Written by Kit Chan
Translated by Derek Leung
Photos by Hui’s Film Production
Interview supported by MOViE MOViE (nowTV ch116)
Even today, Ka-Lok Lam recalls extremely clearly the very day he saw that specific poster when he entered a small video rental shop on the way to camping in Cheung Chau many years ago. What a breathtaking poster! Up on the wall put the poster of the film Little Cop, which starred renowned actor Eric Tsang, released in 1989, a year where movie video rental was still enjoying great popularity.
“I wasn't really into that film and indeed the movie poster wasn't the original one. It's just for the video promotional use.” However, he was spellbound by the hand-painted portraits of 60 actors and actresses in the poster. “They looked so lively and beautiful... both the design and the craftsmanship were super interesting.”
He immediately asked for the sale of that faded defected poster, the shop owner took it down beyond belief and decided to give him as a gift. Not until recent years has Lam finally been informed the posterist was Tai-Yung Yuen, the most popular illustrator in the film industry in the 1980’s.
What he even hadn't thought of was both who had never met before could eventually become friends.
The story dated back to 1992 when Lam began collecting Hong Kong movie posters and The Cat was this computer technician’s first one by virtue of his liking for the then teenage idol Gloria Yip.
His addiction to such collection grew from then on. "People from movie companies put up posters every Saturday afternoon and I'd take them down quickly once they left,” said Lam.
Later, the proprietress of the tuck shop in Lung Wah Theatre in Tsuen Wan did him a favour to store for him the posters of the new movies not on show any more, while he was keeping an eye on those of the 1980’s in some malls including Sino Centre and Allied Plaza from time to time, eventually turning him into a collecting maniac over these two decades.
Without doubt, his collection became surprisingly extensive as he admitted he collected all posters straight away regardless of his liking and the box office of those films. A few years ago, he even set up a Facebook account named HK Poster Movie to categorize all his collection by actors. His one-by-one daily uploading drew a lot of attention from movie lovers and sparked threads of messages and discussion.
The bigger surprise was a sudden mention by a comic-loving netizen one day: Wow, what a host of posters by Tai-Yung Yuen you have!
“Who's he?” doubted Lam with an air of innocence.
Not until then did he realize that Yuen was highly respected in the movie circle of the last century, and that his all-time favorite Little Cop, the big hits like Project A, Lam Ah Chun and Aces Go Places series, together with Stephen Chow’s My Heroin the following years and numerous issues of Jademan Comics were all Yuen’s works. In the end, he found himself having a collection of 70 percent of Yuen’s 200-some movie posters.
An afternoon three years ago, the comic lover helped Lam meet Yuen up in a Hong Kong-style café.
The poster lover told me repeatedly: Mr Yuen likes The Thirty Million Rush the most.
Therefore, Lam brought Yuen that particular poster as well as a copy of The Film Poster Art Of The 80’s published by City Entertainment Magazine and talked with Yuen about movie posters and comics for the greater part of that day. Since then, they both have been in touch and kept catching up as close friends till now.
It is the posters that lead to Lam’s unexpected encounter with the famous posterist but his acquaintance with Yuen rewards him with an eye-opening opportunity to look into the posters in another perspective. Collecting incessantly aside, he has started digging into the story of each film and paying more attention to Yuen’s style of illustration of different periods, which almost makes him an expert of Yuen’s aesthetics. In fact, the touch of Chinese painting in Knockabout, the abundance of European and American romance in Life After Life and the humour implied by the unproportionate drawing of the main character in Happy Ghost demonstrate the vitality and dexterity of the maestro in illustration.
The more Lam gets to know about Yuen, the less respect he finds the public shows for the hand-painted posterists and creative artists of those years. "Only nine entries in one single page of information can be found about Mr Yuen in Hong Kong Film Archive. Talking about the success of a film, other than the efforts of the director, scriptwriter, editor and actors, who would care about the design of a poster? "
A rare hand-painted movie poster among the multitude of those photo-oriented in the past some ten years turns the then brilliant art into a priceless history. "It’s because no one can draw and paint as well as those in the past," highlighted Lam.
Generally speaking, reasons to collect posters abound. While some eye on the popularity of the films, the cast, the artistic value and the extent of being awarded, Lam is of the view that all posters irrespective of the film plots and the cast are after all valuable and worth collecting. "I’ll keep them if I’m meant to," stated Lam straightforwardly. "Each poster represents a work, an era it belongs to, and a record."
To his belief, movie posters are somewhat a reminder of the brilliant time of Hong Kong film production, and the effort of a collector will pay very soon.
(Coming Soon 2 of 2)