Benjamin Brodsky – first to open a Hong Kong film production company and “King of Chinese cinema”

HF: Our article, A Brief History of Hong Kong Cinema to 1988 – Film Studios and Personalities states that in 1913, the 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.]

Here is a brief biography of Brodsky. I have slightly adapted the original biography found on the Hong Kong Memory Project website:

Benjamin Brodsky Image HK Memory Project

Benjamin Brodsky Source: HK Memory Project

Benjamin Brodsky, a Russian Jew [ the China Daily article linked below suggests he was Ukrainian], was one of the pioneers of the Hong Kong film industry. First to open a film production company in Hong Kong, he inspired his friends Lai Man-wai, Lai Buk-hoi and Lo Wing-cheung to become filmmakers, laying the seeds for the Hong Kong film industry.

Brodsky travelled around the world as a film projectionist when he was young. He came to China in 1909 to start his business of film projection and trading related equipment. With the Chinese government’s financial support and young intellectuals’ love of Western drama and cinema after the Republican Revolution, he travelled to the US to purchase new films and planned to return to China to make films.

Benjamin Brodsky And 9 Chinese Board Of Directors HK Memory Project

Group photo of China Cinema Company Limited. A group picture published in the Moving Picture World on April 10 1915. Benjamin Brodsky the President of China Cinema Company Limited and nine Chinese board of directors, including high government officials, economists, entrepreneurs. Source: Hong Kong Memory Project.

Eventually he founded the Variety Film Exchange Company and Variety Film Manufacturing Company in 1913 on Nathan Road, Hong Kong. He hired R.F. Van Velzer from New York for staff training, equipment and printing laboratory building. In 1914, Brodsky made his first film, The Sport of Kings (retitled Hong Kong Races) on the annual Hong Kong horse race. It was well received in high society and earned Brodsky a reputation. In 1914, with better production conditions gained through connecting to Yuan Shikai’s government, he ultimately made A Trip Through China (1917).

Brodsky shot A Trip Through China in various Chinese cities. He created a documentary with vision, presenting the ordinary lives and natural beauty of towns and villages. It was critically acclaimed after its release in the US, Brodsky was even praised by the media as “King of Chinese Cinema”. The copy in the Taipei Film Archive was only 80 minutes long,  significantly shorter than the original 2-hour long version, but didn’t undermine the film’s importance in documenting early Chinese society.

Sources:

  1. Benjamin Brodsky biography, Hong Kong Memory Project

See:

  1. The Hong Kong Memory Project Hong Kong Memory (HKM) is a multi-media web site that gives free and open access to digitized materials on Hong Kong’s history, culture and heritage. The materials include text documents, photographs, posters, sound recordings, motion pictures and videos.
    HKM is Hong Kong’s response to UNESCO’s Memory of the World Programme which calls for the preservation of valuable archive holdings and library collections all over the world through digitization to guard against collective amnesia.
  2. Ben Brodsky & the real dawn of Hong Kong cinema China Daily 13th March 2010

This article was first posted on 27th April 2020.

Related Indhhk articles:

  1. A Brief History of Hong Kong Cinema to 1988 – Film Studios and Personalities
  2. Hong Kong Film Studios – dates, locations, layout, founders
  3. Lianhua Film Company aka United Photoplay Service Film Studio, registered in Hong Kong 1930
  4. Lo Lam (盧林) – Building Contractor, Theater Owner and Movie Producer
  5. Wader Film Studio (華達製片廠)
  6. YC Moy (梅友卓) – the Friendly Compatriot and the Yau Kiu Film Studio (友僑片場)
  7. Golden Harvest Film Studio – Diamond Hill
  8. Jimmy Heung dies – Win’s Entertainment film studio
  9. Yan O Wan “Log Pond”, Lantau – 1983 Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung film location

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