A Brief History of Hong Kong Cinema to 1988 – Film Studios and Personalities

HF: Paul Fonoroff, well known Hong Kong film critic and historian, wrote, A Brief History of Hong Kong Cinema. I believe it was published in 1988, in Renditions, a literary magazine published by the Research Centre for Translation (RCT) at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. The copy of the article I link below comes from the CUHK library.

Of particular interest to us, I think, is where film studios are mentioned, which is where of course films were largely made. They are thus part of HK’s industrial history.

I have extracted brief details from Mr Fonoroff’s article recording important dates and landmarks in HK film production but concentratng on film studios. The comments within square brackets are mine. Please note the images do not come from the article.

1896 Lumière Studio camera crew visited HK [from China?]

1909 HK’s first film production by Shanghai’s Asia Film Studios –Stealing the [or “a”?] Roast Duck
The Guardian – Quest for the long lost roast duck 2009 article

Hong-Kong-film-pioneers-001

Hong Kong film pioneers Lai Man-wai (left) and Lai Buk-hoi. Photograph Courtesy: The Hong Kong Film Archive

1913 American, Benjamin Brosky and Li Minwei co-founded HK’s first film studio, Huamei (Chinese-American). [Brosky appears to have been actually called Brodsky but has also been written about as Brasky and Polasky.]

Brodsky, Benjamin

Brodsky with nine Chinese co-directors of China Cinema Company Ltd formed in November 1914

1922 Li Minwei formed HK’s first Chinese-owned film company, China Sun Company

1924 China Sun produced HK’s first full-length dramatic film, Rouge. The studio was in Ngan Mok (Silver Screen) Street, Tin Hau, but because of water shortages the film was made in Guangzhou.

Ngan Mok Street - Google Map

Tin Hau showing Ngan Mok Street

1925-26 The Great Strike closed a number of fledgling film companies including China Sun’s studio in HK

1925- 30 Production moved to Guangzhou and no films were made in HK during this period

1930 Li Beihai founded the Hong Kong Film Company

1930 The merger of Li Minwei’s China Sun with North China studio headed by Luo Mingyou, along with two other studios, to form United Photoplay Service

Li Minwei, photo

Li Minwei 1893-1953

1931 A HK studio of United Photoplay  was set up with Li Beihai as studio head

1933 The first Cantonese language talkie, Platinum Dragon, was made in Shanghai, not HK, by Tianyi Studio, run by the eldest of the Shaw brothers, Shao Zuiweng

1935 Grandview Film Company had begun in the USA funded by Chinese-Americans. In this year it moved its base to HK.

Around this time the other important HK studio was Nanyang, Tianyi’s HK operation

Pre-WW2 Events in Shanghai and China generally led to an exodus of film talent to HK. This section of the article needs to be read to absorb the complexities of the film industry in both China and HK during this period. Sound films becoming the norm pre and post war led to a huge increase in the number of fims being made in HK with dozens of small studios opening “overnight”.

1941 Dec – Grandview studios and other film facilities were bombed. Film production stopped in HK until 1946

Post WW2 The largest film studio was Great China. Smaller ones were Yonghua and Nan Kuen.

Late 1940s to mid-1960s Cantonese film studios, including Sun Luen and Chung Luen,concentrated on cheap and quickly made films. Mandarin studios were, Great Wall, Feng Huang, Motion Pictures & General Investment (MP&GI) and Shaw Brothers

Motion Picture & General Investments

1952 The remaining Shanghai studios were nationalized

1950s and 1960s The largest HK studios were Shaw Brothers and MP&GI

Shaw Film Studio 1968

1964 [?] MP&GI became Cathay which closed in 1972

1960 to 1971 Cantonese films produced dropped dramatically

Early 1970s The new film industry giant was Golden Harvest [this photo shows Golden Studios Ltd which I believe was the same company?]

Golden Harvest Studio entrance

Golden Harvest Studio entrance

1970s to late 1980s The articles mentions HK made films but no studios are mentioned

1988 The year the article was, I think, published.

This Indhhk article was first published on 27th September 2014.

Sources:

  1. A Brief History of Hong Kong Cinema  Paul Fonoroff, Renditions, CUHK, 1988

Related Indhhk articles:

  1. Film Studios, Hong Kong – dates, locations, layout, founders…
  2. Golden Harvest Film Studio – Diamond Hill
  3. The Aircraft Maintenance Industry in Hong Kong – post WW2
    Run Run Shaw’s film studio complex at Clearwater Bay re-erected the PAMAS hangar at Kai Tak airport after it was dismantled when the new runway pointing out to sea was brought into service.

2 Comments

  • Hugh

    Golden Studios was indeed Golden Harvest’s studios off Hammer Hill Rd. Before GH, it was leased by MP&GI/Cathay. When Cathay withdrew from film production in HK, GH took over their old studios and in reciprocation, Cathay were given exclusive distribution rights to GH films in Malaysia and Singapore. I believe it was owned by the Union Film Company befgore MP&GI moved in. The site is now Kingsford Terrace.

    Another smaller studio, Asia Studios, was located just down the road at the entrance to King Tung St and is now Sun Lai Garden. Wader studios, once the largest in HK, were along Castle Peak Road nr Tsuen Wan.

    It’s a vast topic. There were many studios, some big some small, some owned by production houses (like Shaws and GH) and some owned by third parties who just leased the stages to film makers. There was a plethora of smaller production houses, and studios in the Diamond Hill area. Some made Canto and Mandarin films for the local markets, some made Chiuchow and Hoklo films for the overseas Chinese markets. But pretty much all of them have fallen by the wayside as the nature of the film industry changed.

    There are still lots of production companies, but only really a couple of actual studios left: TVB and Clearwater Bay Studios – both in Tseung Kwan O area. I’m not sure if CWB even has a sound stage any more – perhaps only offers post-production facilities? Of course, most film companies these days can hop into China if they need large sound stages or studio sets (Hengdian and Nanhai spring to mind but I am sure there are many more).

    • Many thanks Phil.

      I have just posted an new article, Film Studios, Hong Kong – dates, locations, layout, founders… which includes your comments.

      The article provided a skeleton framework which can be added to over time.

      As you say it is, or was, a huge industry in terms of Film Studios and related companies involved. Complicated as well, as even my initial research indicates, and at times confusing.

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