Film review: The Posterist is must-see for fans of Hong Kong cinema’s golden age

Hui See-wai’s tribute to the artist who painted some of the industry’s most iconic movie posters may be a bit one-note, but it’s a worthy nostalgia trip for fans

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 November, 2016, 6:46pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 November, 2016, 6:46pm

3/5 stars

The artist behind many of Hong Kong’s best-known hand-painted film posters is revealed in a serviceable profile that, at just 71 minutes, feels far too brief for those eager to learn more about local cinema’s golden age. The Posterist is a passion project of first-time documentary filmmaker Hui See-wai (son of comedy legend Michael Hui Koon-man), who seeks to reacquaint audiences with Yuen Tai-yung, who painted posters for the majority of his father’s biggest hits.

The Zhejiang-born, Shanghai-raised Yuen moved to Hong Kong as a teenager, and had worked in advertising agencies when he chanced upon a commission in 1975 to design the poster for The Last Message, the second film of the Hui brothers (Michael, along with Sam and Ricky). Yuen would go on to create posters for more than 200 films – including 17 featuring the Huis, and others starring Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Stephen Chow – before he retired and migrated to New Zealand in 1992.

The self-taught painter is revered for his cartoonish illustrations that show both an uncanny resemblance to the stars and an ingenious ability to abstract a movie’s plot down to its essence. Although his acrylic-on-paper poster art revealed a painter at the peak of his powers, for Yuen his work was just a job: he had stopped painting for some 15 years before his wife died in 2007, at which point he started painting realistic star portraits as a hobby.

Hui uses hyperbolic testimonials from veterans of film, comics and graphic design about Yuen’s work. It’s a small pity that he hasn’t dug deeper into the mind of his humble yet talkative subject, nor researched Yuen’s artistic process more: a scene detailing how the poster for 1981 film Security Unlimited was conceived is fascinating. Still, none of that makes this anything other than a must-see film for Hong Kong cinema fans.

The Posterist opens on November 19

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