扭計小男人的開山祖師——林坤山 The Founding Master of the Cunning Little Man – Lam Kwun-shan

 

吳月華

看粵語片時,常會出現「孤寒種」(即守財奴)、畏妻好色男的角色,他們通常都成為被嘲諷的對象。有一位經常飾演這類角色的演員,他身形瘦削,面形長長,蓄了具標誌性的「二撇雞」(即八字形鬍子),這兩撮鬍子可不得了,全因他的「兒子」曾為他留鬚而擺下「豪門夜宴」(《豪門夜宴》[1959]的情節)!這位造型鮮明的演員正是林坤山,未登上大銀幕前,他並非滑稽的小男人,而是香港早期話劇界的紅人。林坤山因出演鑼鼓白話劇而大受歡迎,進而成為粵劇的網巾邊(即男丑),具知名度和豐富演出經驗,既能唱又能演,讓他於有聲電影出現不久,即已成為電影《扭計祖宗》(1934)的男主角,並於三兩年間建立其不同的喜劇銀幕形象,成為影壇的「幽默大師」。[1]本文主要透過林坤山戰前主演的喜劇,討論他具開創性的諧趣形象和相關的喜劇模式。

圖一:林坤山的輪廓突出,因此其影片廣告(喜劇尤甚)經常看到他的漫畫。

圖像來源:
上排左起:《扭計祖宗》廣告,《香港工商日報》1934年3月15日;〈老牌演員林坤山〉,《大公報》1959年8月29日;《藝林》39期,1938年10月1日;《大戰之前夜》廣告,《藝林》1期,1937年2月。
下排左起:《糊塗外父》廣告,《香港工商日報》1935年10月27日;《鄉下佬探親家》廣告,《天光報》1937年1月1日;《鄉下佬尋仔》廣告,《天光報》1936年12月13日;《妻多夫賤》廣告,《南強日報》1936年12月5日。

 

從琳瑯幻境劇社啟航

林坤山自小淘氣,並醉心於話劇。畢業後,雖然當上英文教師,但仍不忘演戲,參加了琳瑯幻境白話劇社(下簡稱琳瑯幻境),成為琳瑯幻境的台柱之一。[2]琳瑯幻境是一群在洋行工作的青年於二十世紀初成立的業餘話劇團,是香港最早成立的白話劇社。劇團最初為了提倡革命,成立「志士班」,每年只演出三幾次,演的是時裝文明戲,演出所得收入全撥作慈善用途,包括捐助醫院和辦義學等。雖則琳瑯幻境是白話劇社,但當時粵劇才是主要的大眾娛樂,為推廣革命理念予更廣的群眾,他們將粵曲融入白話劇,演變為「鑼鼓白話劇」以吸引更多觀眾。[3]《梁天來告御狀》是琳瑯幻境最著名的劇目,這個廣東民間故事1935年被南粵影片公司首次改編成同名電影,影片特邀琳瑯幻境和鐘聲慈善社參演,大受歡迎,而另一齣有琳瑯幻境成員參演的《梁天來告御狀》改編電影,則是由林坤山、鄺山笑主演的《火燒石室》(1939,又名《梁天來告御狀》)。[4]《火燒石室》是鄺山笑創辦的山川影片公司的創業作,林坤山在琳瑯幻境演《梁天來告御狀》時,飾演的正是主角梁天來,因而有「翻生梁天來」之稱[5],鄺山笑原來打算自己演主角,但因敬重林坤山,故讓林飾演,鄺則演反派凌貴興,也是他第一次演反派角色,足見林坤山在後輩心中的地位不輕。[6]

圖二:林坤山參加琳瑯幻境白話劇社《大鬧梅知府》和《周氏反嫁》兩齣劇的報導,報導亦提到琳瑯幻境在另一戲院演梁天來的故事(《香港華字日報》1926年1月23日)。

 

林坤山在琳瑯幻境不只得到研磨演技的機會,更學會唱粵曲,再加上其演出大受歡迎,於是在1926年放棄教席,創辦優聲樂劇團,成為全職演員和白話劇界的紅人,更因而有機會加入大羅天、新景象、新中華等粵劇大班,一度成為紅伶馬曾師劇團的網邊巾,讓更多觀眾認識,為他鋪下銀色旅途之踏,成為一代諧星。[7]


