1960s Hong Kong movies

The Young Boss of the Factory (工廠少爺) (1963)

The alternate title for this 1963 film is Fun in the Factory, and it appropriately describes the first half of the movie, which plays out like a workplace romp. Wong Bun Kap (Cheung Ying-Choi) has just returned from studying abroad and is ready to take his place in the workforce. Since his dad (Lee Pang-Fei) is also the chairman of a company, however, his plans, at least for now, look a lot like whatever Dad has in mind, and Dad wants him to gain some experience on the factory floor before he can move up in the company. If only Hong Kong tycoons could have some of whatever Papa Wong’s having. Dad explicitly says that Ah Kap has had it too easy his whole life and that the boy needs to understand the value of hard work, to which I say, amen.

Not only does Ah Kap totally agree that he’s a coddled rich kid, but he goes all in when his dad suggests that he join the company as a regular factory hand. He’ll live with one of the maids, posing as her nephew, and take on a new name, Chin Tung-Yuen. Since no one has seen Ah Kap since he was a kid, he won’t have a problem when mingling with the hoi polloi.

The plan sounds sensible enough, and it is for a good while. Word leaks out that the boss’s son is among the newest batch of employees, and suddenly everyone’s hot on the game. The ladies saddle up with the fellas and try to figure out if their beau is filthy rich, while the men eye each other suspiciously, unsure if the guy buying drinks can afford a few more rounds. Ah Kap almost gets outed when he doesn’t know what butter toast is, but his female colleague, Tsui Wan (Lam Fung), is confident he is not the favored son when she visits his humble home.

There isn’t much to the story besides this guessing game, and once the novelty wears down, so does the energy. There are a few subplots that get more mileage than they probably should. Wong’s subordinate (Cheung Kwun Min) goes the distance to try to out Ah Kap, going so far as to enlist his goddaughter’s help. One of the factory hands, Yee Keung (Cheung Ching), gets mistaken for the boss’s son and exhausts himself trying to prove otherwise. Cheung has a charismatic presence, and it wouldn’t have hurt to see him in an expanded role.

There’s a lot of potential for physical comedy and wit that’s wasted, and what might be a fun, buzzy film fizzles. The cast can only do so much to keep lighting fires, though Lam Fung does a damn good job with her eyes alone. Cheung Ying Choi is an affable presence, but he fades along with the script. The film gives its audience a little to chew on as a study in character and identity. Anyone who’s had a job will recognize the way colleagues try to try to size one another up based on a person’s proximity to the boss. Too bad this adventure couldn’t be more exciting than real life.

Alt Title: Fun in the Factory
Released: 1963
Prod: Sit Siu-Cheong 薛兆璋
Dir: Lo Yu-Kei 盧雨岐
Writer: Lo Yu-Kei 盧雨岐
Cast: Cheung Ying-Choi 張英才, Lam Fung 林鳳, Cheung Ching 張清, Lee Pang-Fei 李鵬飛, Kwan Hoi-San 關海山, Tam Sin-Hung 譚倩紅, Cheng Kwun-Min 鄭君綿, Sai Gwa-Pau 西瓜刨, Lee Heung-Kam 李香琴
Time: 108 min
Lang: Cantonese
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2018

Wonderful Partners (雞鳴狗盜)

Greed, theft, extortion, adultery, usury, and property developers – the makings of a true Hong Kong movie. While some things have changed since this film’s 1960 release – one rarely breaks and enters by shimmying up a drainpipe, for example, much remains constant. Lovers still engage in dangerous liaisons and Hong Kong real estate continues to lure overseas investors. And another steadfast presence in the city – the poor, who seem perpetually fixed to their lot. It is in this familiar landscape of class injustice that Wonderful Partners lives up to its Union Studio billing. The company, led by cinematic Renaissance man Ng Cho-Fan, famously championed the slogan, “All for one, and one for all,” and that spirit is on full display here. Ng and his very capable Union cohorts Cheung Ying, Yung Siu-Yi, and Tsi Lo-Lin turn out a sometimes preachy but ultimately satisfying comedy based on Si Tak’s (史得) novel of the same name.

Trumpeted as a Robin Hood-esque adventure by the Hong Kong Film Archive, the movie stars Ng as the righteous Brother Seven, who isn’t beyond a little thievery in the name of justice. He decides to help a young couple, Yu (Yung) and her lover Hong (Cheung), though not before sneaking some of their fine jewelry. Yu is a kept woman of Hong’s boss, the crotchety Mr. Chan (Lam Kwun-Shan), and he has forced her to sign an agreement to remain with him. To ensure she complies, he keeps the document locked in a massive vault that happens to sit at the edge of a treacherous cliff. The trio, along with Brother Seven’s sympathetic neighbor Lin (Tsi), concoct a plan to steal it back. What follows is a classic heist refreshingly simple in its execution. The group carries out their scheme with a flurry of diversions, a tool belt, and some serious chutzpah. For an audience addicted to flashy technology, it is riveting to see a break-in unencumbered by night vision goggles, heat detectors, and various other Bond-like gadgets.

The film charges a little too quickly ahead in the third act though and trades some of its smart physical comedy for some Union moralizing, as par for the course. With Chan now on the chase, Brother Seven is willing to go to the extremes to ensure that property developing, women hoarding scoundrels don’t continue to “poison society.” He is righteous to a fault, which is probably the type of person Hong Kong needs more of. The people he fights for are not overly tragic characters; they are folks who simply cannot be because of the greed of others. They must turn to theft to reclaim what is already theirs, and that makes the title so fitting. It roughly translates into resorting to cheap tricks, which is precisely what the poor in Hong Kong, on film and otherwise, must do in order to combat the deceit of the rich.

Released: 1960
Dir: Ng Wui 吳回
Writer: Union Screenwriters and Directors Committee 中聯編導委員會
Original Story: Si Tak 史得
Cast: Ng Cho-Fan 吳楚帆; Cheung Ying 張瑛; Yung Siu-Yi 容小意; Tsi Lo-Lin 紫羅蓮; Lam Kwun-Shan 林坤山; Yip Ping 葉萍; Leung Suk-Hing 梁淑卿; Ng Ka-Lai 吳嘉麗; Shek Sau 石修
Time: 117 min
Lang: Cantonese
Reviewed: 2012