Film appreciation: Follow Your Dream - a real find from 1941

Hong Kong tragi-comedy, which had its premiere weeks before the Japanese invasion of the city, is a potent reminder of the city's enduring role as an oasis of free expression within China

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 July, 2015, 11:17pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 July, 2015, 11:17pm

The recent discovery of a print of Follow Your Dream, a Cantonese feature that premiered just weeks before the colony's invasion by Japanese forces in December 1941, is literally a dream come true for Hong Kong film buffs.

Less than a handful of that year's nearly 100 local productions are available for viewing today, making this star-studded drama an important link to the city's cinematic past.

The saga of Guangdong refugees trying to survive in a Hong Kong still at peace, director Lo Dun's tale belongs to a long-extinct genre known as "national defence films". Espousing the kind of patriotic themes banned in those areas of China already under Japanese occupation, Follow Your Dream is a potent example of Hong Kong's place as an artistic oasis in which viewpoints that would be anathema in China could still be expressed.

Not that the multiple denizens of the tong lau (tenement house) that is the film's chief location are overtly spouting anti-Japanese propaganda, for there were limits to what the British censors would allow.

Still, it is amazing just how far those limits were pushed by Lo, an important force in Hong Kong's left-wing cinema both before and after the war. Perhaps most explicit is the building's rooftop mural depicting Chiang Kai-shek flanked by quotations whose combative implications would have been obvious to audiences.

Of special interest are the cast members, particularly Cantonese superstar Cheung Ying in the guise of a progressively minded intellectual struggling to fulfil his destiny. Cheung would play fiery young men into the 1960s, and it is instructive to see him at 22 inhabiting a role consistent with his age. The most scintillating portrayal is Lam Mui-mui's demimondaine with a heart of gold. Though mostly shot on studio sound stages, the few location shots contain a rare glimpse of Nathan Road's architecturally magnificent Alhambra Theatre.

In addition to the expected Hollywood fare, the posters adorning the movie palace surprisingly include a Soviet motion picture ( Peter the First), yet another indication of Hong Kong's pluralistic nature at a time when most of China was closed off from the world.

Follow Your Dream, August 2,2pm, Hong Kong Film Archive, 50 Lei King Road, Sai Wan Ho