圖三:林坤山參演新中華粵劇團的新劇《驪姬殺新生》,廣告稱此劇為「粵劇革命的先鋒社會倫理的模範」(《香港工商日報》1934年3月31日)。

 

「扭計祖宗」

林坤山初登銀幕之作是在廣州攝製的一齣警世影片《裂痕》(1933),除林坤山外,影片亦是由幾位紅伶、如主角謝醒儂首次參演的電影作品[8],廣告亦標榜影片由紅伶演出(見圖四),當時林坤山只飾演一個小角色,其後他也參演了幾齣粵語片。林坤山主演的首齣電影是由中華製造聲默影片有限公司(下簡稱中華聲默影片)出品的《扭計祖宗》(1934)。中華聲默影片是出品香港首齣全部有聲電影——《傻仔洞房》(1933)的電影公司,《扭計祖宗》是繼《傻》片後,出品的另一齣粵語喜劇,是一個關於兩性鬥氣、雙雄鬥智的奇情故事。[9]電影廣告內列舉了幾位以智慧見稱的中外喜劇經典人物,比擬林坤山飾演的「扭計祖宗」(見圖五),雖則影片現存資料不多,但仍能略見林坤山飾演的喜劇人物並不是靠滑稽、或是被人取笑的「下把」基層小人物,而是以機鋒處處的幽默方式帶出社會問題,是飽學多聞且機智的「上把」知識份子。然而此片沒有帶起新的喜劇潮流,反觀他其後飾演的小人物,更令觀眾受落。

圖四:林坤山初登銀幕之作《裂痕》(1933)亦是伶星謝醒儂、倩影儂和羅文煥參演的首齣電影,(《裂痕》廣告,《香港工商日報》1933年10月13日;〈裂痕近訊〉,《越華報》1933年9月16日)


圖五:廣告內以卓別靈、東方朔、陳夢吉、荒唐鏡等以智慧見稱的喜劇經典人物來比擬林坤山飾演的「扭計祖宗」(《香港工商日報》1934年3月15日)。

 

「鄉下佬」銀幕形象奠定影壇地位

二十世紀三十年代,香港逐漸城市化,城鄉差距漸大。電影是城市的產物,城市的觀眾特別有優越感,尤其得知來自鄉間的人並不懂舶來貨和新科技建設。     同時城市又被文人描繪為萬惡的溫床,以發揚傳統純樸殷實的價值觀。善於捉緊基層觀眾口味的天一影片公司的香港分廠(下簡稱天一港廠),藉機捉緊這城鄉差距的兩極價值觀,攝製寓教化於娛樂的影片《鄉下佬遊埠》(1935),林坤山飾演片中的鄉紳周成就,周擕唐雪卿飾演的女兒周蘇女出城,過程中鬧出種種笑話,周成就在旅途中更曾一度沉迷於女色。林坤山的詼諧和唐雪卿的村女表演甚佳[10],影片又有各紅伶演唱插曲,包括林坤唱的〈倒捲珠簾〉[11],觀眾十分受落,林坤山的片酬由三五百一躍至三四千元[12],片商其後續找林坤山和唐雪卿分別拍攝「鄉下佬」相關的電影,林坤山主演的有《鄉下佬尋仔》(1936)、《鄉下佬探親家》(與唐雪卿再度合演、邵逸夫唯一編導的作品)和《鴻運當頭》(1937)。歷來只有極少數受觀眾歡迎的電影會被翻拍,此處是指電影中的戲劇元素或人物因其獨特社會和美學特質不斷被翻拍,進而變成公式[13],香港是一個不斷有大量來自鄉間新移民的城市,「鄉下佬出城」因此成為歷久不衰的喜劇模式,不同年代的諧星也曾演過一兩齣「鄉下佬」的電影,如《歌唱十二釵》(1952)的梁醒波和歐陽儉、《看牛仔出城》(1965)的新馬師曾、《大鄉里》(1974)的譚炳文等,也曾演過當代的「鄉下佬出城」故事,引發不少觀眾的笑聲。[14]

