Poor Mother

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 July, 2012, 12:00am


Today, Ha Chun-chau is best known as actress Sandra Ng Kwan-yue's funny, cuddly father - an endearing personality set further in stone every time the veteran actor, now 80, appears in yet another festive comedy as the Lunar New Year holidays come around.

Ha is the embodiment of Hong Kong's prosperous years of the 1970s and 80s. He presented the Mark Six lottery draw from 1976 to 1993, when his pronouncement of 'the six drawn numbers' consolidated his status as a bringer of good fortune.

There was once a time, however, when Ha's on-screen presence spelled trouble rather than tenderness. Having begun acting in television and film in the early 1950s, his speciality during the first two decades of his career was that of the sweet-talking delinquent. This was an archetypal character representing the darker side of the new cultural and social idioms in a city confronting the capitalism, colonialism and cronyism emerging in post-war Hong Kong.

In Poor Mother, the 1961 film which kick-starts the Hong Kong Film Archive's showcase of teddy boys in Cantonese-language cinema, Ha (who will attend a meet-the-audience session after the screening on Friday) plays Lee Hung, a young scallywag who has been kicked out of school for his misdemeanours. A small-time hoodlum, he's the film's major antagonist, as he attempts to lure the drama's vulnerable central character, Lin (Sheung-kwun Kwan-wai), into a life of moral corruption. (Lin has a strained relationship with her mother who has remarried into a rich clan whose members look down on Lin).

Yet Ha is neither the first nor the last of Hong Kong cinema's teddy boys. Subsequent screenings in the archive's programme will focus on the likes of Ding Yue (Love with Tears), Yu Ming (Teddy Boy in the Gutter) and Cheng Kwun-min (Two Fools in Paradise). What's interesting is how these actors eventually grew out of the characters in which they were initially pigeonholed. All of them branched out into other roles.

The teddy boys also cleaned up their acts, with Western-aping kids no longer seen as a threat to society. But social evils remain very much there, this time represented by new types of stock baddies.

Poor Mother, Fri, 11am, Hong Kong Film Archive (no English subtitles)