Monday, 14 April 2014

The Avenue of Stars: A Guide For The HK Film Ignoramus Part 1

As promised, here are the original posts that eventually led to my little article for HK Time Out back in 2011. For the record, my opinions about the place remain unchanged: the concept probably looked good on paper (actually, on second thoughts it probably looked crap on paper too) and the execution is just really very ‘HK’. I can’t put my finger on it other than to say I just get a general feeling of complete and total naffness when I am there. In fact, it’s the same feeling I get wandering through the Peak Tower and through Ngong Ping village – a sort of disneyfication that makes everything seem really false and totally cheesy.

Naffness aside, I have one major peeve that is really my own fault – although I consider myself someone who knows a thing or two about the HK film industry I can’t for the life of me recognize at least half of the names that are stuck to the floor along the waterfront. It’s a true education in how much of an ignoramus I really, truly am. For some of the names I had no idea if they were male or female. Well, rather than take the easy option and forever bitch and moan about how crap it is, I’ve decided to try and accentuate the positive and provide you, my fellow HK film ignoramuses, with a guide to the Avenue of Stars for the non-HK Film aficionado.
Of course, there is an official breakdown of all the ‘stars’ featured on the promenade provided by its own dedicated website. The biographical snippets are fairly useful but the things seem to completely lack photos. Considering it’s a tourist site dedicated to film I find this a bit odd. Go figure. Anyway, here is the link:

So, having embarked on this informative exercise, I have been able to cure at least some of my own ignorance and enlightened myself about some of the truly illustrious people who have been bestowed with the dubious ‘honour’ of having several million black leather slip-on shoes (essential footwear when you are a Mainlander on your tour of the HK sights) trample over them on a daily basis.

On an aside, I should say it took a bit longer than expected to document all of this because I didn’t realise there are (as of 2014) 107 stars along the promenade. There are 107 plaques, many with hand prints, many without (courtesy of the fact that most people had already died by the time this thing was created). As mentioned in my Time Out article, one of the plaques is bare. Number 100 to be precise, which is supposed to be Gong Li's, but either because of her  but for some reason one of them is not inscribed – I suspect this may have been a plaque for Gong Li? I speculated at the time it may have been because of her adoption of Singaporean citizenry, as she and Jet Li both caused a patriotic furore when it became public knowledge they were now Singaporean. Perhaps, so much foot stamping on her plaque had gone on that her name had been quickly worn down by aforementioned black leather slip-ons. But no, the official 'Avenue' line is that she hadn't had time (read: can't be bothered) to do her hand prints. Hmmm....

Anyway, here goes, working west to east (that means from the Clocktower to the Intercontinental. I would have said the New World Centre, but this is another thing that has changed in the last couple of years because the whole thing has already been demolished. I should just mention that these headshots have largely come from Wikipedia, HKCinemagic (big thanks to my good friend Thomas Podvin) and HKMDB courtesy of Ryan Ra.

1. Lai Man Wai (1892 – 1953)

He seems to have been one of the cinematic pioneers in the Chinese film industry (not just HK). There is a good bio on Wikipedia and he reportedly filmed Sun Yat-Sen and Chiang Kai-Shek’s 7-year battle against the Chinese Warlords. Grandfather of contemporary HK actress Gigi Lai.

Source: Wikipedia

2. Florence Lim (1905 – 1979)

Not much on her accept that she was Lai Man Wai’s wife. So why is she here and what is her contribution to HK cinema? According to the official Avenue site, she was the very first female to take a lead role in a film.

Picture Source: HKMDB

3. Butterfly Hu (1907 – 1989)

Aka Hu Die. A Shanghai born actress active between the mid-20′s and late 1960′s including a role in the multi-part The Burning of Red Lotus Temple.

Picture Source: Wikipedia

4. Sir Run Run Shaw (1907 – 2014)

Even the ignoramus should recognise the name of this movie mogul, if not his face. Starting out in film distribution and cinema management in Singapore before moving into film production in HK. Film production pretty much ground to a halt for Shaw's in the 80's and the company concentrated on TV. But I suspect he saw his end was near when he offloaded his shares in TVB to a venture capitalist. His second wife, Mona Fong, was the reason Raymond Chow left Shaws to form Golden Harvest.

5. Wong Man Lei (1913 – 1998)

A hugely prolific actress who starred in well over 200 movies between 1932 and 1986. I recognise her (although I didn’t know it until I started looking into this) as playing a nanny to a young Bruce Lee in The Guiding Light in 1953.