 

住家小男人

《鄉下佬探親家》廣告上只有這麼一句話:「我靜靜地話俾你聽,鄉下佬林坤山大索女人油,如何索法,請留意」,可見影片以鄉下佬偷香作為賣點[15],享受女兒香的無疑不只是鄉下佬,而是一般男性的夢想,但理想與現實總有落差,喜劇的元素正來自這個差距。若治妻無道,又想享齊人之福,煩惱便來了!《妻多夫賤》(1936)中,林坤山飾演的富豪丈夫有九位妻妾,妻妾爭寵,令他吃不消,於是萌生再娶一妾,冀解愁苦,最終弄巧成拙,煩惱更甚。影片賣座,續拍《妻多夫賤續集》(1937),這次主角的煩惱不再是妻妾而是九名兒子,最好的兒子早逝,餘下的各有不良品格,嘲諷主角的煩惱正是觀眾歡樂的源頭。 兩片的情節在《枕頭狀》(1939)中也重現,林坤山飾的林兆九畏妻,卻有妻妾二人和八名兒女,妻妾爭寵,時告枕頭狀,兒女不孝圖分家產,加上舅父挑撥離間,弄得林家一團糟。[16] 這種「妻多夫賤」的公式跟「鄉下佬出城」一樣,亦成為了粵語片甚至近代的喜劇模式之一,如《唐伯虎點秋香》(1993)。

妻妾成群具時代性,另一種同具時代性的理想與現實差距,正是兩代對婚姻的觀念,林坤山飾演的父親相信父母之命的盲婚啞嫁,但子女卻崇尚自由戀愛,只好陽奉陰違鬧出喜劇。《摩登新娘》與《摩登新娘續集》(1935)和《錯點鴛鴦》(1938)中林坤山飾演的父親為子女安排婚事,前者更拆散女兒與自由戀愛的對象,安排女兒另嫁他人,但最終子女均能偷龍轉鳳,有情人終成眷屬。《糊塗外父》(1935)中,林坤山飾演的父親替女兒選得她合意的佳婿,後又受人唆擺,趕未來女婿離開,卻又不忍女兒傷心,最後讓二人結合。[17] 可見林坤山不論飾演丈夫還是父親的角色,都是振夫綱或顯父威不成的住家小男人。

 

正一孤寒種!

「為富不仁」中的儉財模式是粵語片另一種喜劇模式[18] ,林坤山亦是飾演這類角色的佼佼者。在《西南二伯父》(1937)中,林坤山飾演的守財奴臨老入花叢,結果卻惹來綠冒恨。林坤山在自資自編自導自演的《正一孤寒種》(1938)中,同時演出兩位孤寒種主角林鐸和林富父子。林鐸為省醫藥費,終一命嗚呼,林富為省殮葬費,草草將父下葬,更將子女讓寄養其妻之姊處,以省養育費[19] ,將兩位孤寒種吝嗇的程度推向極致,影片荒謬惹笑,亦是林坤山最難以忘懷的影片。[20]

圖六:林坤山自資自編自導自演的《正一孤寒種》(1938)(《藝林》31期,1938年6月1日。)

 

悲喜人生 百味雜陳

林坤山的喜劇形象從草根「鄉下佬」、有產階級住家小男人,演到「mean精」知識份子「扭計祖宗」、特級「孤寒種」,還有上文未有提及的《做人難》(1937)中的失業伶人、改編自李凡夫漫畫的《何老大》(1941)中何老大的在城市掙扎求存小人物,社會光譜甚是濶廣。此外,林坤山也在正劇飾演不同類型的人物,如《疑雲疑雨》(1940)懦弱多疑的丈夫,《兒女債》(1935)、《私生子》(1937)為兒為女的好父親,《呂蒙正祭灶》(1939)中蒙冤好人呂蒙正,還有《大戰之前夜》(1937)的土豪和《血灑桃花扇》(1940)欲娶愛國紅伶為妾的富翁等。林坤山在戰前演出了超過四十齣電影,不只反映當代種種社會現象,也建立了多樣化的銀幕形象和喜劇模式,然而戰後小生人才輩出,手不釋卷的他晚年轉到香港電台擔任廣播節目,主持中西故事及文藝講座的節目,只間中在電影演配角過過戲癮。 [21]

