Second Sight: Nobody's Child

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 31 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 31 March, 2013, 3:48pm

Nobody's Child

Its title to the contrary, this wistful saga of a wandering orphan has a genealogy traceable to late 19th-century French literature and early 20th-century Shanghai cinema.

Hector Malot's 1878 novel Sans Famille - literally "Without Family" but known in English as Nobody's Boy - was first translated into Chinese in 1912 by author Bao Tianxiao; in 1925, Shanghai's Mingxing (Star) Studio used Bao's interpretation for its 1925 silent drama, Little Friend, an early success for director Zhang Shichuan and celluloid ingénue Xuan Jinglin.

But it would be two other Mingxing contemporaries, actress Butterfly Wu (aka Hu Die) and director Richard Poh (aka Bu Wancang), who would provide the connection between Shanghai and Hong Kong when Sans Famille was re-adapted with Mandarin dialogue as Nobody's Child in 1960.

Besides its shift in locale and time period, the film also changed the child's gender. The lad Remi was transformed into Mei, portrayed by then 11-year-old Josephine Siao Fong-fong who melted audiences' hearts as she sang, juggled and persevered despite the harsh hand dealt her by fate.

With Siao supported by such former Shanghai superstars as Wu, the Poh-helmed feature was something of a bridge between pre-PRC movie traditions and the new age about to dawn, for this would be one of Siao's last major Mandarin works as a child actress before her metamorphosis into a top teen queen of 1960s Cantonese pictures and multiple award-winning performer of the 1990s.

Due to the long unavailability of a good quality print, this film is today chiefly known for Siao's recording of its theme song, Mama's Best. But the production is much more than that, making the HK Film Archive's new restoration a welcome guarantee that Nobody's Child will no longer be orphaned by movie enthusiasts.

Nobody's Child, Mon, 3pm, HK City Hall; Thu, 2pm, HK Film Archive. Part of the HK International Film Festival and the Restored Treasures programme