Friday, July 29, 2011

Actor's perfect role: saving old films (SCMP)

After leaving the limelight, Lui Ming found and restored hundreds of 'Cantonese oldies'

Clarence Tsui
Jul 30, 2011

Compared to the three other veteran thespians featured in the Film Archive's tribute to the Hong Kong film industry's character actors, Lui Ming seems to have had a much less stellar career.

The Black Rose (1965)
While Lee Heung-kam, Helena Law Lan and Wang Lai can lay claim to filmographies spanning more than four decades, Lui's acting career began in the early 1950s and ended with the 1964 film The Seven Tigers.

What casts Lui apart from his peers is what he did after leaving the limelight. His company, named after himself and established in the early 1960s, was a major player in the circulation and preservation of Hong Kong films produced from the 1950s to the '70s.

He was one of the few distributors responsible for procuring the black-and-white "Cantonese oldies" that have been broadcast late at night on the two Chinese-language terrestrial stations for four decades.

Lui said he began finding these films for TVB in the late 1960s, when his company - set up to co-ordinate advertising and publicity campaigns for recently released films - helped the broadcaster secure the appearances of film stars on its daily Enjoy Yourself Tonight variety show.

"TVB's people asked me whether I could help them get their films to be shown on TV too," said Lui. "So I went around buying screening rights to these films from producers."

One problem was that producers had not kept the prints in good condition.

My Kingdom For a Husband (1957)
"Soon everybody in the office was helping out cleaning celluloid," said Lui, who recalled installing an editing desk in the office to remove worn-out and liquefying bits of the copies they took out of the clunky cans.

While some of these films have since ended up in the vaults of TVB and ATV, Lui has a sizeable collection in storage. He has also passed more than 500 prints to the Film Archive.

Born in Macau, Lui - whose real name is Chin Bun - came to Hong Kong after the second world war and became an actor at the now-defunct Tai Koon studio in 1951. He began working as a voice actor in radio plays, first at Radio Rediffusion and then Commercial Radio in the early 1950s.

Driver No. 7 (1958)
Having financed and starred in two films in 1954 - Good and Evil Have Their Own Rewards and Heaven Never Lets the Kind-Hearted Down - Lui's break finally came in 1958, when he found himself in regular contact with the actors and producers of the Cathay and Union studios, whose offices were in the same building as Commercial Radio.

Working with Union's actor-director Cheung Ying on his film Driver No 7 - which will be shown at 7pm today at the Film Archive - Lui signed with Cheung's Overseas Chinese Films company, a deal which brought him a stable monthly salary of HK$300 and a fruitful spell in which he established himself as the company's go-to actor for crooked and corrupt characters. He played villains in such films as Ten Brothers (1959) and Many Aspects of Love (1961). These two will be screened tomorrow at the Archive.

Lui Ming, Fung Fung, Tsang Cho-Lam
Driver No. 7 (1958)

Leung Suk-Hing, Ha Ping, Lui Ming
Many Aspects of Love (1961)
Ten Brothers (1959)

By then, Lui had founded his own company and delved into publicity and production projects. After retiring from acting, he produced a thriller, Excelsior, in Taiwan in 1973, followed by Hong Kong comedies such as Fun HK Style and Star Wonderfun.

His sons have followed him into the industry: Andy Chin Wing-keung is a film director, David Chin Wing-shing is a TVB producer, and Bernard Chin Wing-lai is a sound recordist.

Lui now runs his business from his home on Prince Edward Road West, and regards the decline of TV screenings of the black-and-white oldies with regret. "Maybe the younger generation aren't interested any more," he said. "TVB still shows them in late-night slots, but ATV doesn't have time for that any more."


Anonymous said...

Great story! Sounds like he more or less single-handedly saved the Cantonese oldies from oblivion. Between the 500 he donated to HKFA, the ones he acquired for TVB and ATV, and his own personal collection (I wonder what's in that), that must be a lot films. Thank you, Lui Ming!

dleedlee said...

Yeah, that's a pretty impressive legacy.