作為形象鮮明的「扭計小男人」,林坤山開創屬於他自己一套的喜劇模式,從粵劇世界一躍而上大銀幕,在他的諧趣演繹下,開山闢路將喜劇昇華至另一境界,儘管後期他只偶爾在電影以配角形式出現,但其在喜劇界開創性貢獻,是無容置疑的。

 


  1. 〈譚友六為林坤山塑像〉,《藝林》30期,1938年5月15日。
  2. 楊覺仕:〈老牌演員林坤山〉,《大公報》1959年8月29日;新優盂:〈林坤山厭倦影壇〉,《工商晚報》1954年5月28日。
  3. 陳非儂口述;伍榮仲、陳澤蕾重編:《粵劇六十年》。香港:香港中文大學粵劇研究計劃,頁12-15;羅卡、法蘭賓、鄺耀輝著:《從戲台至講台:早期香港戲劇及演藝活動一九零零—一九四一》。香港:國際演藝評論家協會(香港分會),頁30-32;〈琳瑯幻境之慈喜事業〉,《香港華字日報》1910年11月30日;〈琳瑯幻境社之近訊〉,《香港華字日報》1932年7月16日;〈琳瑯幻境社近訊〉,《香港華字日報》1932年7月28日;〈琳瑯幻境劇訊〉,《香港工商日報》1934年4月25日;〈新劇運動鼻祖 琳瑯幻境社復員 黃合和君領導改選職員〉,《工商晚報》1947年4月29日。
  4. 〈電影消息〉,《工商晚報》1935年8月8、12日;〈梁天來告御狀〉、〈火燒石室〉,《香港影片大全第一卷(一九一四至一九四一)增訂本》,香港:香港電影資料館,2020,頁15、143。
  5. 新優盂:〈林坤山厭倦影壇〉,《工商晚報》1954年5月28日;另一說法是林坤山飾張鳳(陳非儂口述;伍榮仲、陳澤蕾重編:《粵劇六十年》。香港:香港中文大學粵劇研究計劃,頁13),筆者猜測可能是不時期由不同人演出不同角色。
  6. 〈火燒石室案 鄺山笑甘做壞人〉,《藝林》51期,1939年4月1日。
  7. 楊覺仕:〈老牌演員林坤山〉,《大公報》1959年8月29日。
  8. 鶴凌:〈裂痕近訊〉,《越華報》1933年9月16日;達城室主:〈觀「裂痕」後之我談〉,《越華報》1933年10月15日;《裂痕》廣告,《香港工商日報》1933年10月19日。
  9. 〈電影消息〉、《扭計祖宗》廣告,《香港工商日報》1934年3月15日。
  10. 〈鄉下佬遊埠〉,《香港影片大全第一卷(一九一四至一九四一)增訂本》,香港:香港電影資料館,2020,頁14。
  11. 〈「鄉下佬遊埠」之歌曲〉,《香港工商日報》1935年4月3日。
  12. 新優盂:〈林坤山厭倦影壇〉,《工商晚報》1954年5月28日。
  13. Thomas Schatz著;李亞梅譯:《好萊塢類型電影:公式、電影製作與片廠制度》(Hollywood genres: Formulas, filmmaking, and the studio system)。臺北:遠流出版事業股份有限公司,1999,頁39。
  14. 吳昊:〈二十年香港粵語喜劇電影的初步內容分析〉,《香港喜劇電影的傳統》。香港:市政局,1985,頁18。
  15. 《鄉下佬探親家》廣告,《天光報》1936年12月13日。
  16.  〈枕頭狀〉,《香港影片大全第一卷(一九一四至一九四一)增訂本》,香港:香港電影資料館,2020,頁115。
  17. 〈摩登新娘〉、〈糊塗外父〉、〈摩登新娘續集〉、〈錯點鴛鴦〉,《香港影片大全第一卷(一九一四至一九四一)增訂本》,香港:香港電影資料館,2020,頁18-20,95。
  18. 同註14,頁17。
  19. 〈關於林坤山的種種〉,《藝林》32期,1938年6月15日;〈正一孤寒種〉,《香港影片大全第一卷(一九一四至一九四一)增訂本》,香港:香港電影資料館,2020,頁92。
  20. 楊覺仕:〈老牌演員林坤山〉,《大公報》1959年8月29日。
  21. 同註2。

