30 October 2008
Between 1953 to 1974, Cathay Organisation’s studios in Hong Kong, Motion Picture & General Investment Co Ltd (MP & GI), made more than 240 Chinese films while its studios in Singapore, Cathay-Keris Films (CKF) made over a 100 Malay language films in Singapore & Malaya. Many of these films have become timeless classics. Titles such as Mambo Girl, Wild Wild Rose & the Pontianank films are held in the same reverence in the east as Gone with the Wind is in the west.
The Cathay Classic films embrace a variety of genre ranging from romance, comedy, period dramas, horror and suspense. Cathay’s film stars like Grace Chang, Loh Ti, Lin Tsui, Peter Chen Ho, Chang Yang, You Min, Yeh Fung, Lin Dai, Maria Menado, Wahid Satay, Rose Yatimah, Ummi Kalthoum, Latiffah Omar, Siput Sarawak, M Amin, Matt Sentol and S Roomai Noor were household names in the region.
Preserving Cathay’s Legacy
In order for future generations to enjoy the Cathay Classic Films made in an era past, and in anticipation that there would be a revived interest in such films, Cathay knew that the conditions in which its classic films were stored were not the most ideal. Hence, Cathay decided to donate its precious collection of Chinese & Malay Classic Films to the Hong Kong Film Archive & Singapore’s Asian Film Archive, knowing that the Archives had the expertise, the right conditions & most importantly, the passion for such classic films.
In 2004, the Hong Kong Film Archive received 213 Chinese titles, about 2,400 film reels as well as some 12,000 related objects such as stills, posters, photographs and handbills.
In 2007, 90 Malay titles were donated to the Asian Film Archive in 16mm and 35mm formats.
At the Archives, the films are stored in favourable conditions, undergo restoration and are made available for non-commercial purposes such as research and education. Cathay Organisation continues to have owning rights for its films in both Archives & considers non-commercial requests as well as enquiries for footages for commercial usage on a case to case basis. Some titles have been digitally-restored to European broadcast standards and are a source of content for the Internet Web TV environment as well as free TV, pay TV & on DVDs.
Cathay decided to showcase its history in the business & to re-introduce Cathay, Dato Loke Wan Tho, Ge Lan, Maria Menado, Dato L Krishnan and a whole cast of others to the public through The Cathay Gallery. The gallery features an extensive collection of memorabilia & paraphernalia related to the world of film and cinema. Not only was Cathay filmmakers in those days, they had already established a respected chain of cinemas which spanned east & west Malaya including Singapore.
To continue to evoke interest in the classic films of that era, The Cathay Gallery has showcased exhibitions which featured original classic film posters & lobby cards of film stills. Some were not in the most pristine condition but therein lay their charm. Many visitors marvelled that they had been kept for some 30 to 40 years and those who were of a certain vintage, were delighted to have their memories rekindled.
In May 2007, Cathay sold the distribution rights for 230 of its Chinese and Malay classic titles in its library to Malaysia’s Variety View Sdn Bhd with the rights to screen Cathay’s classic titles in cinemas, free TV, pay TV, on DVD and other distribution modes in Malaysia up to 2012. Through this, the aim is to inject new life and interest to the Cathay Classics. Films such as Mambo Girl, Wild Wild Rose, Sun Moon Star, Her Tender Heart, Dang Anom, Hang Jebat, Sumpah Pontianak, Orang Minyak and many more would see more than light of day.
In August the same year, StarHub Digital Cable’s new Malay channel number 40 made its debut by screening Cathay’s Malay Classics over 16 Sundays from 12 August at prime time.
Home viewers enjoyed films such as Bawang Puteh Bawang Merah, Seri Mersing and Raja Bersiong. For many, it was their first glimpse of films made in what could be considered the golden age of film-making in Singapore & Malaya.
At the 2007 New York Film Festival, the festival screened 7 Cathay Chinese Classic Films including Wild Wild Rose, Mambo Girl, Sister Long Legs, June Bride & Sun Moon Star in its feature, ‘Chinese Modern – A Tribute to Cathay Studios’. It is heartening to note that interest in the Cathay Classics had gone beyond the region.
Cathay’s response to the frequent demand for Cathay’s Classic Film posters was to carefully make a selection from its range of original posters which we could afford to part with, without depleting our collection & put them up for sale. These Chinese Classic Film original posters are now exclusively available for sale at the store, Clique, on level 3 of The Cathay.
i-Cable Hong Kong
Cathay Organisation inked a deal with i-Cable Hong Kong allowing the screening rights for its Chinese classics to be aired in Hong Kong & Macau on pay TV & the internet.
Wild Wild Rose takes to the stage
In January, Singapore will see one of Cathay’s best known films (which was shortlisted as the best Chinese film of the century), Wild Wild Rose take to the stage. This Cathay film made in 1960 was directed by Wang Tian Lin & starred the inimitable Grace Chang (also known as Ge Lan) and Zhang Yang. Grace Chang was a huge star & is still considered one of the foremost actresses of that era. Wild Wild Rose The Musical will take centrestage at the Victoria Theatre from 1 to 4 January 2009. Produced by Perry Chiu Experimental Theatre from Hong Kong, the musical stars Perry Chiu & Singapore’s own Thomas Ong.
Cathay Film Classics Collectibles
Cathay has begun collaboration with G.O.D of Hong Kong to produce a range of collectibles & apparels featuring scenes as well as stars from Cathay’s Classic Films. The range is expected to debut in selected stores in Hong Kong, Singapore & the region in the first quarter of 2009.