Art House: Lonely Fifteen started a trend in 'bad girl' movies
Today's movie-goers, desensitised by three decades of Cantonese celluloid inundated with errant teen lasses, might find it difficult to imagine the original impact of Lonely Fifteen, the neorealist drama that opened the floodgates in 1982.
Sure, there had been plenty of screen bad girls in the years preceding this New Wave classic, most famously the heroines and anti-heroines of Teddy Girls (1969). But the swinging '60s-style sex and drugs encountered by that earlier generation was laughably coy compared with the bolder antics of Lonely Fifteen's lost schoolgirls.
Although its scenario is an unattributed adaptation of the racy, based-on-fact German film Christiane F (1981), David Lai Tai-wai's film is 100 per cent Hong Kong in character — a tribute to scriptwriter Manfred Wong Man-chun's ear for dialogue and the production team's utilisation of genuine locations.
The narrative's weakest links are the melodramatic incidents "borrowed" from the German opus. These made sense in Christiane F's European context but seem contrived and artificial in the saga of fallen angels Becky (Becky Lam Pik-kei) and Irene (Irene Wan Pik-ha) on the then-colony's mean streets.
That the proceedings retain the appearance of reality is due to the raw technique applied by producer Johnny Mak Tong-hung and director Lai, here marking their pivotal move from television to cinema. With the skilled assistance of cinematographer Bob Thompson, Mak and Lai related Becky's plight in a kaleidoscopic array of evocative locales. Casting newcomers meant audiences could believe the actors were playing themselves.
Lonely Fifteen was a critical and popular success, was nominated for seven Hong Kong Film Awards, and sold more tickets than Raiders of the Lost Ark. It led to many sequels and a subgenre focusing on "girls gone wild". More recently, Lonely Fifteen co-stars Wan — the only cast member to go on to a substantive movie career — and Peter Mak Tak-woh, made appearances in Philip Yung Tsz-kwong's May We Chat (2013), a film billed as a 21st century take on this older cautionary tale.
Lonely Fifteen , Apr 19, 5.30pm, Hong Kong Film Archive. Part of the Ways of the Underworld: Hong Kong Gangster Film as a Genre programme