 

 

The Founding Master of the Cunning Little Man – Lam Kwun-shan

 

Stephanie Ng Yuet-wah

When watching Cantonese films, we often find roles of the “stingy type” (i.e. misers) and the perverted ones who are intimidated by their wives. These roles are usually the subjects of mockery. There was this one actor who often played these roles, a thin, long-faced man with the iconic “double thin mustache” (i.e. a parted pencil mustache), which was so remarkable that his “son” hosted a “feast of a rich family” for his mustache (the plot of Feast of a Rich Family [1959])! This actor with such a distinctive look is Lam Kwun-shan. Before he hit the big screen, he was not exactly a funny little man, but rather a popular figure in the early days of Hong Kong’s drama industry. He grew popular after appearing in dramas featuring Cantonese opera music, and then later became a Cantonese opera buffoon (i.e. the male Chou role). His popularity and extensive performing experience, as well as his ability to sing and act, had allowed him to become the leading actor in the film A Cunning Fellow (aka The Mischief Makers, 1934), shortly after films with sound were available. Within two or three years he had established his own different comic images on the silver screen and became the “Master of Humour” in the film industry. In this article, we will discuss Lam Kwun-shan’s pioneering comic images and relevant comedy styles through the comedies he starred in during the pre-war period.

Figure 1: Lam Kwun-shan had a prominent contour, so his caricatures were often seen in advertisements for his films (especially for comedies).

Image source:

Upper row from left: Advertisement for A Cunning Fellow, The Industrial & Commercial Daily Press, 15 March 1934; “Veteran Actor Lam Kwun-shan”, Ta Kung Pao, 29 August 1959; Artland, no 39, 1 October 1938; advertisement for On the Eve of the Great Battle, Artland, no 1, February 1937.

Lower row from left: advertisement for The Incautious Father-in-law, The Industrial & Commercial Daily Press, 27 October 1935; advertisement for The Country Bumpkin Visits His In-Laws, The Tien Kwong Morning News, 1 January 1937; advertisement for The Farmer’s Son, The Tien Kwong Morning News, 13 December 1936; and advertisement for One Wife is Best, Nam Keung Yat Po, 5 December 1936.

 

Starting from the Lam Long Wan King Society

Lam Kwun-shan had been a naughty boy ever since he was a child and had a passion for drama. After graduation, although he became an English teacher, he continued with his acting and joined the Lam Long Wan King Society (referred to as “Lam Long Wan King” below). He then became one of the pillars of the troupe. The Lam Long Wan King was an amateur drama troupe founded in the early 20th century by a group of young people working in foreign firms and was the earliest modern Cantonese drama troupe ever established in Hong Kong. The troupe initially set up the “patriots’ troupe” to advocate revolution, performing only about three times a year, featuring modern and civilised plays, with all the proceeds from the performances going to charitable purposes, including donations to hospitals and charity schools. Although the Lam Long Wan King was a troupe performing modern Cantonese dramas, given that Cantonese opera was the major public entertainment at the time, so in order to introduce the concept of revolution to an even wider audience, they incorporated Cantonese opera into their dramas and evolved them into “dramas featuring Cantonese opera music” to attract more audiences. The most famous play of the Lam Long Wan King is Tragedy of Stone Castle (aka The Imperial Appeal). This Cantonese folk tale was first adapted into a film under the same title by the Nanyue Film Company in 1935, featuring members of the Lam Long Wan King and the Chung Sing Benevolent Society. The film was a big hit. Another film adaptation of Tragedy of Stone Castle starring members of the Lam Long Wan King was A Stone House on Fire  (1939, also known as Burning of the Stone Mansion or The Imperial Appeal), in which Lam Kwun-shan and Kwong Shan-siu played the leading roles. A Stone House on Fire was a founding production of the Shanchuan Film Company, founded by Kwong Shan-siu. When Lam Kwun-shan performed Tragedy of Stone Castle with the Lam Long Wan King, he took on the role of the protagonist Leung Tin-loi, hence earning him the nickname “Leung Tin-loi Reborn”. Kwong Shan-siu originally intended to play the protagonist himself, but out of respect for Lam Kwun-shan, he allowed Lam to play the role. Kwong himself took on the role of the villain Ling Kwai-hing, making it his first time playing the role of the villain. This clearly shows that Lam Kwun-shan had quite a significant status amongst those who came after him.

