HK Film Archive's "Transcending Space and Time" to showcase early cinematic experience of HK (with photos)

     The Hong Kong Film Archive (HKFA)'s new programme "Transcending Space and Time - Early Cinematic Experience of Hong Kong", set to commence next month, will not only showcase some of the HKFA's most valuable archival treasures of early Hong Kong cinema but also bring about interaction between the past and the present through close analysis of these films.

     Treasures held by the HKFA include "The Edison Shorts" (1898), the oldest reel of film currently preserved by the archive; pre-war footage of Hong Kong and additional moving images shot during the fall of Hong Kong donated by Miss Dolores Wang; "A Trip Through China" (1917), shot by the Russian-American businessman Benjamin Brodsky between 1915 and 16; and more. In recent years, the HKFA has been working hard to recover from various countries films and documentaries produced between the 1930s and the 1950s in an effort to paint a more complete picture of Hong Kong's cinema history.

     The "Transcending Space and Time - Early Cinematic Experience of Hong Kong" programme, which will be held from January 4 to March 23, comprises four major focuses: "Cityscape in Early Moving Images", with screenings of the HKFA's most valuable treasures; "Pioneer Filmmaker Hou Yao", a retrospective on a versatile film artist; "Re-discovering Pioneering Females in Early Chinese Cinema", commemorating forgotten female filmmakers from the early years; and "Grandview's Cross-border Productions", featuring films produced by Hong Kong's Grandview Film Company when it shifted production to the United States from 1939 to 1948. Some of the screenings will be accompanied by post-screening talks.
     The HKFA will also organise four free seminars on January 11, February 8, March 8 and March 23 with Grace Ng, Winnie Fu, Law Kar, Lau Yam, S Louisa Wei, Frank Bren, Yau Ching and Professor Gregory Yee Mark as speakers to discuss different topics. The seminars entitled "Michael Rogge and his Hong Kong of the 1950s" and "Hou Yao and his Films" will be conducted in Cantonese; "Pioneering Female Filmmakers in Hong Kong and Overseas" will be conducted in Cantonese and English; and "Rediscovery of The Curse of Quon Gwon (1916)"
will be conducted in English. In addition to the screenings and seminars, three electronic programme brochures will be published online to enhance the audience's understanding of Hong Kong early cinema.

     "Cityscape in Early Moving Images" will feature selections of documentaries that represent some of the greatest treasures in the HKFA's collection. Programme 1, "The Spectacular Early Years", comprises eight film segments that capture Hong Kong's everyday life from the final years of the 19th century to the 1960s. It includes "The Edison Shorts", a look at the streets of Hong Kong in the early years; "Pre-war Images of Hong Kong", shot at many Hong Kong neighbourhoods and Victoria Harbour; and shorts documenting the city after World War II. The two screenings will have live music accompaniment respectively by the internationally renowned Dutch pianist Maud Nelissen and well-known local musician Wong Yan-kwai and friends.

     Amateur Dutch photographer Michael Rogge began documenting Hong Kong on film when amateur film production was not yet popular in Hong Kong. His collection of more than 200 minutes of footage of Hong Kong life has thus become an extremely valuable artefact. "Michael Rogge Retrospective (1)" and "Michael Rogge Retrospective (2)" will showcase 12 short films including two prize-winning works, "Sunrise" and
"Rain"; "Coronation Festivities" (1953), which was captured by five cameramen; and the slice-of-life work "Walking Down to Central", which was made after his arrival in Hong Kong in 1949. The two screenings will be accompanied by live music composed and performed by Nelissen.

     The fourth programme, "DECADE", a digital initiative by the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority and co-curated by the HKFA, intends to revitalise archival images from 1898 to 2010 and trigger new interpretations by marrying 10 chapters of historical footage with 10 new creative music pieces.
     Hou Yao was one of the most unique and versatile film artists in Chinese and Hong Kong early cinema history. His works blended local traditions with Western romanticism. Hou started his career as a playwright before going into film in the 1920s, and he briefly left the film world to be a secret operative against the Japanese invaders. He moved to Hong Kong in the 1930s and began directing Cantonese-language films, including anti-Japanese films, military propaganda and popular folklore dramas. He also made Malay-language films in Singapore and Malaysia. Unfortunately, he was killed by the Japanese military when it invaded Singapore.

