Zhuangzi Tests His Wife (1913)


Within Chinese language cinema, there are three primary leaders within the industry. Most obvious are the People's Republic of China (China) and the Republic of China (Taiwan), but historically the most successful export of Chinese language cinema has come from the former British colony Hong Kong.

At its peak, Hong Kong was the third largest producer of films in the world, after India and the United States, and produced stars such as Jackie Chan and Chow Yun-Fat. Perhaps because of its history with the United Kingdom, Hong Kong has been able to successfully bridge the gap between East and West and identify films that work well in both regions.

Like its other Chinese language counterparts (and to an extent, European films), Hong Kong cinema took its roots from theatre and especially Chinese opera which was historically the dominant form of entertainment in China.

The first film to be released in the colony was the short Stealing A Roast Duck but, like many films in the era, was likely later destroyed for its nitrate by the Japanese to make bombs in World War II. In fact, so little is known about the film that some believe it never existed, but there is some evidence that it had a showing in Los Angeles, which would also make it the earliest Chinese film with a foreign release.

Despite being filmed and released in Hong Kong, Stealing a Roast Duck was actually made by Asia Film Studio in Shanghai, a Chinese studio founded by an American called Benjamin Brosky. Brosky would then go on to found the first studio in Hong Kong, Huamei, in 1913 with a Japanese born, Hong Kong raised man called Li Minwei.

Huamei's first film was also Hong Kong's first feature length film (two reels), called Zhuangzi Tests His Wife, based on a Chinese opera. The film was directed by Li Minwei's brother, Li Beihai (who had starred in Stealing a Roast Duck), and the two brothers take on the two lead roles. It tells the story of Zhuangzi (Li Beihai), who fakes his death to test his wife (Li Minwei). The wife soon takes a lover, and is dismayed to find that it is none other than her husband. Li Minwei, as the wife, is the person photographed at the top of this article.

Before the film's release, Brosky took the film to America, closing down Huamei in the process. Thus, Hong Kong's first feature film became the only film from Hong Kong's first movie studio and was never shown in the colony, instead being screened to Chinese communities in America.

After World War I, Li Minwei would go on to found China Sun Company, the first Chinese-owned studio in Hong Kong, finally kickstarting the Hong Kong movie industry and earning Li Minwei the  title of "father of Hong Kong cinema".

No copies of Zhuangzi Tests His Wife are known to exist today.

Comments

  1. Congratulations on completing your A to Z! I've enjoyed reading your posts and learning about early film. I've also been writing about (mostly) Classic Films for my A to Z although mine are all post-1930, at www.othemts.wordpress.com

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