Based on the classic Charles Dickens tale Great Expectations, the film’s only notoriety these days is that it featured a young Bruce Lee as a child version of one of the pivotal characters.
During a very nasty rainstorm, a dying woman brings her child to a small village. Blacksmith Sam Wong sees the woman and child fall the the ground. She tells him that her husband had been framed for a crime and she would like the blacksmith to adopt her infant son, with the notion not to reveal his identity before she passes away. Sam adopts the young Frank and has him live with him in the village, where Frank lives like a normal human being. However, one fateful night will change Frank’s life forever when Dickson Fan, an escaped convict, is near the village and sees Frank as he gathers firewood. Out of fear, Frank tells Fan to hide in an abandoned temple in the outskirts of the village. After helping him free him of his ankle cuffs, Fan and Frank begin a relationship.
Unbeknownst to Frank, Fan is actually Frank’s father, who was framed by pharmaceutical boss Jack Toh for making and selling bad medicine to patrons. Originally to serve a 20-year sentence, Fan escaped after 10 to prove his innocence. As he leaves the village, he tells Frank to study medicine. Ten years has passed and Frank has a benefactor helping him with his education. He thinks it is Jack Toh, but in actuality, it is his father. When Frank gets a job at Toh’s company, Toh begins to suspect that Frank may in fact be Fan’s son and decides to hatch a plan so that Frank meets a similar fate like his father.
Directed by Chu Kei, this near two-hour movie is actually a pretty decent adaptation of the classic Great Expectations. The film is set over the course of ten years and revolves around young Frank, the titular “orphan” of the film. A good portion of the film has a ten-year old Frank in terms of his relationship with Dickson Fan, played wonderfully by Ng Cho-Fan. What many will find quite interesting is that playing the ten-year old Frank is the legendary Bruce Lee himself, who made films as a child actor before become the amazing martial artist everyone has known and loved. The young Lee truly showcases some great acting in the role of young Frank. It is clear that Frank has a sense of generosity, from giving a bun to his “grandfather”, blacksmith Sam Wong to helping Dickson break the ankle cuffs and thus, showing a bond between the two, even though many will know Dickson and Frank are father and son.
Alongside Ng, Wong Cho-San does really well as the blacksmith Sam, who adopts Frank and raises him, becoming the father figure Frank has lacked due to the nefarious methods of Jack Toh, played with such rashness by Lau Hak-Suen. Toh is truly an evil man whose reasons for making bad medicine just for profit seem truly unethical but his daughter Rainbow, played by Mui Yee, shows that she is not a chip off her father’s block. Frank’s best friend, Polly, is truly more like a little sister rather than a love interest if one thinks about it. The role is first played by future Hong Kong film legend Josephine Siao and then by Yuen Siu-Yi. While she doesn’t offer much but have a straightforward look of worry most of the time, Polly does offer help in the climax, which of course is predictable but still good nonetheless.
An Orphan’s Tragedy is a pretty good Hong Kong adaptation of the Dickens classic, all with a great acting performance by Ng Cho-Fan and a young Bruce Lee. If you like Bruce Lee, this might be worth looking at to get a taste of his acting before becoming the martial arts hero.
WFG RATING: B
A Union Film Enterprises Ltd. production. Director: Chu Kei. Writers: Ching Gong,Chu Kei, and Lau Fong; inspired by the novel “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens. Cinematography: Suen Lun
Cast: Ng Cho-Fan, Wong Cho-San, Lau Hak-Suen, Cheung Wood-Yau, Yung Siu-Yi, Mui Yee, Lee Pang-Fei, Bruce Lee, Josephine Siao.