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  • John
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    1 decade ago
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    The 1940s-1960s

    Postwar Hong Kong cinema, like postwar Hong Kong industries in general, was catalyzed by the continuing influx of capital and talents from Mainland China. This became a flood with the 1946 resumption of the Chinese Civil War (which had been on hold during the fight against Japan) and then the 1949 Communist victory. These events definitively shifted the center of Chinese-language cinema to Hong Kong. The colony also did big business exporting films to Southeast Asian countries (especially but not exclusively their large Chinese expatriate communities) and to Chinatowns in Western countries (Bordwell, 2000).

    [edit] Competing languages

    The postwar era also cemented the bifurcation of the industry into two parallel cinemas, one in Mandarin, the dominant dialect of the Mainland emigres, and one in Cantonese, the dialect of most Hong Kong natives. Mandarin movies had much higher budgets and more lavish production. Reasons included their enormous export market; the expertise, capital and prestige of the Shanghai filmmakers; and the cultural prestige of Mandarin, the official language of China and the tongue of the Chinese cultural and political elite. For decades to come, Cantonese films, though sometimes more numerous, were relegated to second-tier status (Leyda, 1972).

    Another language-related milestone occurred in 1963: the British authorities passed a law requiring the subtitling of all films in English, supposedly to enable a watch on political content. Making a virtue of necessity, studios included Chinese subtitles as well, enabling easier access to their movies for speakers of other dialects. (Yang, 2003) Subtitling later had the unintended consequence of facilitating the movies' popularity in the West.

    [edit] Cantonese movies

    During this period, Cantonese opera on film dominated. The top stars were the female duo of Yam Kim Fai and Pak Suet Sin (Yam-Pak for short). Yam specialized in male scholar roles to Pak's female leads. They made over fifty films together, The Purple Hairpin (1959) being one of the most enduringly popular (Teo, 1997).

    Low-budget martial arts films were also popular. A series of roughly 100 kung fu movies starring Kwan Tak Hing as historical folk hero Wong Fei Hung were made, starting with The True Story of Wong Fei Hung (1949) and ending with Wong Fei Hung Bravely Crushing the Fire Formation (1970) (Logan, 1995). Fantasy wuxia (swordplay) serials with special effects drawn on the film by hand, such as The Six-Fingered Lord of the Lute (1965) starring teen idol Connie Chan Po-chu in the lead male role, were also popular (Chute and Lim, 2003, 3), as were contemporary melodramas of home and family life.

    [edit] Mandarin movies and the Shaws/Cathay rivalry



    Come drink with me (1966)

    In Mandarin production, Shaw Brothers and Motion Picture and General Investments Limited (MP&GI, later renamed Cathay) were the top studios by the 1960s, and bitter rivals. The Shaws gained the upper hand in 1964 after the death in a plane crash of MP&GI founder and head Loke Wan Tho. The renamed Cathay faltered, ceasing film production in 1970 (Yang, 2003).

    A musical genre called Huángméidiào (黃梅調) was derived from Chinese opera; the Shaws' record-breaking hit The Love Eterne (1963) remains the classic of the genre. Historical costume epics often overlapped with the Huángméidiào, such as in The Kingdom and the Beauty (1959). (Both of the above examples were directed by Shaw's star director, Li Han Hsiang). Romantic melodramas such as Red Bloom in the Snow (1956), Love Without End (1961), The Blue and the Black (1964) and adaptations of novels by Chiung Yao were popular. So were Hollywood-style musicals, which were a particular specialty of MP&GI/Cathay in entries such as Mambo Girl (1957) and The Wild, Wild Rose (1960).

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