Hong Kong, Shanghai: Cinema Cities is an extraordinary opportunity to embark on a thematic and chronological journey through the interconnected film histories of Shanghai and Hong Kong. Screening more than 60 films, presented midway between the centenaries of mainland Chinese cinema in 2005 and Hong Kong cinema in 2009. Important centres of film production, Hong Kong and Shanghai have generated strong cinematic responses to their particular urban character, and film directors, actors and producers have moved between the two cities, often in response to political and social upheavals. Hong Kong, Shanghai: Cinema Cities traces the enduring appeal of genres, stars and styles established in the golden age of Chinese cinema in 1930s Shanghai and embraced by Hong Kong cinema over the following decades.
The program features the earliest still existing film from silent-era Shanghai, Romance of a Fruit Peddler 1922 (dir: Zhang Shichuan); a retrospective of actress Ruan Lingyu (known as the ‘Shanghai Garbo’), including her best known film, Goddess 1934 (dir: Wu Yonggang); as well as Chinese cinema classics set in city streets and against a backdrop of political turmoil. Other highlights include the cinema stories of celebrated writer Eileen Chang; the genre of tenement films, which respond to crowded city tenement living; and the songstress films of perennial stars Zhou Xuan, Li Lihua and Grace Chang (Ge Lan). Pre-revolutionary Shanghai continues to hold a fascination for Hong Kong and mainland filmmakers who recreate its allure and historical trauma. Hong Kong cinema strongly celebrates the city’s urban identity while also mediating its relationship with mainland China, particularly through its historical links with Shanghai.
The Australian Cinémathèque acknowledges the generous assistance of the China Film Archive, Beijing, the Hong Kong Film Archive, Hong Kong, the Chinese Taipei Film Archive, Taipei, and the Centre de Documentation du Cinéma Chinois, Paris, in the preparation and presentation of the Hong Kong, Shanghai: Cinema Cities program.
Hong Kong, Shanghai: Cinema Cities incorporates the following program sections and titles:
AN AMOROUS HISTORY OF SHANGHAI AND HONG KONG CINEMA
Early twentieth-century Chinese cinema frequently took as its subject the perils and pleasures of modern urban life. On cinema screens, literary adaptations, both popular and progressive, joined realist dramas showing women’s struggles to work and keep their families together in the face of men’s moral foibles.
SHANGHAI GODDESS: RUAN LINGYU
Ruan Lingyu is the most celebrated actress of the golden age of Chinese cinema. Starring in 29 films before her tragic suicide at 24, she often portrayed women struggling to come to terms with love, work and survival in the modern city.
SUN YU AND NATIONAL CINEMA
Sun Yu began making films after his return to Shanghai in 1926 from studies in the United States. A socially conscious filmmaker, he was also technically innovative.
Throughout the early twentieth century, filmmakers and actors moved between Shanghai and Hong Kong in response to ongoing political and social upheavals. They took their projects and preoccupations with them, and the relationship between the cities was captured by the cinema lens.
The Battle of Shanghai 1937
Twin Sisters of the South 1939
Street Angel 1937
The Spring River Flows East 1947
Myriad of Lights 1948
Orphan on the Streets 1949
Little Cheung 1950
The Orphan 1960
The experience of living in city tenement blocks gave rise to tenement films, a popular genre highlighting the stories and intersections of lives played out in crowded city boarding conditions. Close-knit, though sometimes divided, the tenement community on screen quickly becomes an allegory for the city or nation.
SONGSTRESS TO MAMBO GIRL
Popular songs have been part of the Mandarin cinema since the introduction of sound in the 1930s. Gewu pian (dancing and singing films) synthesised popular musical entertainment and cinema. Songstress films were quickly established as a genre in Shanghai in the 1930s and later in Hong Kong in the 1950s and 1960s. This section showcases the genres most alluring stars and titles.
Zhou Xuan was an archetypal songstress whose films and recorded music are still popular today, and Bai Guang was known as the most sultry and sensuous of the songstress stars.
Li Luhua began her film career in 1940 after being discovered at the age of 15. She made more than 20 films in 5 years before moving to Hong Kong and eventually setting up her own production company. The films she made in this period are some of her best and include important milestones in Mandarin cinema.
Grace Chang was one of the new stars who dominated Hong Kong cinema from the end of the 1950s to mid 1960s. During this time new companies such as the MP & GI (Motion Picture and General Investment) Company began making contemporary stories, successfully mixing Chinese sensibilities and Hollywood influences in musicals. In The Wlld, Wild Rose, Grace Chang is irresistible, dangerously cool and sexy. Film noir meets songstress film, this is cinema and seduction at its best.
EILEEN CHANG’S SHANGHAI STORIES
A celebrated novelist, Eileen Chang (Zhang Ailing) was also a prolific screenwriter who worked in Shanghai, Hong Kong and the United States of America. Academy Award-winning director Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain 2005) is currently filming an adaptation of Chang’s World War Two spy story, Lust, Caution, for release in 2007. This program includes three films with screenplays by Chang and four adaptations of her novels by directors Stanley Kwan, Ann Hui, and Fred Tan.
SINS OF THE CITY
After the creation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the communist state took increasing control of film production as well as film imports. Left-wing productions from Hong Kong were the only films to be shown on the mainland from non-socialist countries. The state promoted films depicting the nobility of rural life and revolutionary subjects, while the city appeared as a locus of vice and degradation, a foil to the virtues of the countryside.
MIRROR CITIES: FASCINATION AND NOSTALGIA
The cosmopolitan culture of pre-revolutionary Shanghai holds an enduring fascination for Hong Kong and mainland filmmakers who regularly recreate the city’s allure and its historical trauma. Hong Kong cinema celebrates its own urban identity while also reflecting on its relationship with mainland China, particularly through its historical links with Shanghai.
JOSEF VON STERNBERG’S IMAGINARY SHANGHAI
Many European and North American directors have been drawn to the complex aesthetic and political histories of Shanghai and Hong Kong. This double feature from Josef von Sternberg gestures towards this parallel history of distanced fascination.