Figure 2: Lam Kwun-shan’s participation in two plays by the Lam Long Wan King Society,  Telling Off Mui the Provincial Magistrate and The Second Marriage of Madam Chow; another theatre performance by the Lam Long Wan King Society playing Leung Tin-loi’s tale was also mentioned (Chinese Mail, 23 January 1926).

 

Lam Kwun-shan was not only given the opportunity to sharpen his acting skills, but he also learned how to sing Cantonese opera while he was in the Lam Long Wan King. Coupled with the fact that his performances were very well received, he gave up his teaching career in 1926 and founded the Yau Sing Lok Troupe, thereby becoming a full-time actor and a celebrity in the modern Cantonese drama industry. He also had the opportunity to join the major Cantonese opera troupes such as the Tai Law Tin, the Xin Jing Xiang, and the Xin Zhong Hua, etc., and eventually took on the Chou role for the troupe of the famous Ma Si Tsang, making him more widely known to the public, thus paving his way onto the silver screen to become a comedy star of his generation.

Figure 3: Lam Kwun-shan took part in the Xin Zhong Hua Cantonese opera troupe’s new play Li Ji Murders Shen Sheng, which was advertised as “the pioneer of the Cantonese opera revolution and a role model for social ethics” (The Industrial & Commercial Daily Press, 31 March 1934).

 

“The Cunning Fellow”

Lam Kwun-shan’s first appearance on the silver screen was in a film with a cautionary story, Argument (1933), which was shot in Guangzhou. Apart from Lam Kwun-shan, the film was also the first film starring several famous Cantonese opera stars, such as the leading role Tse Sing-nung. Its advertisement also boasted about its cast including some famous opera stars (see Fig. 4). At that time, Lam Kwun-shan only played a small role, and later he also appeared in a few Cantonese films. The first film in which Lam took a starring role was A Cunning Fellow (1934), produced by China Sound and Silent Movies Production Company (referred to as “China Sound and Silent Movies” below). China Sound and Silent Movies was the company that produced Hong Kong’s first full-length sound film, A Stupid Bridegroom (1933), and A Cunning Fellow was another Cantonese comedy produced following the former, featuring an intriguing tale about how the two genders fight against each other and how men outwit each other. The advertisement for the film listed several classic Chinese and foreign comedians known for their wisdom in comparison with “A Cunning Fellow” played by Lam Kwun-shan (see Fig. 5). Although there is not much information about the film, it can still be seen that Lam Kwun-shan’s comedy role is not a “low-level” grassroots character who relies on nonsense or being made fun of, but rather, a “high-level” intellectual full of insights, who uses a humorous and witty approach to bring out the problems of the society. Yet the film did not bring about a new comedy trend. Instead, his subsequent roles playing ordinary people were more appealing to the audience.

Figure 4: Lam Kwun-shan’s first film, Argument (1933), was also the first film in which Cantonese opera stars Tse Sing-nung, Sin Ying-nung and Lo Man Woon participated. (Advertisement for Argument, The Industrial & Commercial Daily Press, 13 October 1933; “News on Argument“, Yuet Wa Po, 16 September 1933).

