Rediscovering Classics

M+ Screenings: Restored Images from Taiwan represents a joint effort from Hong Kong and Taiwan to promote the diversity of Chinese cinema and the importance of preserving ‘the seventh art’. Spanning from silent films of the 1910s to a martial arts classic of the 1970s, the selected works—including feature films, shorts, and newsreels—were mostly restored by the Taiwan Film Institute, as part of its digital film restoration project launched in 2013. Over the past six years, the project has demonstrated huge success with more than thirty Chinese-language films restored, taking full advantage of recent developments in digital technology.

The restoration work carried out in Taiwan could be an important reference for the film industry in Hong Kong, which has been the biggest film producer in the Greater China region since the end of the Second World War. Due to limited funding, the city has made little progress in restoring its film heritage over the past three decades. The climate here has added difficulties to the process, as film is prone to damage and deterioration under high temperature and humidity. While the advances of technology have lowered the cost of restoration and resulted in many ‘restored’ editions of films on DVD and Blu-ray, most of these products are merely digitised versions of the original works and a means of earning profit.

Among the classics being reintroduced, King Hu’s Raining in the Mountain (1979) was the first feature film restored by the institute on its own. The restored work has been widely anticipated, and it is selected as the opening film of both the screening programme as well as the 2019 Taiwan Arts Festival organised by Kwang Hwa Information and Culture Center. Lauded for its technical artistry, Lin Tuan-Chiu’s The Husband’s Secret (1960) also deserves close attention given the rarity of Taiwanese-language film screenings in Hong Kong. Pan Lei—a significant film director recruited twice to work for the Shaw Brothers during the 1960s and 1970s—has become less well-known to the present generation in Hong Kong. His work Typhoon (1962), one of his earliest shot in Taiwan, is an important part of his legacy, which stands out from many of the Mandarin-language films that emerged afterwards, during the period of healthy realism in the mid-1960s.

Also included in the institute’s collection of restored works are silent film classics, very few copies of which still exist. Produced at a time when Shanghai film star Ruan Linyu was at the peak of her career, Love and Duty (1931) was considered lost for decades until a copy was accidentally unearthed in the 1990s. A Trip through China (1916), a documentary shot by Russian-born American filmmaker Benjamin Brodsky, is the earliest film record of the country. To accompany these two screenings, Taiwanese electronic musician fish.the is invited to provide a live score.

This screening programme also features a selection of shorts by Taiwanese director Richard Chen Yao-Chi, which were made during and after his film studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, in the 1960s. Combining a realist aesthetic with an experimental approach, his works remain significant and influential to this day. In addition to Chen’s documentaries, the newsreels from 1946, filmed at a time of social and political turbulence, became valuable records for the history of Taiwan. As part of this weekend-long programme, representatives from the institute are invited to share their experience in film restoration, prompting discussion on the current situation in Hong Kong and the way forward in preserving film art and culture.

Li Cheuk-to
Curator, Hong Kong Film and Media, M+