Earliest attempts to collect and preserve motion pictures, a technology invented over 120 years ago, only began in the 1930s in Europe and the United States of America. Archival institutions around the world believe that 90 per cent of the films produced in or before the 1910s have been lost and only 20 per cent of the films made in the 1920s have survived; overall only half of the films made before the 1950s are still circulating today¹. This lamentable rate even excludes most documentaries, shorts, experimental films and other independent productions. Insufficient documentation makes it hard to estimate the actual number of films lost over the last 100 years or so. Those which are fortunate enough to find their permanent home at museums, film archives and private collections and be restored are seldom publicly presented due to their condition and conservation requirements.
Recent years’ technological advances in duplication and restoration of audio-visual works has allowed global archiving organisations to put their efforts and resources into restoring decayed film stocks, digitising film treasures and launching online public access. Moreover, the burgeoning of commercial digital restoration of films also gives contemporary audiences an opportunity to experience a great many of the restored classics.
This is where ‘Reel to Reel Film Heritage’ comes in, with an aim to showcase treasured moving images around the world that were once lost. Focusing on the history, technological development, aesthetics and cultural studies of film and of place, we compare narratives of film histories especially for Hong Kong, Chinese-speaking and adjoining areas, also uncover missing pieces, illustrating the differences between museum (or archival) restoration and its commercial counterpart, as well as the distinct properties of celluloid and digital formats as creative media and carriers of moving images. We believe giving importance to both would promote an understanding among the audience of the significance and stories these formats carry.
It is the help from organisations and people who are supplying the precious film copies that has made this programme possible. To them and all the guests and speakers who are giving talks in the programme, thank you.
Hong Kong’s film history is neither simple nor dull. It is as complicated and rich as the city’s political and cultural history. The works, historical events and interpretations produce new meanings and debates over time. Being able to incorporate the discourse allows us to gain a more subjective understanding of Hong Kong film history’s numerous facets, which will expand the quality and quantity of our appreciation, preservation and research. Hence, in order to explore and protect Hong Kong film history (and its related materials), we must not be limited to examining Cantonese and Mandarin films that were made in Hong Kong, but include the production, budgetary and distribution information from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia. The various genres, styles and trends across generations, in addition to the different regional cultures and languages, all come together in this boundless scope that sets the stage for Hong Kong film history. All these elements have a causal relationship. When we examine them, seeing how they work as cogs and gears of a larger structure, we will gain a greater understanding and appreciation of Hong Kong Cinema and film history in adjoining areas.
For this section, we expect to establish a wide and independent perspective that will unearth (or help unearth) films in our vast film history and archives. Hence, besides well-known classics, there are also forgotten or previously lost gems that are worthy of being introduced to the public. They fill in the blanks that might rewrite our known film history. Aside from the relatively known Eight Thousand Li of Cloud and Moon (1947) and the ‘Nanyang Trilogy’, the other films have been lost or shelved for decades without much attention from critics and scholars. After being re-released in recent years, Suspect from Husband and A Good Couple (both 1948) were treated with little consideration, as their achievement and place in film history did not inspire any detailed exposition. Besides, whether or not a film has been restored is not a factor in its selection. Since digital restoration is all the rage these days, DCP has almost become the only screening format. We are trying to rectify the trend by extending the life of different media and screening formats, such as programming films whose materials have not been digitally restored. By doing so, we hope that film cinematography, processing and projection will not cease to exist (while film restoration entities are developing technology that will advance the medium’s sustainability). Although films in this section are in DCP or other digital formats, A Good Couple, Alienation (1966), I Didn’t Dare to Tell You (1969), and The End of the Track (1970) have not been digitally restored. However, these screening copies exhibit decent quality, so there is no point to make it look new for the sake of doing so and leave no trace of time passed. After all, the films themselves are already incredible rediscoveries.