Figure 5: In the advertisement, classic comedy figures such as Charlie Chaplin, Dongfang Shuo, Chan Mong-gut, and Fang Tangjing, who were known for their wisdom, were quoted in comparison with Lam Kwun-shan’s role as the “Cunning Fellow” (The Industrial & Commercial Daily Press, 15 March 1934).

 

Image of “Country Bumpkin” Establishes His Status in the Cinema

Hong Kong was gradually urbanising from the 1920s to the 1930s, and the gap between the city and the countryside was widening. Films were products of the city. The urban audience felt particularly superior, especially when they learned that people from the countryside did not know about imported goods and new technological constructions. At the same time, the city was portrayed by literary figures as a hotbed of evil, with the aim of promoting traditional values of simplicity and honesty. The Hong Kong branch of the Unique Film Productions, knowing how to appeal to the tastes of the grassroots audience, seized the opportunity to capture this dichotomy of values between the city and the countryside and produced the entertaining and edifying film, The Country Bumpkin Tours the City (1935), in which Lam Kwun-shan plays the role of the village gentleman, Chow Shing Zau. He leaves for the city with his daughter, Chow So Lui, played by Tong Suet-hing, creating various hilarious scenes during their journey, in which Chow Shing Zau once indulges himself in chasing after women. Lam Kwun-shan’s humour and Tong Suet-hing’s performance as a village girl were excellent. The film also featured songs performed by various famous Cantonese opera singers, including “Pearl Curtain Upside Down” sung by Lam Kwun-shan, which was very well received by the audience. Lam Kwun-shan’s remuneration jumped from around $300 to $500 up to $3000 to $4000, and the film company subsequently approached Lam Kwun-shan and Tong Suet-hing to make other films related to the “Country Bumpkin”. Lam Kwun-shan starred in the films The Farmer’s Son (aka , 1936), Country Bumpkin Visits His In-Laws (co-starred with Tong Suet-hing once again and is the only film written and directed by Run Run Shaw), and A Stroke of Luck (aka The Country Bumpkin’s Stroke of Luck, 1937). Historically, only very few popular films would be remade, which means that the dramatic elements or characters in the film were constantly being remade due to their unique social and aesthetic qualities, and further transformed into formulas. Hong Kong was a city with a constant influx of new immigrants from the countryside, and “The Country Bumpkins Tours the City” had therefore become an everlasting comedy style, and comedians from different times had appeared in at least one or two “country bumpkin” films, such as Leung Sing Bo and Au Yeung Kim in Twelve Singing Beauties (1952), Sun Ma Sze Tsang in Country Boy Goes to Town (1965) and Tam Bing-man in The Country Bumpkin (1974), had participated in the “country bumpkin” stories at the time, bringing laughter to the audience.

Unassertive Family Man

There is only this one sentence in the advertisement for Country Bumpkin Visits His In-Laws: “Let me tell you in secret, Country Bumpkin Lam Kwun-shan is recklessly taking advantage of women, so please pay attention and see how he does it.” It clearly shows that the film used the Country Bumpkin’s behaviours of sexual harassment as its selling point, and undoubtedly, it is not only the men from the countryside but also the dream of men, in general, to get pleasure from women. However, there is always a difference between the ideal and the reality, and the elements of the comedy came precisely from such a difference. If a man fails to manage his wives well and wants to get the best out of all of them, then troubles are bound to come! In One Wife is Best (aka The Polygamist, 1936), Lam Kwun-shan played a wealthy husband with nine wives and concubines, who compete for his affection. He is overwhelmed by his wives’ jealousy, so he decides to take another concubine in an attempt to ease his sorrows, but in the end, he ends up getting into more trouble instead. The film was so popular that it was followed by The Polygamist, Part Two (aka Nine Sons, 1937). This time, the protagonist’s problems are no longer related to his wives and concubines, but to his nine sons, the best of whom dies young, and the rest of whom are each of bad characters, making a mockery of the protagonist’s problems which is precisely the source of amusement for the audiences. The plot of the two films is also replicated in The Home Revolution (aka Pillow Talk, 1939), in which Lam Kwun-shan played Lam Siu Kau, who is intimidated by his wives but has two wives and eight children. The wives compete for his affection and sometimes make complaints to him in private, whereas the children are ungrateful and try to get a share of the family property, and on top of it, their uncle sows discord among them, causing a mess in the Lam’s family. This formula in The Polygamist, like the “Country Bumpkin Tours the City”, had also become one of the most popular comedy styles in Cantonese films even in more recent times, as in Flirting Scholar (1993).


