A night at the Cantonese opera of a half-century ago, both architecturally and cinematically, is recreated by the Hong Kong Film Archive with its screening of The Heroes and the Beauty to commemorate the opening of the recently restored Yau Ma Tei Theatre, Kowloon's only existing pre-second-world-war movie house and the very venue where the Eastmancolor classic greeted the new year of 1962.
The imperial costume drama of separated siblings and their intrigue-laden reunion makes few concessions to the Western style of story-telling. Nor is the technique employed by director Wong Hok-sing ostensibly movie-like, glorying in its seemingly unvarnished stagecraft, painted backdrops, prerecorded soundtrack, and highly stylised performances.
It's all an illusion, for The Heroes and the Beauty is far more than a photographed stage production. Wong and his team were prescient enough to preserve the integrity of the Tai Lung Fung Opera Troupe in adapting one of its famous pieces for the screen, utilising a deceptively simple approach that was nonetheless totally cinematic.
There is no rapid MTV-style cutting or 'artistic' angles, affording the viewer an undistracted opportunity to see some of the past century's greatest opera performers in action. And 'action' there is - the display of martial arts and acrobatic skill is astounding, the shots' length ensuring that what we're seeing is the real thing and not manufactured by sleight-of-hand editing.
But time and tastes move on, and The Heroes and the Beauty's Yau Ma Tei run was just a couple of years removed from the genre's decline. It was a descent mirrored by the theatre's own downward spiral into oblivion, making the opportunity to see the revival of both film and venue almost as incredible as an operatic plot twist.
July 22, 5pm, July 29, 7.30pm, Hong Kong Film Archive