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100 years of Hong Kong cinema

Every great story involves a little mystery, and so it is with the story of Hong Kong cinema. Film-making is thought to have made its way to town as early as 1898, when the US-based Edison production house sent a camera crew through Asia, and returned home with footage of Hong Kong landmarks, including The Peak and Government House. There were also cinema houses in the Central district, where out-of-work actors were employed to supply live translations for foreign films.

But because nothing remains of any films made in Hong Kong before the Second World War - what film stock was around was destroyed during the conflict - the origins of local film production remain a source of debate among film historians.

Beginning with a Duck

Many, however, like to point to 1909 and a little film called Stealing A Roast Duck. By this time Hong Kong was already a bustling, vibrant place, its developing port and financial institutions establishing the foundations for the city's development over the next century.

It is said that Stealing A Roast Duck was directed by the theatre-trained Liang Shaobo, who used a camera borrowed from a Shanghai-based US impresario named Benjamin Brodsky.The short film followed a thief as he steals a duck and is then chased down the street, and starred Liang, Lai Buk-hoi and Wong Chun-man.

Film historian Yu Mo-wan reported that the late film-maker Moon Kwan claimed he saw the short in California in 1917, together with a film called Zhuangzi Tests His Wife.

After the Second World War, thanks to the likes of Lai Man-wai who with his brother Lai Buk-hoi started the giant Lianhua Film Company in 1930, Hong Kong emerged as the dominant force in Asian cinema - and its film-makers' influence began to extend across the world.

Alive and kicking

Once the major studios such as Shaw Brothers and Cathay were established in the 1950s, Hong Kong film-makers such as King Hu and Chang Cheh began to develop their own unique styles. Their biggest influence was seen in the development of the martial-arts genre - something expanded by the Golden Harvest studio as the 1970s dawned.

Bruce Lee and, later, Jackie Chan became international superstars, and the talent factory that was the TVB television studio from the 1980s produced the likes of John Woo and Tsui Hark as well as actors who would become household names, including Leslie Cheung, Tony Leung Chiu-wai and Maggie Cheung.

While production numbers have dwindled since the glory days of the 1980s - when upwards of 300 films were being produced locally each year - the city has continued to produce remarkable film-makers and remarkable films.

Names such as Johnnie To - with his Election films - and the pairing of Andrew Lau and Alan Mak, who created the Infernal Affairs series, show Hong Kong cinema is alive and kicking as it enters its 100th year.

100 Years - The Films

The Wild, Wild Rose (1960, dir: Wang Tian-lin)

It took some courage to take the opera Carmen and set it in the grubby back alleys of Hong Kong's notorious Wan Chai red-light district. But Wang Tian-lin cleverly made the film rest on the shoulders of Grace Chang, who sizzles in the title role. Wang has fashioned a noir-ish masterpiece, blending a series of love stories against the hard realities of life in a brutal city.

Way Of The Dragon (1972, dir: Bruce Lee)

Already a superstar in Hong Kong, Bruce Lee exploded on to the international scene with - at the time - a unique blend of comedy and martial-arts action. He plays a Hong Kong local taking on the Mafia in Italy as they strong-arm a Chinese restaurant owner. For the third of his Golden Harvest blockbusters Lee took complete control, directing, starring, writing and choreographing the action. The face-off with Chuck Norris - inside the Roman Colosseum - still makes fight fans go weak at the knees. It is the film that first turned Hollywood heads in the direction of Hong Kong.

Shaolin Soccer (2001, dir: Stephen Chow)

This film is the perfect example of Stephen Chow's brand of comedy, which he calls 'mo lei tau' (nonsense). It follows a band of martial artists who use their extraordinary skills to find success on the football field. It is in equal parts stunning and silly and, as always, Chow doffs his cap to some of the greats of Hong Kong cinema along the way. At its heart the film celebrates the triumph of the underdog, and while the humour is at times skewed towards Hong Kong audiences, it has universal appeal.

Chungking Express (1994, dir: Wong Kar-wai)

The film that has come to define the Wong Kar-wai 'style', this kinetic mixture of urban mythology casts the city of Hong Kong itself in a supporting role.

Christopher Doyle's camera lingers lovingly over the streets, bars and cafes and finds its focus on two love stories, one that already seems doomed and another that is only just beginning. Wong creates a magical blend between light and dark. It may be confusing at times - the director admits as much himself - but that is all part of the challenge.

Infernal Affairs (2002, dir: Andrew Lau and Alan Mak)

By 2002 - to critics and fans alike - it seemed Hong Kong cinema had explored every imaginable facet of cops-versus-triads intrigue. But Andrew Lau and Alan Mak forged something altogether new with their epic tale of deceit between cops and criminals as they infiltrate each others' worlds. Andy Lau and Tony Leung Chiu-wai shine in the lead roles. Little wonder Hollywood remade the story, as Martin Scorsese's Oscar-winning The Departed.

