The Posterist provides an intimate and nostalgic look into the work of Hong Kong movie poster artist Yuen Tai-Yung. From the mid-1970’s to the early-1990’s, Yuen hand-painted posters for films featuring some of the biggest stars on the screen—including Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Stephen Chow, Karl Maka, Sammo Hung, and the Hui Brothers.
The documentary also chronicles filmmaker Hui See-Wai’s search for the man who defined the look of movie posters during what is widely regarded as the Golden Era of Hong Kong cinema. As the director states, his own fascination with the art form began as a young boy growing up in the then-British colony.
It wasn’t until recently that I realized how amazing he is and how much of an impact he’s had on my family.
“I remember I enjoyed viewing movie posters outside of a cinema near my home,” Hui recalls. “I’d always arrive early—after school, before show time—and spend minutes, if not hours, staring at them.”
Despite being born into a family of popular entertainers—the director’s father is actor and comedian Michael Hui—Hui himself has spent most of his life away from the limelight and only joined Hui’s Film Production Company as recently as in 2014. And, it was here—while working on film restoration at the company’s warehouse—that Hui first became aware of the profound affect Yuen’s art had had on his life.
“I can vaguely recall his name from childhood memories of seventies movie soundtrack records and eighties comic book covers,” Hui says. “But, it wasn’t until recently that I realized how amazing he is and how much of an impact he’s had on my family.”
Amongst those Yuen produced for Hui Brothers films—films featuring Hui’s father along with his uncles Sam and Ricky—are posters for comedies such as The Last Message «天才与白痴» (1975), The Private Eyes «半斤八两» (1976), Security Unlimited «摩登保镖» (1981), and Chicken and Duck Talk «鸡同鸭讲» (1988). And, as Hui makes clear, the significance of the role Yuen played in the success of the movies has not been lost on him.
“Mr. Yuen literally and single-handedly painted the look of the Hui Brothers comedy movies,” he states. “So, I feel it’s important for my daughter, my cousins, and even my parents to know this untold story and to treat the artist with the utmost respect.”
After unsuccessfully attempting to track him down through a network of friends and relatives, Hui was eventually able to reach out to Yuen via social media and arrange an initial visit to the artist’s studio. What he discovered was a master craftsman who embodied humility as well as the older generation’s ethos of working hard to earn a living. At the same time, throughout the early stages of production, Hui attempted to keep a low profile on the project until he was sure he could generate the level of interest he was hoping to find.
“By the time I filmed approximately sixty hours of Mr. Yuen, I felt I needed some guest interviews to help put things in perspective,” the director says. “Fortunately, all of the people you see in the film appreciated the cause and supported my effort.”
With almost no prior filmmaking experience, The Posterist has also marked Hui’s journey from armchair director to feature-length documentarist and stands as proof that you should never let not knowing how to do something stop you from doing it.
“I started with no knowledge of my subject, no professional connections, and no budget. I didn’t even have a proper camera,” Hui admits. “Three months into production, I bought myself a Mac and started learning Final Cut Pro X. You can call it amateurism—I made so many mistakes and stupid errors.”
Everything was just so spontaneous, so unpredictable, and unbelievable.
But, he also made a film. And, despite the challenges of learning how to do almost everything from scratch, Hui adds that the experience was also filled with more than its share of highlights.
“Perhaps Forrest Gump summed it up best—a documentary is a like a box of chocolates. You never know…,” he jokes. “This was true in all aspects of making the film—whether we were planning, writing, filming, editing, dubbing, or marketing. Everything was just so spontaneous, so unpredictable, and unbelievable.”
Since its release, the film has gone on to complete two sold-out runs at Hong Kong art-house cinemas and has played internationally to audiences at festivals as far off as Toronto, Barcelona, and Singapore. Hui’s film has also helped put Yuen’s work back in the spotlight—a fact which culminated earlier this year when the Hong Kong Film Academy presented Yuen with a Professional Achievement Award for his lifetime contribution to cinema and the arts.
I learned a lot from Mr. Yuen and my life has been turned completely up-side-down.
“Posters are a form of art and I hope we’re all able to recognize the craftsmanship of these unsung super-heroes working behind-the-scenes,” Hui says. “Although the format and role of movie posters has evolved and shrunk dramatically, the spirit has always remained the same.”
Ultimately, The Posterist provides insight into the level of artistry required to be able to capture an entire film in a single image. It also helps to shine a light on a largely forgotten art form and a man who has inspired a whole new generation of designers, illustrators, comic book and other visual artists working today. And, for Hui himself, the process of making the film has been a life-changing experience.
“I learned a lot from Mr. Yuen and my life has been turned completely up-side-down,” he says. “My daughter now knows me not only as a morning golfer, but also a film director. Suddenly I have a new job.”
Watch the trailer below (VPN required if you’re in the PRC) or visit Hui’s Film Production Company’s website here to learn more about the film as well as for information about upcoming screenings in and around Hong Kong and the Chinese Mainland.