Also showing: Winnie Fu

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 June, 2007, 12:00am

She has programmed film festivals and conjured up complicated seminars. But Winnie Fu Wai-yee says her most recent project - an exhibition of 160 promotional posters for Hong Kong films spanning four decades - is probably the most arduous task she has ever undertaken as programmer of the Hong Kong Film Archive.

'I had to get the copyright for every poster,' she says of the items in the show, entitled Collective Memories in Movie Posters. 'I had to contact different companies and different people, and the poster couldn't be exhibited if they didn't get back to me.'

And there were hiccups. Apart from copyright owners who had vanished from public view, there were US entertainment companies that refused to allow the exhibition of posters for Hong Kong films they now own.

The exhibition showcases only a fraction of the archive's vast collection of posters, which numbers more than 4,000.

Getting the collection together hasn't been easy. Although most have been donated - from film companies, private collectors and aficionados - some were much harder to come by. Fu says many posters produced during the 1950s and 60s have been discovered in the most unlikely places in foreign cities. Some were unearthed in rubbish bins in San Francisco, for example, and quite a few were discovered by a film-lover in a basement in the city's Chinatown. The space had once been a theatre that showed Cantonese opera films during the 50s.

The archive has also been busy collecting movie posters and memorabilia in Hong Kong. Whenever a production studio, cinema or a film company closes - such as the recent closure of Golden Harvest's studios at Diamond Hill - archive staff rush off to find unwanted reels and related material. They also trawl the stalls on Lascar Row, or Cat Street, on the lookout for any gems.

The archive's conservation section then restores the posters before framing them. 'I feel elated just looking at the posters,' says Fu, who believes less effort is put into movie posters these days. 'They have many strong, elaborate visuals designed by experts.

'The oldest poster we got is that for Pu Wancang's The Soul of China (1948), an ode to the Song dynasty patriot Wen Tianxiang. But posters of movies produced during the 50s and 60s are valuable, so they're hard to get.'

Fu (below) says there's a noticeable change in emphasis in the designs from different eras. Before the invention of computers, the hand-painted posters focused on typography and were made as colourful as possible.

With the advent of digital technology, design superseded information - as can be seen in the posters for films made during and after the so called New Wave, from the likes of Patrick Tam Ka-ming's Love Massacre through to Wong Kar-wai.

By showing posters of years past, Fu says she hopes to pass on the culture of earlier generations. 'I have to think of different ways to attract the new generation to learn about the lives of their predecessors.'

Collective Memories in Movie Posters, Hong Kong Film Archive, until Oct 1