100 Years -The players

Lai Man-wai

Often called the 'father' of Hong Kong cinema, Lai Man-wai (1893-1953) trained in the theatre and worked as a photographer before joining his brother Lai Buk-hoi to make Zhuangzi Tests His Wife in 1913. They formed the Minxin Film Company in 1923 and produced Rogue (1925), Hong Kong's first full-length feature, and its first blockbuster. While Lai Man-wai would later open the city's first 'super studio', the Lianhua Film Company, he was perhaps best known for his daredevil antics while documenting on film the military campaigns of Dr Sun Yat-sen against the Qing Dynasty armies in the 1920s.

Run Run Shaw

The man who almost single-handedly plotted the direction of post-war Hong Kong cinema began his career at the South Seas Film Studio in 1930. Run Run Shaw really began to make his mark in the 1950s, guiding the enormous Shaw Brothers Studio brand as it produced hit after hit, across every type of film genre. More than 900 features bear his signature as studio head, while the television station he founded in 1967, TVB, would become a training ground for the city's finest film-makers. Shaw has also contributed a fortune from his film industry enterprises into charities over the years.

Raymond Chow

When Raymond Chow opened the Golden Harvest studio in 1970, he said he wanted to find Hong Kong's most talented film-makers and give them the chance to make their own films. Those who followed him - from Bruce Lee to Tsui Hark and John Woo - helped Golden Harvest dominate the local box office throughout the 1970s and 1980s as Chow championed the martial-arts movies and streetwise thrillers that would become the hallmarks of Hong Kong cinema. He was the first local producer to try his hand at international features, too, setting a template for co-productions that is still being followed today.

Stephen Chow

The unique talents of Stephen Chow have produced staggering box-office figures - at the moment there is no bigger star in Asia. Chow began to develop his 'mo lei tau' (nonsense) brand of humour while training as an actor at TV channel TVB in the 1980s. Through films such as Shaolin Soccer (2001) and Kung Fu Hustle (2004), he has become a regular winner at the Hong Kong Film Awards, as an actor and a director.

Jackie Chan

Jackie Chan says he dreamed of being a star, from his early days as a member of a Chinese opera troupe to the time he spent as a stunt extra watching the likes of Bruce Lee work their magic. More than 100 films later - and with hundreds of millions of dollars in box-office takings - Chan has become one of the world's most bankable stars. From the award-winning Police Story (1985) to international hits such as Rush Hour (1998), Chan's versatility has become legendary and he has extended his talents to include stints as an executive producer.

100 Years - The dates

1909

What is thought to be Hong Kong's first fictional film, short Stealing A Roast Duck, is directed by Liang Shaobo and produced by the US's Benjamin Brodsky.

1913

Lai Man-wai forms the Huamei film company with Brodsky and he writes, produces and directs the 15-minute feature Zhuangzi Tests His Wife.

1923

Lai Man-wai forms Minxin - the first Chinese-owned film company - documenting the military campaigns of the influential Chinese politician Dr Sun Yat-sen.

1924

Minxin produces Hong Kong's first full-length feature film, Rogue.

1934

The China Silent and Sound Pictures Production Company releases the first locally produced Cantonese talkie, A Fool's Wedding Night.

1945-1950

Film-makers return following the war, and the industry flourishes, producing up to 180 films a year, mainly dramas - including Madame Butterfly (1948), the first 35mm colour film shot in the city - and comedies.

1959

Run Run Shaw sets up Shaw Brothers in Clear Water Bay and its films quickly dominate the local box office.

1960-1965

Directors King Hu and Chang Cheh help establish the martial-arts genre as a force in Hong Kong cinema.

1971

Former Shaw Brothers executive Raymond Chow establishes Golden Harvest and begins shooting with Bruce Lee.

1973

Lee dies, aged 32, before his international breakthrough Enter The Dragon is released. It becomes a worldwide smash.

1978

Jackie Chan's Drunken Master establishes him as Hong Kong's biggest star.

1982

First Hong Kong Film Awards - the best film goes to New Wave director Allen Fong's Father And Son.

1997

Happy Together sees Wong Kar-wai become the first Hong Kong director to receive the best director award at Cannes.

2001

Edko Pictures co-produces Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which wins four Oscars (including best foreign film) and grosses close to $250m worldwide.

2002

Andrew Lau and Alan Mak's Infernal Affairs sweeps seven Hong Kong film awards. The film would be remade as the Academy Award-winning The Departed by Martin Scorsese in 2006.

2008

Co-productions with the Chinese mainland point the way for Hong Kong, and director John Woo shows how it is done with blockbuster Red Cliff Part One.

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