Based on these ideologies, one would understand why the postwar Shanghai classic Eight Thousand Li of Cloud and Moon should not be overshadowed by The Spring River Flows East (1947). Besides its spirit of the times and neorealist approach, the film also has strong connections with Hong Kong’s Chinese-leftist Cinema. Even though the mature discussions on life and gender roles in Eight, Suspect from Husband and A Good Couple might not form an equal dialogue with Kong Ngee Film Company’s ‘Nanyang Trilogy’, their integration of regional and historical experience with the adaptation of Hollywood styles constitutes a distinctive contrast. Classic Hollywood aesthetics are not as deeply embedded in Chun Kim and Chan Man’s films as they are in the aforementioned earlier Chinese films. The latter’s clever mishmash format upholds Cantonese films’ didactic spirit while demonstrating the youth and sexiness of the Cold War era. By the time Taiwanese films like Alienation, I Didn’t Dare to Tell You, and The End of the Track were released, Hong Kong’s artsy youths were making avant-garde or experimental short films. Meanwhile, industry pros like Chor Yuen, Patrick Lung Kong, and Wong Yiu also introduced the angst of youth, crimes, and political problems in their films while imitating the then-new style from the West. But the young Taiwanese filmmakers made films like the European art house directors with a mix of realism and veiled abstraction. Their feature-length films require us to carefully consider and compare the creative environment and filmmakers’ ideologies from these two locations. Dangerous Youth (1969) represents Taiwanese-language films that were mass-produced outside of the mainstream Mandarin Cinema. Their themes and styles varied as trends evolved. Besides paying close attention to their characteristics and history, we could learn about the interaction between its ecology and local culture, which might help us explain and analyse Hong Kong Cantonese film history.
This January marks the second anniversary of seasoned film researcher Wong Ain-ling’s passing. The significance of Ms. Wong’s research on film history is indisputable. As many of the films selected here were only rediscovered in recent years, it is unlikely that Ms. Wong would have seen them. Since our intention is to discover rare and unseen films, and ceaselessly writing more additional chapters for the lively and boundless film history, this program is not only a forward-looking take on film history for movie-goers and researchers, but also a tribute to Ms. Wong Ain-ling.
Marriage and Country Before Radical Changes
The victory of the eight-year Second Sino-Japanese War came at great cost. But the recovery and advancement of Chinese Cinema was a marvel. The adversity and aftermath of the war inspired many filmmakers to open up their usual themes like family melodrama, while the introduction of documentary(-esque) filmmaking gave rise to different forms of realist aesthetics. They were political yet deliberately ambiguous. Besides they were keen to adapt the gothic aesthetics and film noir elements from their American and European peers, making thrillers with a twisted blend of light and darkness. With the Shanghainese and resistance drama players entered the film industry, their interpretation of Hollywood romantic comedy created a unique local flavour, satirising modern marriage and city life with excellent dialogue, imagery and substance.
Before New Taiwanese Cinema, Beyond Mandarin Films
The New Wave almost did not need to wait until the late 1970s to reach China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. In the 1960s, there were already Taiwanese youth who began to shoot short films and feature films outside of the industry and government system. Their experimental and unusual style challenged the political establishment and conservative social values. They almost caught up with the blossoming film movements of the world at the time. Meanwhile, there was a massive output of Taiwanese-language films from the mid-1950s to the 1980s. Spanning many different genres, this popular local entertainment took inspiration from various trends and innovated to form its very own genre. It shows influences from Japanese Cinema, coolly depicts of capitalism’s ills while maintaining the folksy sensibilities of Taiwanese-language films.
Hong Kong Cinema’s Love Affair in the South Sea
In the late 1950s, Kong Ngee Film Company’s ‘Nanyang Trilogy’ solidified the studio’s youthful and hip reputation among Hong Kong’s four biggest Cantonese film companies. Its modern melodramas and comedies retain an aura of East meets West, propelling the likes of Patrick Tse Yin, Nam Hung and Patsy Kar Ling to become new stars who were as talented as they were sexy. The three films are based on experiences of Chinese immigrants yet they manage to come off as refreshing and poignant stories with modern sensibilities. From melodrama to thriller to mystery, these genre-bending films hatch unpredictable twists and turns. Director Chun Kim experimented with form as he expressed personal and complicated sentiments. On-location filming at Singapore and Malaysia marked an important chapter in Hong Kong Cinema’s history with Southeast Asia.
