A Bruce Lee Coup
The Orphan (1959/60) was produced by the late Hong Kong actor/producer, Ng Chor-fan (1911 - 1993), a much loved and enduring figure in the history of Cantonese cinema. Mr. Ng's last quest was to find the colour original of his long-lost The Orphan. Sadly, he died a disappointed man, close to the time when the HKFA formally began. The film starred 18 year old Bruce Lee as a HK rebel without a cause just before he quit HK for the US - the standard starting point of Bruce Lee biographies.
In 1994, Cynthia Liu Chu-fun - then, as now, HKFA's Senior Manager - was in London searching through laboratories on the off-chance that old negatives of HK films had been stored and forgotten there. At Rank Laboratories, she was immediately handed about ten of them, mostly from the '50s or '60s, among them the long-sought The Orphan! Rank simply gave her the negatives, most of them in mint condition. "They did it without charging me a penny," she recalls.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Hong Kong had no technology for developing colour films so colour negatives were processed in either Japan or London, and sometimes remained there. "That's how we found Bruce Lee's The Orphan," says Ms Liu. "The negative was just there and nobody realised. I am sure there are HK films everywhere all over the world." It was a major break for the then year-old Archive, housed at the time in a temporary hut in Eastern Tsim Sha Tsui.
The Lee coup was part of a slow, painstaking but exciting search for Hong Kong's film heritage whether in film prints, posters, old scripts or industry memorabilia. "We think that about 30% of the films ever produced in Hong Kong have been lost," said Ms Liu back in 1997. Some 9,000 titles have been produced in HK since the first local feature (Love is Dangerous [Lai Buk-hoi] aka Rouge) appeared in 1925. The most exciting purchases to date have been two packages: around 600 titles from the World Theatre in San Francisco where the films (and their colours) have survived much better than was possible in humid HK; more recently, scores of films, mostly from the '50s and '60s, that had been thrown out of an old basement in Oakland, California, then dumped into a garbage skip, ready for the tip. Other discoveries have been made, for example, in Japanese laboratories, in private American homes, and throughout South East Asia, which has been a major market for Cantonese-dialogue movies since the early 1930s.
The HKFA is now a full member of FIAF (Federation des Archives Internationales du Film), which began in Paris in 1938 for the purpose of "proper preservation and showing of motion pictures." There are now more than 100 film archives worldwide able to match FIAF's high standards.
Finally, says Ms Liu, film companies have increasingly entrusted old prints to the Archive which in turn acts as their trustee. All screening requests whether by festivals, broadcasters or anyone else are directed, where possible, to the original rights holders for direct negotiation.
Film preservation has often been the work of dedicated eccentrics and the daddy of them all was Henri Langlois, "the greatest preservationist and exhibitor ever of lost and obscure films". Langlois, who directed the Cinï¿½mathï¿½que Franï¿½aise, one of the world's great archives, from its inception in Paris in September 1936 until his death in 1977, greatly inspired young filmmakers like Jean-Luc Godard and Franï¿½ois Truffaut. Langlois, said an admirer, "combined a prescient understanding of the need for film preservation and an enduring passion for world cinema."
The genesis of the Hong Kong Film Archive has been a long and complex process, but the feeling behind it is in the spirit of Langlois himself as simply expressed on the Archive's leaflet: "When one watches an old film, browses through still photographs, listens to an old song, or gazes mesmerisingly at every gesture of stars on the silver screen, one will surely be moved by cinema at its various stages of development and how intimately it influenced our lives."
ï¿½ Frank Bren, May 2001
Bruce Lee stars in
The revival of a very special classic: The last film the 18-year-old Bruce Lee made in Hong Kong before emigrating to the United States. Set in Hong Kong in the late 1950s, The Orphan reflects the changing values in the colony after the war, when capitalism and westernization were gradually replacing traditional Chinese morals. Ho Si-kei (Ng Cho-fan), the devoted director of an orphanage, tries to save delinquent Ah San (Bruce Lee) from the world of crime -- and discovers that Ah San is actually the son he lost during the war. Bruce Lee, in a fabulous performance as a charming, confused rebel, effortlessly brightens up the serious tone of the film. His dance number is a triumph, while beautiful co-star Pak Yin defines elegance. Hong Kong 1960. Director: Lee Sun-fung. Cast: Bruce Lee, Ng Cho-fan, Pak Yin. Colour, 35mm, in Cantonese with English subtitles. 104 mins.
3 posts • Page 1 of 1
Any chances The Orphan will ever see the light of day on DVD, if not the colour print then maybe the black and white one??
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that would be great to see and i think a dvd color version would sell well. Haven't seen the film but it's a James Dean type ain't it so they were good. Wonder what else RANK have got in their archives?
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