Luckless Lai Man-wai

Luckless Lai Man-wai (1893-1953) 黎明偉

At Lai Man-wai’s funeral in 1953, a big banner hung above his coffin which read: Father of Hong Kong Cinema. Who was this man? How did he become so famous?

6Here’s a picture of him in 1913. He’s acting in the first movie ever made in Hong Kong: Zhuangzi Tests His Wife. Why is he wearing a dress? He looks like a woman, right? That’s because he was playing the part of the wife. In those days, all women’s roles were played by men!

Master Lai studied in Hong Kong, where he developed an interest in photography and drama. During his career he set up movie companies in Hong Kong and Shanghai. But he lived in times of great political change and lost lots of money on his productions. For example, in 1936 he set up the China Sun Motion Picture Production Company in Shanghai but was forced to close it a year later because of the Japanese invasion. Then, in 1941, when he came back to Hong Kong, he set up a film studio called Qiming but the Japanese invaded here too. Luckless Master Lai fled with his two wives and twelve children to China.

Lai Man-wai wrote a diary in which you can read more about his colourful life. After the war, he came back to Hong Kong and set up a small film-processing studio in order to support his large family.

Shortly before he died, he wrote down his life teachings. They are:

  1. Don’t speculate, as it can bring both success and failure. Wealth is detrimental to a meaningful life;
  2. Don’t get involved in politics or the military;
  3. You won’t have any burdens if you don’t expect any returns when doing favours for others.

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