"All for One and One for All: Union Film" at HK Film Archive

Hong Kong (HKSAR) - The Union Film Enterprise Ltd (Union Film) is one of the most important companies in Hong Kong's filmmaking history. With a commitment to artistic excellence, creativity and morality, Union Film transformed Cantonese and Hong Kong cinema in the 1950s, even though the company was active for only 13 years. Along with the famous motto "All for One and One for all" from the classic "In the Face of Demolition", Union Film stands out in Cantonese cinema's "Golden Era".

Union Film's dedication to the art of filmmaking combined with the moral conviction of its works have inspired the Hong Kong Film Archive (HKFA) to work towards the preservation of its film heritage. To celebrate HKFA's 10th anniversary and as a contribution to the 35th Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF), the HKFA has organised a retrospective, "All for One and One for all: Union Film", to showcase Union Film's work.

Twenty-two productions by Union Film will be shown during the HKIFF from March 20 to April 5 and the full catalogue of 44 films will be shown from April 9 to May 29. All screenings will be held at the Cinema of the HKFA.

Films with English subtitles include the adaptations of Ba Jin's novel "Torrent Trilogy": "Family", "Spring" and "Autumn"; film adaptations of foreign literature in "An Orphan's Tragedy", "Eternal Love" and "Anna"; films featuring family values "Love (Part 1)", "Love, the Sequel" and "Parent's Hearts" and films on social realism "In the Face of Demolition", "Sworn Sisters" and "The More the Merrier".

ATV has granted rights to the films and leased copies for the retrospective.

To complement the screenings, an exhibition titled "The Union Spirit One for All" will be held from March 18 to May 29 at the Exhibition Hall of the HKFA. Film posters, photos and synopses will be displayed under the themes of "Literary Adaptations", "Nightmares of War", "Costume Classics" and "Sketches of Humanity".

Admission is free.

HKFA's new publication "One for All: The Union Film Spirit" with an English edition in CD-ROM will be released in late March, featuring essays contributed by renowned writers and scholars looking at Union Film and its works from various perspectives, by turns historical, aesthetic, and cultural.

Two seminars, "The Union Film Spirit" and "The Genre Films of Union Film" will be held at 4.30 pm on April 16 and April 30 respectively at the Cinema of HKFA. Some of the screenings will also have post-screening talks.

The seminars and post-screening talks will be conducted in Cantonese. Admission is free.

Established in 1952, Union Film was founded by filmmakers and operated as a cooperative using various forms of reduced pay to reduce start-up costs. Its shareholders were actors, directors and producers, and all were among the industry's best.

The early 1950s was an eventful period for Hong Kong cinema as it enjoyed a production boom after post-war reconstruction, but it also met with indignant outcries against shoddy productions and corrupting values. Union Film emerged amid calls for a clean up and declared a commitment to artistic excellence and moral conviction in both form and content.

Union Film's production periods were longer than most other Cantonese films, with a healthy emphasis on scripts.

Many of its films portray the harsh reality of a Hong Kong besieged with all forms of social injustices. The company's first releases were met with phenomenal responses both commercially and critically, the success of which raised Cantonese cinema to a new level.

Most of its films are compelling, well-told stories marked by moral beliefs coalesced from half a century of intense debate and conflicting ideas in modern China. Such beliefs are expressed in ways readily understood by audiences of all educational levels.

The result is a body of work that effuses moral charisma, a Union Film spirit of fabled proportions.

"Family" (1953), which kick-started the Union Film legacy, "Spring" (1953) and "Autumn" (1954) are adaptations from Ba Jin's highly regarded novel "Torrent Trilogy". In "Family", director Ng Wui skilfully condenses the voluminous first part of the novel into an emotionally powerful and intellectually focused story of young folks struggling to survive the oppressions and repressions in a feudalistic family.

This well-received film quickly established the company's reputation.

