Newly restored by the HK Film Archive, this 1960 adaptation of Hector Malot’s novel Without Family, stars a young Josephine Siao Fong Fong as a young girl in search of her real parents. After being sold at birth, she is subsequently sold by her foster parents when they can no longer afford to keep her. Now the property of a elderly street performer, the young girl embraces her new existance and proves more than adept at entertaining the crowds – with the help of a dog and monkey. But when her new guardian is thrown in jail, she is tossed out of the boarding house and must again find somebody to take care of her.
While the performances are strong, the narrative is somewhat clunky and rife with not-so-subtle messages about respecting the Motherland and embracing Communism. However, the film can never get past the overbearing bleakness of its central story, in which children are regarded as a luxury and a burden, commodities that can be bought or sold, and discarded whenever necessary. The film’s conclusion is incapable of reconciling this problem in a satisfying manner, though perhaps that is also the point.
Beyond the narrative itself, the film has been commendably restored from a battered 16mm print discovered at the Taipei Film Archive, and marks the second film, after Fei Mu’s Confucius, to have been rescued by the HKFA – and for that fact alone we should embrace the opportunity to see this restored treasure once again.