To many, early films mean black-and-white. However, as soon as motion pictures were invented, filmmakers were looking beyond the monochrome. Despite technological limitations, non-photographic methods like hand colouring, stencil printing, tinting and toning were conceived and broadly used, offering the audience new and exciting visual experiences. With advances in film materials, additive and subtractive colour processes were developed to produce photographic colour in films, and studios and inventors were in a race to invent the latest technologies aiming to capture the colours of the real world. While there are over a hundred recorded film colouring techniques, some well-known additive systems are Kinemacolor (2 colour), Gaumont Chronochrome (3 colour), Technicolor Process 1 (2 colour), Lee and Turner (3 colour) and Douglass Color No. 1 (2 colour); notable subtractive systems include Kodachrome Two-color (renamed Fox Nature Color in the 1930s), Polychromide, Prizma II, Zoechrome, Technicolor Process 4, etc. Most early films recovered are in poor condition, as the conservation of film itself has not been a simple task and the colouring chemicals are unstable and easily faded. As early film restoration techniques were far from perfect, moving images were kept as the more stable form of black-and-white films. Nowadays, more and more early films are restored through innovative scanning and image reconstruction. This section presents a number of unique colour films, including several Asian productions, in their restored formats, to demonstrate various early film colouring techniques and let the audience discover this rich and vibrant part of film history.
During the late 19th and early 20th century, filmmakers explored the endless potential of this latest technology of the time. Les Parisiennes (1897), The Six Sisters Dainef, A Trip to the Moon (both 1902) and Het Tovertoneel (1907) demonstrated early films’ narrative transition from reality to phantasm. These multi-act works were full of life and wild imagination, presenting marvellous visual effects and creativity unconstrained by technological limits. The Extraordinary Voyage (2011) chronicles the life of iconic filmmaker Georges Méliès, his adroit filming and colouring over a century ago, and the decade-long restoration of his A Trip to the Moon, a journey just as dramatic as his life. With the rapid development of film industry, studios replaced hand colouring with tinting and toning as they employed assembly-line production techniques. At the beginning the effect was rudimentary and single-toned, created as something other than the monochrome just to satisfy the audience’s desire for colour. Later the effects were more refined and context-specific, with corresponding colours for various times of the day, locations, atmospheres as well as plot turns. Both filmed on location, the plots of The Mills in Joy and Shadow (1912), a tragedy of vengeance in a pleasant town, and Way Down West (1927), a classical tale of romance between a scholar and a fair lady, were intensified by elaborated toning. Though in 1916 the colour film printing process Technicolor was invented, the process displayed a limited colour spectrum and the production cost was daunting. Despite the limitations, studios strove to impress audience with different colouring techniques, serving up an innovative visual feast with films like The Phantom of the Opera (1925), the first adapted from this classic novel, with a combination of toning, partial Handschiegl colouring and Technicolor Process 2 (two-colour).
In 1932, Technicolor managed to improve its processes and image authenticity with its subtractive 3 colour (RGB) process. With image tones richer and more intense than reality, this process was often used in genres like musical, romance, and even western adventure films. With the Technicolor process, Magnificent Obsession (1954) portrayed in realistic detail the prosperous American life in the 1950s. Luxurious cars and apartments, colourful clothes and novel home appliances impressed further with vivid toning. While colour films in Asia did not flourish as much as in the West, filmmakers in the region were also keen to experiment; filmed using the American two-strip colour process Cinecolor invented in 1932, The Thousand-Stitch Belt (1937) is the oldest surviving Japanese colour film with sound. Fuji Photo Film Co., Ltd. founded in Tokyo was Asia’s first to develop filming techniques with the autochrome process. Natsuko’s Adventure in Hokkaido (1953), Shochiku’’s second colour feature made with Fuji’s films, compares the leading character’s resolute nature to Japan’s majestic landscape. Santi-Vina, produced in Thailand in the next year, enriches its cultural and religious qualities through exquisite composition and brilliant colours.
Hand Colouring & Stencilling Technique
First used in gelatin silver printing and projection slides, hand colouring added colours to characters, costumes and backdrops on the film; it was one of the earliest specified trades in the film arts department, and the first filmmaking process in which women participated. This task was an exacting one; for early films which were shot at 16 to 20 frames per second, there were over 10,000 frames to process in a 10-minute short film. Stencilling was a more effective technique and the colouring effect was sharper. A stencil print with the areas to be coloured, usually the sets/scenes, were created and cut, first manually, later with a cutting machine, before dyes were applied.
Tinting and Toning
In tinting, the positive print was cut into fragments and immersed into corresponding dye baths. The dyes, dissolved in an acid solution, would bond with the image’s gelatin and change the overall tone of the image. The film roll, including the perforations, would be evenly coloured. Toning coloured the blacks in the frame with a dye in a chemical reaction. These two processes were often used together to create various moods for different scenes.
