16 January 2019
A still from the restored digitized version of the 1966 Hong Kong musical romance movie 'Colourful Youth'. Photo: HKFA
A still from the restored digitized version of the 1966 Hong Kong musical romance movie 'Colourful Youth'. Photo: HKFA

Yesterday once more: Restoring a 1960s hit movie musical

Colourful Youth (1966, directed by Yu Ho, aka Chan Wan), is the only contemporary musical romantic film in which Connie Chan Po-chu and Josephine Siao Fong-fong, both popular teen idols at the time, starred alongside each other.

The motion picture became an instant hit upon its release back then, reaping impressive box office collections of over HK$700,000. In addition to being a fan classic, it is also a representative work of the teen film genre reflecting the social vibe and retro-chic fashion of the 1960s Hong Kong.

In 1995, almost 30 years after its release, the negatives of Colourful Youth were found at the Olympia Theatre in North Point prior to the cinema’s demolition. Then in 2010, with consent from the film copyright owner, Chi Leun Film Co., the Hong Kong Film Archive began efforts to restore the the local masterpiece to its former glory.

The material retrieved by the HKFA included the negatives, soundtrack, as well as other copies later used for the film’s restoration, of which a large portion had become decomposed. Only a set of nine reels of negatives and soundtrack with an approximate duration of 87 minutes could eventually be restored.

These negatives were printed on Eastmancolor film, a product developed by Kodak which was used extensively as an industry standard during the 1960s. Moreover, they were internegatives that are usually only used to make screening copies. Consequently, the reels were well-preserved due to infrequent usage.

Nonetheless, the precious film was not entirely intact after being forgotten for more than half a century. The negatives had succumbed to “vinegar syndrome”: improper storage caused cellulose acetate, one of the materials used in the manufacturing of this type of film, to absorb the moisture in the air, giving rise to a chemical reaction that led to fading or discoloration. Acetate film base degradation also led to film shrinkage.

Since each section of a reel deteriorated at a different rate, warping became another problem. The film may soften and turn so sticky that it cannot be unfurled without damaging it, and some parts of the soundtrack were lost for the corresponding visuals.

In addition, the picture and sound fell out of sync due to the deterioration and shrinkage of the soundtrack films. Other issues included flickering in places at the heads and tails of reels, jittering images caused by uneven distances between the perforations due to shrinkage, and the appearance of spots. But luckily, as the negatives themselves were rarely used, there were just a few scratches.

The Archive’s aim was to restore Colourful Youth back to its original screening quality, to bring life back to the movie for contemporary viewers to see and appreciate a masterpiece that once awed the city.

Another objective was to print a digital copy to facilitate roving screenings as well as academic study of the Hong Kong cinema.

Experts first cleaned the reels with great care for subsequent digitization into 2K resolution image data, reducing and removing flickering, jittering and spots with the help of modern computer technology. Digital restoration workstation was used to re-color the images and re-sync sound and picture.

The result was a brand new 1960 movie in HD format with vivid tones, clear images, and sharp contrast, bringing back the ambiance of musical films of that era.

The restored version of Colourful Youth was screened at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre at end-February this year, enabling old fans and first-time viewers alike to experience its allure.

The archive is still conducting second phase restoration of the remaining film of the movie.  

– Contact us at [email protected]


This photo depicts how a film strip became warped because of irregular shrinkage. Photo: HKFA

For the faded negative color film (left), we can see its color through its reversal image (right). Photo: HKFA

The moving images before (left) and after phase one digital restoration. Photo: HKFA

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