A short excursion into cinema..

Submitted by Andrew Craig-Bennett on Mon, 07/12/2010 - 09:07

This section is not an attempt at a sketch of a history of Hong Kong's well known cinema industry, which is both historically important and important at the present time.

Films can be useful as guides to the manners and mores of an earlier day, and on that basis here are clips from three films about post - WW2 Hong Kong, set in 1949, 1956 and 1988.

The two best known Western films about Hong Kong are probably "Love is a Many-Splendored Thing", set in 1949, and "The World of Suzie Wong", set in the mid-Fifties.

Whilst they both deal with William Holden, falling for Jennifer Jones and then for Nancy Kwan in screenplays adapted from novels by Han Suyin and Richard Mason, respectively, they are quite good in portraying the atmosphere of some parts of Hong Kong society as it probably was then; the first film was pretty much shot around the Repulse Bay Hotel and was set in the better end of Hong Kong society and the second is set in slightly less grand circumstances. Both have excellent views of the city and the topography, and it is for this, rather than for the plot, the characters or the dialogue, that I commend them.

1949-50 (film released 1955) - "Love is a Many-Splendoured Thing"

Here's a compliation clip from "Love is a Many-Splendoured Thing", found on the Internet, with Jennifer Jones fitting into a cheongsam (not something many Western women are advised to attempt!) and two scenes of particular interest to me - a DC4, tactfully given the colours of a nonexistent airline - no product placement in those days - arriving at the old (pre-runway extension) Kai Tak and the characters boarding the ferry FATSHAN for a dirty weekend in Macau - the FATSHAN, owned by the Great and Ancient Hong, was in fact the vessel that brought the curiously overweight Freddie Clemo from Canton (see above):


The book, by Han Suyin, is better than the film in establishing a perspective.

1955-56 (fim released 1960) - "The World of Suzie Wong"

And here for comparison is, I think, the whole of "The World of Suzie Wong", just about the first mainstream Hollywood film in which a Chinese role is taken by a Chinese actress, Nancy Kwan, a very well brought up young lady, whose father, Kwan Wing Hong, was a promient architect who had studied at Cambridge:


She had attended the Royal Ballet School. She was 19 when shooting began and she does her level best to drop her "cut glass" accent and adopt the diction of a Wanchai bar girl. She fails, rather comprehensively, but charmingly!

At no point in the film does she utter the all important catch phrase, known to generations of "Wanchai Greyhounds",

"I love you no shit! You buy me drink!"

She got into hot water, socially, for playing a prostitute, and never did so again:


(note that Ocean Terminal is different - it is still Holt's Wharf in this picture - but Kowloon Star Ferry Pier is exactly the same and you can still travel on the Radiant Star!)


The policeman on point duty should have red tabs on his epaulettes, to show he speaks English. The street market, however, is "spot on"! Mason actually booked into the Luk Kwok Hotel and discovered to his surprise that it was, in effect, a brothel, which gave him the "idea for a story" that he was looking for. The film, tactfully, does not use the old Luk Kwok Hotel, which I remember (it was replaced by a much grander version in 1988)












By the way, do read the book; it's somewhat different, but very good. Unlike the film, the book gets the dialogue down to a T - word perfect. Mason must have had an exceptional ear for dialogue. He also wrote one of the first books in which a trans-racial romance does not end in disaster!

I remember that, in 1989 a journalist on the South China Morning Post tracked down Richard Mason, who was living quietly in Rome. This was a minor sensation, as nobody knew what had become of him. He explained that he had written four novels, each of which had been filmed. "The World of Suzie Wong" was the last, and when it became a huge sucess he decided that he had made enough money and stopped work!

Anyway, he certainly did more than his bit for Hong Kong tourism...

1996 - "Comrades, almost a love story"

For a modern Hong Kong romantic comedy with a serious side to it, I'd recommend this one, with Maggie Cheung as the cunning little vixen and Leon Lai as the sweet innocent abroad - it contains a witty and touching reference to William Holden:


Here's a clip :

2C+almost+a+love+story&hl=en&view=2&emb=0&qvid=Com rades%2C+almost+a+love+story&vid=30396252591431044 47

You may wonder why the film is subtitled in both English and Chinese.

The reason is that all Hong Kong movies are - the English subtitles were a Government requirement, back in the Fifties, lest films contain dangerous Communist propaganda, and the Chinese subtitles are there because the film may be made in Cantonese/ Guangdonghua (for Hong Kong and Guangdong distribution) or in Mandarin/Putonghua for distribution in Taiwan and Singapore and elsewhere in the mainland. This particular clip is in both, with some English thrown in.


Submitted by
Anonymous (not verified)
Mon, 07/12/2010 - 11:17

Love is a Many Splendored Thing (American film so no 'u' in Splendored) was released in 1955, not 1949.

Thank you; spelling corrected! I think that the flim, although released in 1955, is set in 1949-1950. The border is not closed at the start of the film and the Korean War seems to be getting under way towards the end. The novel was published in 1952.

Poking about in Wikipedia led me to this essay by Thomas Y.T. Luk on the imagery of Hong Kong in two of the films discussed here. It is in the excellent on line archives of the Chinese University of Hong Kong - be warned, though, that it is written in modern litcritspeak, a style of written English that it took me years to un-learn...



Submitted by
Anonymous (not verified)
Mon, 07/12/2010 - 22:24

Eating dinner out with my wife in the US, I often seem to recognize Cantonese accented English from the waiting staff, and sometimes ask if they speak Cantonese.  In one case, the answer was 'Yes", and they had in fact grown up in (high rise) Shatin where I had briefly lived when it was still bucolic.  'Have you been back?'. The answer was 'Yes', and then it got interesting.  They had been back not to HK but as a tourist to the North.  Innocent of Mandarin, they had tried Cantonese and to their surprise no few shopkeepers knew some!  How is that?  Most of the music and film that they see is from Hong Kong or Canton these days, so they hear the Cantonese.  The films if in Cantonese without Madarin dubbing show Chinese characters in a subtitle at the bottom. That is where they can make a connection.  For instance to "Hi M'ng Hi" instead of "Sure Boo Sure" for "Yes Not Yes - Isn't that so?" - pardon my romanization.

Regards,  Don Ady

Submitted by
Anonymous (not verified)
Sun, 07/18/2010 - 18:17

The Japanese made a propaganda film about the fall of HK ,is that available anywhere? Made in 1942 there is an entry on it at IMDb ,title The Day England Fell .