Picture Source: HKMDB

6. Zhu Shi Lin (1899 – 1967)

Zhu was a film director and writer who started in Shanghai in the 1920′s. He has a short bio on wiki but it fails to mention that he became crippled at the age of 27. The long time he spent bedridden as a result allowed him to develop his writing talent. He moved to HK just after the war and went on to become Chairman of the Arts Committee. According to Yvonne over at Webs of Significance, Zhu Shi Lin’s name is also written as Zhu Shilin. The Hong Kong International Film Festival and Hong Kong Film Archive had a major retrospective programme of his works a few years back and there’s a Hong Kong Film Archive publication to go with it:-

Picture Source: HKMDB

7. Tso Tat Wah (1915 – 2007)

Another prolific actor who starred in a huge amount of films in the 1950′s and 60′s. Tso (Cho) also had a reputation for being a compulsive (and hugely unsuccessful) gambler and you will find a nice bit of anecdotal information about him in Feng Chi-sun‘s Kowloon memoir: Diamond Hill (published by Blacksmith Books). After retiring, Tso moved to Swiss Cottage in London where he spent a few years before being lured back to star in a few TVB shows. He met a sad end after a fall in HK. He moved back to the UK and died soon after at the beginning of 2007.

Picture Source: Wikipedia

8. Lo Duen (1911 – 2000)

Actor, script writer, director and even production manager through the late 30′s to the mid-90′s. He went under the guise of various pseudonyms (including Lo Tun and Lou Dun to name two) which is perhaps more to do with the various transliterations applied to the same name than anything else. One of his last starring roles was “Sex and Zen” in which he played the *ahem* ‘Sack Monk’.

Picture Source: HKMDB

9. Griffin Yue Feng (1910 – 1999)

Another Director/writer who started off in Shanghai before moving to HK and working for various studios including MP&GI (i.e. Cathay) and Shaws. He was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Film Director’s Guild in 1991.

Picture Source: HKCinemagic

10. Kwan Tak Hing (1905 – 1996)

Anyone who has any knowledge of the kung fu film genre will know the name of this guy. Kwan made his name in a huge series of films depicting the trials and tribulations of famed kung fu fighter Wong Fei Hung. In the 1950s he opened a Chinese herbal shop which he was still running when Bey Logan paid him a visit (and interviewed him) back in the 1980′s. In one of those nice little connections that I like to know, Kwan’s nemesis was often played by Shek Kin, who went on to play Mr Han in Enter the Dragon (see below).

Picture Source: HKCinemagic

11. Cheung Wood Yau (1910 – 1985)

Actually I would have pronounced it Wut not Wood, but there you go. Anyway, this was another name that meant nothing to me until I saw the guy’s picture on HKDMB. I instantly recognised him as the co-star in several of Bruce Lee’s childhood movies including An Orphan’s Tragedy. It made me laugh at first because he was a 45 year old playing the part of what was a 20 year-old grown up Bruce. Like many ex-film stars he ended his career on with TVB before retiring in 1982. Incidentally, I note from my copy of Pete Spurrier’s “Heritage Hikers Guide to HK” that Cheung is featured on one of the film stills inside. A snippet of info from my friend Thomas is that Cheung is the father of renowned HK-director, Chor Yuen (see #42 later)

Picture Source: HKCinemagic

12. Ng Cho Fan (1910 – 1993)

Coincidentally, Ng Cho Fan is another actor who also starred in the aforementioned An Orphan’s Tragedy. Again, the name meant nothing to me until I saw his face. Ng played Bruce’s natural father who had been framed for a crime and jailed. The two meet in a hilltop temple whilst Ng is on the run from the police and he coerces the young 14 year old Bruce to get him some food. He also played the abusive drunken husband of Wong Man Lei (see #5 above) in 1953′s The Guiding Light and Lee's mentor in The Orphan.

Picture Source: HK Cinemagic

13. Tang Wing Cheung (1916 – 1997)

A famous opera performer, who like many of his contemporaries, made the seamless switch into the film world when it became more in vogue. It seems quite normal for the early HK film stars to have been featured in hundreds of films throughout their careers and Tang was no exception. He was highly philanthropic in his later life and was awarded an MBE in 1978. According to wiki, there is a bust of him at the Kwong Wah Hospital on Waterloo Road (note to self: must go to the Hospital Museum soon).

Picture Source: HKCinemagic

14. Pak Yin (1920 – 1987)

Starting her career in neighbouring Guangzhou (Canton) in the late 1930′s, she moved to HK in 1937 to star in anti-Japanese propaganda films – remember that Imperial Japanese troops had invaded China in the same year. She was co-founder of several film companies including Union Film Enterprise Ltd and Shan Luen Film Co. The latter set up with (#23) Ng Wui and (#11) Cheung Wood-Yau.

Picture Source: HKCinemagic

15. Zhou Xuan (1918 – 1957)

Not surprising that her list of films isn’t too big given she was only 39 when she died. Wiki has a detailed bio on her. Apparently one of China’s seven great singing stars. She seems to have spent most of her time in Shanghai, however, according to my old chum Yvonne, she moved to HK post-war and made a few films here too including Sorrows of the Forbidden City directed by Zhu Shilin (see #6 above). There's an interesting review of it here for anyone that is interested.

Picture Source: HKCinemagic

16. Cheung Ying (1919 – 1984)

Another prolific actor (starring in over 300 films) who went on to co-found Union Film Enterprise with Pak Yin (#14). He moved into directing before joing first TVB then RTV (Rediffusion – the precursor to the current Asia TV).

