I really needed -- and enjoyed -- this. This being a screening last night of a 4K restoration of Wong Tin-lam's The Wild Wild Rose at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre's 1,734 seater Grand Theatre that was packed with an appreciative audience comprised of young and old (and including veteran entertainment personalities like Teddy Robin Kwan and Shu Kei).
It's not just that I've not viewed a Hong Kong film in more than two weeks. (Unlike this time last year, there doesn't seem to be as many Hong Kong films screening in local cinemas -- something which I hope will be rectified soon.) But, also, there the past couple of weeks or so have seen quite a few upsetting developments in Hong Kong (for e.g.s, see here and here). So it was nice to take a break from contemporary Hong Kong by viewing a Hong Kong film first released 63 years ago for a couple of hours or so.
This was my 3rd time viewing The Wild, Wild Rose, my 2nd time on a big screen and my 1st at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre. The very first time I viewed this 1960 musical drama was on a DVD shortly after the Cathay Organisation released its archive of MP&GI classics. The second time was at the Hong Kong Film Archive. Even that second time was so long ago that much of this film felt new to me (though, of course, I remember well the iconic Jajambo music sequence!).
I can't imagine this film with a singing and dancing lead character who's like a rose with thorns to be able to exist, never mind be so good, without Grace Chang in the lead. And last night's audience were utterly won over by her Si Jia, a nightclub singer with a heart of gold, and strong mind and will of her own.
It was interesting to see though that, more than half a century on, parts of The Wild, Wild Rose are so foreign now to Hong Kongers that they can get laughed at. Speaking of foreign: those unfamiliar with the history of Hong Kong cinema might find it jolting that this Hong Kong movie is a Mandarin rather than Cantonese language work; something that stems from many of its cast and crew being refugees of Shanghai's film industry -- refugees who left China to then British-ruled Hong Kong in the wake of the Communist revolution and takeover of the country.
More on the Shanghainese in Hong Kong: decades ago, I was dining with a family friend that I call my tai tai aunt at an old school Shanghainese restaurant when she pointed to an elderly woman at another table and told me, "That's Grace Chang!" At the time, it was a shock to me as I had only ever previously seen Grace Chang in movies and in her prime, and I hadn't quite processed that the MP&GI films that I had been viewing were that old. But, yes, well... and, for the record, Grace Chang is now 90 years of age!
Returning to the discussion of the segments that brought on quite a bit of laughter at last night's screening: Unlike with Grace Chang's wild, wild rose, the audience did not take kindly to Dolly Soo Fung's "goodie two shoes" teacher character -- who is the fiancee of the film's male protagonist (played by Chang Yang), who lost his job as a music teacher and went to work as a nightclub pianist. This especially since her character's seemingly only response to any adversity was to turn away and cry; something that was greeted with derision and amusement by the audience!
I guess from this, we can tell that contemporary Hong Kong women are made of much stronger stuff! Something I can confirm based on the Hong Kong women friends and public personalities I know! (More than by the way, Far Far Away is one of those contemporary Hong Kong movies that I reckon shows very well the strong personalities of contemporary Hong Kong females. Though, to be fair, The Wild, Wild Rose also does have its share of strong female personalities, including Si Jia's friend portrayed by Wang Lai!)
Another wave of laughter emanated from, and washed over, the audience at another point in the screening. In one scene, a couple decided to flee from being captured by the police. The woman suggests to the man that the police would be less likely to get them if they headed over to either "Yuen Long or Tai Po". First there was a gasp as the connection was made, and then hysterical laughter.
For yes, this was a truly Hong Kong audience watching the film. One with obviously still very strong memories of what happened in Yuen Long on July 21st, 2019. (So, yes, well, the evening was primarily escapist entertainment... but, at the same time, there really are times when I really f**king love Hong Kong, not least because of the community and solidarity I feel and have with complete strangers who, nonetheless, share many of my experiences and memories.)