Similar to stencil colouring, this process coloured images by partial tinting and toning. The parts to be coloured were covered with an opaque stencil to create a dupe-negative. The blocked-out areas, soft as they were not exposed, absorbed the acid dyes which were then transferred onto the positive print in a specialised processing machine. Usually more than one colour was applied to the same scene to create a blend of colours.
The first version of the Technicolor processes was invented in 1916. It was similar to Kinemacolor in that both used special cameras to record the red and blue-green images on a single strip of black-and-white negative through a single lens using a beam splitter and filters for both colours; and that the images were shown with a special projector with lenses with colour filters adding the tint. Technicolor Process 1 was better than Kinemacolor at capturing the same scene in red and blue-green on consecutive frames. The Technicolor processes improved over time, with the three-strip Technicolor Process 4 recording, with the use of a split-cube prism, the red, blue and green aspects of the scene on three separate rolls of black-and-white film. From the negatives dye-transfer release prints were prepared. Such technology allowed Technicolor to dominate the colour film market from the 1930s to mid-1950s.
Just like other two-colour processes, Cinecolor used two separate films to record red or green aspects; this process was special in that the two films were used in ‘bi-pack’, i.e. the two films were placed emulsion to emulsion.
Early Colour Films in Asia
As state-of-the-art digital technologies progress towards fruition, the bar is also raised in terms of filmmaking and imaging standards. Yet, celluloid film is still largely agreed to be the medium of highest filming and screening qualities. Indeed, screening formats, resolution and carriers of digital images often get renewed and replaced every few years. Celluloid films, on the other hand, if properly preserved, can store moving images for an apparent longest length of time.
At the moment, a number of filmmakers still diligently create films, animations and all sorts of moving images using celluloid films. In this era where digital cameras are at our easy reach, their creative works are remarkably precious for their exquisite imageries and experimental filming styles.
For this programme, may we introduce to you Director Tetsuichiro Tsuta from Japan and bring to the big screen Islands of Dreams (2009) for its overseas debut, as well as his more recent short, Forestry (2016). Born in Tokushima prefecture in 1984, Tsuta graduated from Department of Imaging Art, Faculty of Arts, Tokyo Polytechnic University. In his university years, he acquired his film developing and editing skills on the basis of celluloid filmmaking, trying to realise his belief of ‘movies and celluloid are both named “film”.’ It was also when Tetsuichiro co-founded Niko Niko Film with photographer Yutaka Aoki and had always borrowed the 16mm shooting equipment from the university.
While one might say that Tsuta’s graduation film, Islands of Dreams, carries a retro approach; The Tale of Iya (2013), his first feature film upon graduation, would then be considered beyond nostalgic, in which a character of his own gradually came into shape. Spanning nearly three hours, the piece was shot entirely on 35mm films, which is fairly impossible in the Japanese production scene. Thanks to the perseverance of the Niko Niko Film team, not only was the filming completed, the piece was later selected in various film festivals both nationally and internationally, garnering a few awards.
Celluloid and digital filmmaking do not only differ in their creative media. The modes of production and the styles and effects represented in the resulting works are also noticeably distinct. Opting for celluloid filmmaking doesn’t mean to disprove otherwise, but is instead conducive to re-exploring all the possibilities of moving image works.
Rediscover and Restructure: Lost Gems and Restored Classics from China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan
Date & Time: 26.05.2020 (Tue) 19:30
Via Cisco Webex online meeting
Room Link: https://meetingsapac19.webex.com/meet/pr915612606
Room Number: 915-612-606
Video Address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Guest Speaker：Dr. Wang Chun-Chi
After the release of the first 35mm Taiwanese-language film Xue Ping-gui and Wang Bao-chuan in 1956, Taiwanese-language Cinema established its own unique style and went through a production boom in the next ten-plus years even without financial support from the government. Although Dangerous Youth came at the tail end of this era, director Hsin Chi was still able to present his social critique with his one of a kind visual language. This talk will introduce the beginnings of Taiwanese-language Cinema and the career of Hsin Chi, while taking an in-depth look at how this film approach subjects such as capitalism and gender politics.
Date & Time: 31.05.2020 (Sun) 17:00
Venue: 1/F Foyer, Broadway Cinematheque
Moderator: Lau Yam
Guest Speaker: Law Kar
Besides depicting the lives of Chinese immigrants in the Nanyang region, this trilogy also gives us a glimpse of the filmmakers’ personal anxieties and fears about this foreign land. Our speaker will analyse the visual and linguistic expressions of these distinctive motion pictures.