In the second chapter "Spring", director Lee Sun-fung reworks the novel's structure to streamline its dramatic impact, realising the story with several evocatively staged scenes that string together the sorrowful development of the characters' lives. In the trilogy's final instalment "Autumn", director Chun Kim manages to fabricate an emotionally intense story that animates the sadness and triumphs of a generation grappling with a stifling social order.

An emphasis on quality script is a Union Film hallmark, illustrated by the company's eagerness to adapt foreign literature and transplanting the stories to Chinese soil. "An Orphan's Tragedy" (1955) reworks Charles Dickens' "Great Expectations" by focusing on class inequality and the corruption of the feudalistic order. In its early segments the film features child actors Bruce Lee and Josephine Siao Fong-fong.

Based on Theodore Dreiser's novel "Sister Carrie", "Eternal Love" (1955) switches to 1950's Hong Kong and Macau and is a prime example of Union Film's excellence in adapting literary work.

It portrays a man during changing times whose pursuit of happiness is repeatedly thwarted by cruel fate. Another excellent adaptation is "Anna" (1955), adapted from Leo Tolstoy's voluminous "Anna Karenina", with the courageous heroine being transformed into a traditional Chinese woman, victimised by a feudalistic order that refuses to fade away.

The oeuvre of Union Film is marked by a profound care for human strife in the lower depths of society. One of the most cherished tenement films, "In the Face of Demolition" (1953), which features families and individuals sharing a partitioned flat, powerfully depicts the living conditions and human interactions of post-war Hong Kong.

A rare gem about underprivileged society, "Sworn Sisters" (1954) is the tale of five live-in maids, focusing on one of the lowliest professions in Hong Kong. Each woman has her unique personality and life story, and combined their lives offer a vivid portrait of society.

"Love (Part 1)" (1955) is a commemorative production to mark the second anniversary of Union Film, depicting parental love and sisterly loyalty. Part II "Love, the Sequel" (1955), features family bonds, marriage ties, romantic love and kindness for strangers.

The two-part omnibus film is team-directed by the company's directors, and features an all-star cast.

"Parents' Hearts" (1955) is one of the best Hong Kong films on parent-child relationships. It's the tale of a modern nuclear family, struggling to find a better future for its children. On another perspective, "The More the Merrier" (1955) is a contemplation on the meaning of child bearing, filtered through the story of several families troubled by their inability to have children or their inability to stop having children.

Other films, that are in Cantonese but without English subtitles, include: "A Son is Born", "Story of Father and Son", "Big Thunderstorm", "The Wall", "A Beautiful Corpse Comes to Life", "Romance at the West Chamber", "The Precious Lotus Lamp", the sequel and part three, "Money", "A Home of a Million Gold", "Blood Money", "Long Live Money", "The Water Margin Booty Captured", "Adultery", "Murderer in Town", "A Borrowed Bride", "The Cruel Husband", "Autumn Comes to Crape Myrtle Garden", "The Tormented Beauty", "Road", "Human Relationships", "Wonderful Partners", "We Want to Live", "Humanity", "The Cruel Hand", "The Fairy", "The Bloody Sucker", "The House of Murders", "Sea", "Under Hong Kong's Roof" and "The Bloody Paper-man".

Tickets for all screenings are priced at $30. Half-price tickets are available for senior citizens aged 60 and above, people with disabilities, full-time students and Comprehensive Social Security Assistance recipients. Ticket arrangement for films screened during the HKIFF will follow those of the festival with postal booking from February 26 to March 4 and at HKIFF website (www.hkiff.org) from February 26 to March 9.

Counter bookings at all URBTIX outlets, internet booking at www.urbtix.hk and credit card bookings at 2111 5999 for all screenings are available from March 10.

Detailed information and various discounts can be obtained in the 35th HKIFF booking folder distributed at all performing venues of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. For programme enquiries, please call 2739 2139 or 2734 2900 or browse the websites: www.filmarchive.gov.hk or www.lcsd.gov.hk/fp.

Published on: 2011-02-25

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