Arts and Culture
Lee Tit’s pivotal Cantonese film "Father Is Back" (1961), whose Chinese title literally means “The Orchid in Flames,” is the director’s noir response to his utopian "In the Face of Demolition" (1953), an exemplar of 1950s Cantonese cinema. A neglected predecessor to Patrick Lung Kong’s black-and-white "Story of a Discharged Prisoner" (1967), whose remake was John Woo’s "A Better Tomorrow" (1986), "Father is Back" dramatizes a wrongly accused burglar’s release from prison after his ten-year imprisonment.
I argue that the pathos of the film lies in the reformed father’s impossibility of being released from consanguinity, community, and criminality. Staying in a morally ambiguous shared living space stricken with poverty and prostitution, the father must protect his daughter and son who live next to him while postponing reuniting with them. The triangulation of consanguinity, community, and criminality makes "Father Is Back" a “male melodrama of doing and suffering” situated in the dialectic between vulnerable subjectivity (the orchid) and violent social environment (in flames). In this sense "Father Is Back" is a transitional film between "In the Face of Demolition" and "Story of a Discharged Prisoner", between Cantonese melodramas and noirs, and between the 1950s and 1960s Hong Kong, where structures of feeling, family, and society enmesh with each other and institutions of prison, family, and school complement each other.