Italian job: firms sets up in Hong Kong to restore movies from golden age

Firm opens HK branch and restores and digitises films from golden age

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 31 May, 2015, 5:39am
UPDATED : Sunday, 31 May, 2015, 5:39am

Hongkongers are becoming increasingly nostalgic for classic films shot during the city's golden era of movie making.

From The Way of the Dragon, featuring late kung fu megastar Bruce Lee, to the city's gangster movie legend A Better Tomorrow, people are seeking out films shot from the 1960s to the 90s.

But with the digitalisation of movies in recent years, fewer theatres have the equipment capable of playing the 35mm pieces of movie history.

Eyeing the increasing demand in the Asian market, Italian company L'Immagine Ritrovata - billed as the world's only firm focusing solely on restoration and digitalisation of old movies - is opening a branch in Hong Kong on June 12. Their office will be in Kwun Tong.

"After years of growing demand in Asia, we decided to open a branch here," said company director Davide Pozzi. "Hong Kong is the most important Asian city in cinema, like Los Angeles in the United States or Paris in Europe.

"There is really a need to digitalise a film in order to have access to the film. People love to see old movies restored, thanks to television and big film festivals."

Pozzi said the company would restore around 60 to 80 titles a year and that Asian clients accounted for 20 per cent to 30 per cent of the company's business. He hoped the number would grow further with the Hong Kong branch.

L'Immagine Ritrovata has restored some of the most prominent titles in cinema, such as the world's first commercially screened film directed by French brothers Auguste and Louis Lumière, and the entire archive of works by Charlie Chaplin.

The company also successfully restored the 1955 Bengali movie Pather Panchali, or Song of the Little Road, directed by one of India's most celebrated filmmakers Satyajit Ray.

Precious original film reels were almost destroyed in a 1993 fire in a film lab in London and the company had to go through a painstaking process of rehydrating, cleaning and restoring the charred negatives.

The company's first encounter with Hong Kong dates back to 2008, when the Hong Kong Film Archive commissioned it to restore a 1940 film, Confucius, directed by Mu Fei. Over the years, it has restored six more Hong Kong films.

The latest project is the 1986 crime film A Better Tomorrow, directed by John Woo. The project, started in January, finished earlier this month.

Bede Cheng Tze-wang, managing director of the company's Hong Kong branch, recalled how excited the movie's cinematographer Horace Wong Wing-hang was when he was overseeing the colour correction process.

"He told me that if they made the film now they wouldn't have done it the same way," said Cheng. "They did the movie in this way because they lacked money at that time. But they never expected that the movie would change their career and become a legend."

A spokesman for Invest Hong Kong, which helped the company in setting up the office, said the city's appreciation of freedom and creativity had attracted many overseas talents and investments in the creative industry to come setting up shops.