Yuen, Chan and Siao were the iron triangle working together in the Monkey King series. When the Monkey King, played by Yuen, finds out that his master and brothers-in-arms are in trouble, he fights with an evil spirit to rescue them. The film is a rare colour example of Yuen's work in film in the 1960s.

     Yuen had a career breakthrough when he took on strong dramatic roles for the first time in the television drama "Below the Lion Rock". He plays a pickpocket with a heart of gold in "Pawn", a junkie who often roams a cemetery in "Wild Child", and a Cantonese opera veteran in "Revisiting the Shum's Garden". In the romantic "The Legend of Lee Heung Kwan", Yuen has a pivotal role as someone who brings courtesan Lee Heung-kwan and revolutionary warrior-scholar Hou Chiu-chong together. Playing a morally ambiguous character, Yuen handles the role with impressive subtlety.

     All films are in Cantonese without subtitles. "The Morning Matinee" series is guest-curated by film researcher Yuen Tsz-ying.

     Tickets priced at $20 are now available at URBTIX. Half-price tickets are available for senior citizens aged 60 and above, people with disabilities and their minders, full-time students and Comprehensive Social Security Assistance recipients. Credit card bookings can be made at 2111 5999 or on the Internet at

     Detailed programme information can be obtained in the "ProFolio 68" leaflet, which is distributed at all performance venues of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. For enquiries, please call 2739 2139 or 2734 2900 or browse the website at

Ends/Wednesday, July 24, 2013
Issued at HKT 21:06


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