Malaya Love Affair

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 September, 2011, 12:00am


In a career that began in 1937 when she was just 14 and ended in 1964 when she retired at 40, Tsi Lo-lin has appeared in more than 140 films. Within this impressive body of work, Malaya Love Affair from 1954 stands out.

Tsi was already one of the most bankable stars of her generation when she financed, produced, wrote and directed what is at once an engaging romance drama and a chronicle of the Chinese diaspora in Southeast Asia amid their struggle to maintain their cultural identity in a distant land. This pioneering premise predates by nearly three decades similarly themed films from Mabel Cheung Yuen-ting, Ann Hui On-wah or Ang Lee.

Inspired by the huaqiao ('migrant Chinese') she met during visits to what was then Malaya in the early 1950s, Tsi crafted a story around Yuk-kit (played by herself), a young woman who arrives in Malaya to find her father. As she immerses herself into the Chinese community there, Yuk-kit is drawn into a love triangle involving a schoolteacher, Tai-wai (Cheung Wood-yau), and Kwun-yu (Cheung Ying), scion of a local tycoon. As tragedy eventually strikes, Yuk-kit renews her enthusiasm for life by continuing Tai-wai's educational dreams, converting Kwun-yu in the process.

With its advocacy of self-sacrifice for the greater good, Malaya Love Affair fits perfectly with the aesthetics of Union Film, the filmmaking collective of which Tsi was a core member. Today, it appears quite starry-eyed in its idealistic portrayal of a moral way of living in a difficult age, but the film remains a powerful entry in the history of Hong Kong cinema.

Bolstered by Ho Look-ying's cinematography, Malaya Love Affair is a vivid display of the actor-director's imagination and her concerns in issues beyond her home environment, things that remain rare even among filmmakers today.

Malaya Love Affair, today, 2pm, Oct 5, 4.30pm, HK Film Archive