Free admission, seats are on first-come-first-served basis, with priority given to ticket holders of this programme.
A Quick History of Film Technology: Motion Pictures in Colour
Date & Time: 01.02.2020 (Sat) 16:30
Venue: 1/F Foyer, Broadway Cinematheque
In English with Cantonese interpretation
Moderator: Chanel Kong
Guest Speaker: Dr. Giovanna Fossati
While research on early colour films had been overlooked by major archival bodies until the mid 1990s, in the recent decade restoration organisations in Europe began restoring and reconstructing films stocks with emphasis on recovering the colours on film, and film festivals like Il Cinema Ritrovato and the Pordenone Silent Film Festival have also been founded to present and promote these films. Among the organisations dedicated to presenting these restored classics to modern-day audience is the Nederlands Filmmuseum (now EYE Filmmuseum), with its 1995 workshop 'Colours in Silent Film'. Speaker Dr. Fossati, a participating researcher of this workshop, has been studying early colour films over the last 20 years. In this talk she discusses the history and conservation of early colour films, and the changes in the EYE Filmmuseum’s practices in the digital age.
Admission: Free of Charge
Seats are on first-come-first-served basis, with priority given to ticket holders of this programme
|Colours in Silent Films*
|Talk by Dr. Giovanna Fossati
|Way Down West
|The Phantom of the Opera
|The Thousand-Stitch Belt + Natsuko's Adventure in Hokkaido
|Forestry + Islands of Dreams*
|Talk by Dr. Wang Chun-Chi
|Alienation + Dangerous Youth
|The End of the Track
|I Didn't Dare to Tell You
|Suspect from Husband
|A Good Couple*
|Eight Thousand Li of Cloud and Moon
|Blood Stains the Valley of Love
|Talk by Mr Law Kar
|Moon Over Malaya
Screenings from 8-20 April (6-9 Feb) at the Hong Kong Film Archive will be moved to Broadway Cinematheque and re-scheduled to 28-31 May.
Tickets of rescheduled screenings are available from 11 May at the box office of Broadway Cinematheque. Ticket holders of the original screening(s) may choose to attend the same screening(s) by exchanging ticket(s) at the cinema box office of Broadway Cinematheque or to get a refund. Sorry for any inconvenience caused.
Address: 50 Lei King Road, Sai Wan Ho, Hong Kong
HK$64 Senior citizens aged 60 or above, people with disabilities and the minder, full-time students, each purchase of 5 standard tickets or above
Available at URBTIX outlets
Internet Booking: www.urbtix.hk
Credit Card Telephone Booking: 2111 5999
My URBTIX（Android/ iPhone）
Ticketing Enquiries: 3761 6661 (10am – 8pm Daily)
Address: 3 Public Square St, Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon
HK$64 Children, seniors, students and bc VIP member
Available at the cinema box office and self-service ticketing machine
Internet Booking: www.cinema.com.hk
Telephone Booking: 2388 3188
For online and telephone bookings, a handling fee of HK$8 (Mondays to Fridays) or HK$10 (weekends and public holidays) per ticket will be levied.
All programmes are subject to change. Updated information will be available on our website.
The Categories of all the films in the programme are not yet rated by the Office for Film, Newspaper and Article Administration at the time programme information being uploaded. If any films are classified as Category III, notice will be posted online.
All tickets are non-refundable and non-exchangeable unless for any alteration or cancellation of screenings by the presenter, and ticket holder under 18 years of age who buy tickets before the announcement of a film is classified as Category III, ticket holders may get a refund during assigned period. Please refer to reeltoreel.org for refund procedures.
Curators & Coordinators: Aki Kung, Janis Law
Curator of ‘Lost Gems and Restored Classics from China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan’: Lau Yam
Promotion & Hospitality: Emi Chan
Translators: Francisco Lo, Erica Leung, Vinci To
Design & Illustrations: Sadie Lau
Mr Bede Cheng
Ms Chanel Kong
Mr Davide Pozzi
Dr Giovanna Fossati
Ms Kiki Fung
Mr Law Kar
Mr Tetsuichiro Tsuta
Dr Wang Chun-Chi
Ms Zhao Xiangyang
The descendants of Mr Lai Man-wai
Asian Film Archive
China Film Archive
Film Archive (Public Organization), Thailand
Hong Kong Film Archive, Leisure and Cultural Services Department
National Film Archive of Japan
Niko Niko Film
Shochiku Co., Ltd.
Taiwan Film Institute