     The retrospective "Pioneer Filmmaker Hou Yao" will screen four of his films, namely "Incident in the Pacific" (1938), a war drama chronicling a love story in the midst of the Japanese invasion in northeastern China; the classic "Way Down West" (1927), starring Lam Cho-cho, with cinematography using natural lighting for indoor scenes and bringing out the beauty of the sets with brilliant use of space (a reconstructed version with Chinese intertitles will be shown); "A Poet from the Sea" (1927), about a poet living on a deserted island and with the surviving footage revealing gorgeous shots of the coast near Stanley; and "The Pearl Necklace" (1926), which was adapted from Guy de Maupassant's drama "The Necklace" (1884) and features impressive editing and moving images. The latter is the earliest scriptwriting work by Hou that has been found. Live music accompaniment for "Way Down West" and "A Poet from the Sea" will be performed by Kung Chi-sing and Shane Aspegren while "The Pearl Necklace" will have music composed and performed live by Robert Ellis-Geiger.

     "Re-discovering Pioneering Females in Early Chinese Cinema" will showcase the talents of four female pioneers who were bold and creative in initiating film projects. Esther Eng, one of the first female directors in Hong Kong, joined the film industry in the 1930s. Though most of Eng's films have been lost, director S Louisa Wei managed to uncover enough information from various sources in the United States to make the documentary "Golden Gate Girls" (2013). Female director Wan Hoi-ling was a long-time collaborator of director Hou Yao. Her films were believed to have been lost, but the HKFA was able to locate a print of the Mandarin-language film "Spirit of Overseas Chinese" (1946), shot in Singapore, from the China Film Archive.

     The HKFA was also able to obtain more than 10 nitrate prints of pre-war films from the United States, with the earliest one being "The Light of Women" (1937), starring Lee Yin-nin. It not only shows one of Lee's earliest works, but also helps viewers to understand the filmmaking process of 1930s Cantonese-language films. Another film, "The Curse of Quon Gwon" (1916), was directed by Chinese-American female director Marion Wong. Although only two reels of the seven-reel production have survived, the images show the conflicts of a newlywed Westernised wife with traditional Chinese customs. The recovery of the film was quite amazing. Filmed in 1916 in Oakland, the 35mm nitrate stock was kept for decades in the cellar of the leading actress, Violet Wong, until it was allotted to the care of her grandson in 1968 and the film was subsequently rediscovered. It was restored in 2005 by the Academy Film Archive with the help of filmmaker Arthur Dong.

     Grandview Film's founder Joseph Sunn Jue (aka Chiu Shu-sun) moved to the United States at the age of 5 and longed to make films at an early age. As he foresaw the popularity of Cantonese cinema in Asia after 1934, he came to Hong Kong and produced over 60 films between 1934 and 1940. After returning to the United States in late 1939 to escape the war, Jue continued making Cantonese films in Grandview's San Francisco branch.

     "Grandview's Cross-border Productions" will screen five US-produced Grandview films. They include "The Way to Brightness" (1946), which reflects the hope of overseas Chinese who wish to see their homeland revitalised; the light comedy "Black Market Couple" (1947), with settings in American hotel rooms and offices to show the efforts of the new generation of Chinese in trying to truly adapt to a new American life; and the melodrama "Eternal Love" (1947), which encourages overseas Chinese to look ahead to the future. Also to be screened is "White Powder and Neon Lights" (1947), a Technicolor production that brings out a message about the need for overseas Chinese to stick together, and "A Strong Wind Banishes the Swallow" (1948), depicting the contrast of two generations of women and urging the new generation to strive for personal freedom and independence. "A Baby for Everybody" (1948), Grandview's first colour film produced after the reopening of its Hong Kong branch after the war, will also be screened.

     Except for the silent films, most of the films are in Cantonese while "Spirit of Overseas Chinese" is in Mandarin and "Golden Gate Girls" is in English and Cantonese. Tickets priced at $40 are 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 70" 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/Tuesday, December 24, 2013
Issued at HKT 18:18