While the idea of multiple wives and concubines was typical of the times, the gap between the ideal and the reality was also typical of the concept of marriage between two generations. The father, played by Lam Kwun-shan, believes in blind marriages ordered by his parents, but his children, on the other hand, believe in free love, so they have to go against the wishes of their parents, thus creating comic situations. In The Modern Bride and The Modern Bride, Part II (1935), as well as The Wrong Couple (1938), Lam Kwun-shan played a father who arranges his children’s marriages. The former even tears his daughter and the person she loves apart and arranges for her to marry someone else, but in the end, his children manage to switch the situation and marry their lovers. In The Incautious Father-in-law (aka The Bumbling Father-in-Law, 1935), Lam Kwun-shan played a father who selects a suitable son-in-law that his daughter likes. Afterwards, he gets instigated to force his future son-in-law to leave, but he can’t bear to see his daughter get upset, so he finally lets the two of them get married. It shows that whether Lam Kwun-shan played the role of a husband or a father, it is always a family man who fails to assert his authority.

The Miser!

The skinflint mode in “Rich but Ungrateful” is another comedy style in Cantonese films, and Lam Kwun-shan was one of the best at playing this type of role. In An Indulgent Old Man (1937), Lam played a miser who, despite his old age, has a love affair, but ends up being cheated on. In A Stingy Fellow (aka The Miser, 1938), financed, directed and written by himself, Lam Kwun-shan played the roles of the two main characters, Lam Dok and Lam Fu, the miser father and son. Lam Dok dies in an attempt to save money on medical expenses, while Lam Fu hastily buries his father to save money on funeral expenses, and even places his children in the care of his wife’s sister to save money on raising them, thus maximising the stinginess of the two misers to the greatest extent, making the film ridiculously hilarious. The film is also one of the most memorable films made by Lam Kwun-shan.

Figure 6: A Stingy Fellow (1938), financed, written, directed and played by Lam Kwun-shan (Artland, no 31, 1 June 1938.)

 

 

A Life Full of Mixed Emotions

Lam Kwun-shan’s comic images ranged from the grassroots “Country Bumpkin”, the bourgeois family man, to the “mean” intellectual, the “cunning fellow”, the ultimate “miser”, as well as those which had not been mentioned above such as the unemployed opera singer in Hard to be a Man (aka Life Is Hard!, 1937) and the ordinary man struggling to survive in the city in Old Master Ho (1941), which is based on the comic works of Li Fanfu, thus covering a very wide social spectrum. In addition, Lam Kwun-shan also played different types of characters in melodramas, such as the cowardly and paranoid husband in Jealousy and Suspicions (1940); the good father who is devoted to his children in Children’s Debts (1935) and Orphan (aka The Illegitimate Son, 1937); the wronged and good man Lui Mung Ching in A Poor Man’s Deliverance (1939); the nouveau riche in On the Eve of the Great Battle (1937); and the rich man who wishes to take a patriotic opera star as a concubine in The Blood-Stained Peach Blossom Fan (1940), etc. Before the war, Lam Kwun-shan performed in more than 40 films, reflecting not only the various social phenomena of the time, but also established diverse images on the silver screen and comedy styles. However, after the war, as young talents gradually emerged, in his later years, as someone who never stopped reading, Lam Kwun-shan turned to Radio Television Hong Kong as a broadcaster, hosting programmes involving Chinese and Western tales as well as arts and culture talks. He would only occasionally play supporting roles in films for fun. 

 

As the distinctive “Cunning Little Man”, Lam Kwun-shan pioneered his own comedy styles, making the leap from the world of Cantonese opera to the big silver screen. Together with his witty interpretations, he had brought comedy to a whole new level. Although he only appeared occasionally as a supporting actor in films in his later years, his pioneering contribution to the comedy industry is indisputable.










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