Picture Source: HKCinemagic

17. Li Tit (1913 – 1996)

Although starting out as an actor in 1932, Li Tit soon turned to directing in 1936 and this is where he made his name – he even made a film version of that goddamn awful crap cartoon character – Master Q – in the 1970′s (does anyone actually find that stuff funny?). He must have done something right because he was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Film Directors Guild in 1995.

Unfortunately, I cannot for the life of me find a picture of Li Tit anywhere (at least one that I can confirm is him). If anyone can point me in the right direction I would be most grateful.

18. Wu Pang

I can’t seem to find Mr Wu’s birth date and so have no idea how old he is/was. What he was famous for is for directing a rather large number of the Wong Fei Hung films starring Kwan Tak Hing (see above) – in fact 58 of his 200+ directing total can be attributed to the Wong Fei Hung series. Another LifeTime Achievement Award recipient, this time in 1999.

Picture Source: HKMDB

19. Yam Kim Fai (1913 – 1989)

A renowned Cantonese opera performer who was noted for her ability to sing like a man – allowing her to play both male and female roles. She was a comparative latecomer to the film world but once started made a huge number of films. Interestingly, and in one of those connections I like to discover, her last performance on TV was for the July 1972 telethon fundraiser for the victims of the Po Shan Landslide which also featured Bruce and Brandon Lee breaking boards.

Picture Source: HKMDB

20. Shek Kin (1913 – 2009)

In terms of world wide recognition, Shek Kin was up there with the greats mainly thanks to his villainous role as Mr Han in Enter the Dragon. But actually, he was a prolific actor from the 1940′s – 60′s and E.T.D happened relatively late in his career when he was just turning 60!! If you have ever seen the Hui's The Private Eyes then you should also recognise him as the gang leader that takes over the Royal Theatre in Mongkok. It's amazing to think he only just died in 2009. Unlike many of these earlier stars mentioned above, Shek Kin lived long enough to actually provide a hand impression for his floor plaque (and no, it was his real hand and not one Mr Han’s fake one :-)).

Picture Source: HKCinemagic

21. Li Li Hua (1924 – )

Li Li is a Mainland born actress who, thanks to her two famous Beijing Opera practicing parents (Zhang Shao Chuan & Li Gui Fung) started acting at an early age and was in her first film by the time she was 15. A few years later (1948) she moved to HK and continued to act in films for a wide variety of HK based production companies, including Shaws. She has the honour of appearing in the very first colour HK film (Blood Will Tell – 1955) as well as starring opposite Victor Mature in a US production (China Doll – 1956). In 1960 she signed on to Shaws full time and went on to star in a host of movies for them until retiring to the US in 1972. Apparently, she moved back to HK recently and is still active with charity appearances.

Picture Source: HKCinemagic

Actually, Li Li has a fairly informative fan page here.

22. Bai Guang (1921 – 1999)

I’ll be honest. I only recently became aware of Bai Guang courtesy of Dave Durian’s excellent Soft Film website (Dave really is one of THE world authorities on Chinese cinema). Here is a selection of Dave’s Bai Guang related posts.

Bai Guang’s real name was actually Shi Yongfen, but she adopted her stage name after seeing a cinema’s projector light as a youngster when movies were only just appearing – Bai Guang is the Chinese for “white light”. She studied acting in Japan before returning to China to start her movie career in 1943 and then moved to HK in 1949. Famously reclusive, she only made about 15 films before retiring in 1959. She then spent the next 30 or so years living in Kuala Lumpur. She died of cancer in 1999. Wiki page is here.

23. Ng Wui (1913 – 1996)

Another of the founders of the Union Film Enterprise Ltd company, he was another multi-talented performer (actor, director, producer etc) who was prolific in all areas throughout the 40′s and onward. He came to HK in 1941 (bad timing seeing as the Japanese invaded later that year) as an actor but soon moved into directing, even directing a young Bruce Lee (albeit in a very small role) in 1957′s Thunderstorm. In later life he joined RTV and enjoyed a resurgence in fame thanks to roles in some popular series.

Picture Source: HKCinemagic

24. Pak Suet Sin (1926 – )

A famous opera player who was often paired up with male impersonator Yam Kim Fai (#19). Another prolific actor from the late 40′s to the 60′s who was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001. Her name is fairly synonymous with Cantonese Opera in HK.

Picture Source: HKMDB

25. Hung Sin Nui (1924 – 2013)

Another Mainland actress/opera performer who made it big in the Mainland before heading to HK. This lady made such an impact in the opera world that Guangzhou has an arts centre named after her. Here is a picture of it on Panoramio. As far as I can tell she is still around. Interestingly , she seems to have taken a hiatus from film making sometime between 1956 – 1959 and I wonder if this is because she returned to Guangzhou to join the Guangdung Cantonese Opera Troupe. It appears to have flourished under her leadership. She is one of those who only recently passed away (8th December 2013).

Picture Source: HKMDB

Okay, that’s it for now. Look out for part two coming soon.

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