Transcending Space and Time – Early Cinematic Experience of Hong Kong
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The First Family of Hong Kong Cinema

Lai Man-wai was a pioneer of Hong Kong as well as Chinese cinema. He made many first films and opened one of the first theatres in Hong Kong. Not only did he give it all to film, he also brought his family to film. They all became important elements in nurturing the budding Hong Kong and Chinese film industry.

Lai Buk-hoi (1890-1955)

Lai Man-wai’s fourth older brother. On the creative side, he was the director and male lead in Chuang Tzu Tests His Wife (1914), and directed the first narrative feature film Rouge in 1923 and first talkie The Idiot’s Wedding Night in 1933. On the management side, he was a co-founder of Hong Kong Film Company, the studio head and instructor of United Photoplay Service. When United Photoplay Service went out of business, Lai ran out of money and retired. In 1937, China Sun Motion Picture Company was back in business in Shanghai and hired Lai to be the manager. Finally, he completely quitted the business when the Japanese occupied Shanghai. He passed away in Guangzhou in 1955.

Lai Hoi-shan

He loved running theatres more than making movies like his brothers. He was one of the most important founders of World Theatre, the first theatre with all-Chinese capital. It opened on 12 July, 1921.

Yan Shanshan (1896-1951)

She was both wife and comrade of Lai Man-wai. She joined the Republican Revolution when she was only fifteen. She married Lai on 7 January, 1914 and played the maid in the monumental Chuang Tzu Tests His Wife in the same year. Being the first Hong Kong actress who broke the rule of “no woman should perform on stage”, she kept on acting even when China Sun moved to Shanghai. In 1928, she retired from the film industry.

Lam Cho-cho (1905-1979)

Lai Man Wai’s other wife. She was born in Canada and married Lai on 2 February, 1920. Since being the female lead in Rouge (1925), she worked in thirty-six films and became a well-known actress. She earned her reputation as “Mother of the Silver Screen” by playing mostly the role of mother. She retired in 1953.

Henry Lai (1928-1965)

Lai Man-wai’s second son and also the first generation of Chinese child stars, mostly playing the son of the female lead in films. He made his debut in Humanity (1932) at age of four. In 1949, he moved to China and became an actor under contract with Beijing Film Studio. In the 1960s, he made recital popular in China by organising events in Beijing and Guangzhou. He died young at the age of 37 in 1965. Lai Suen (daughter, actress), Lai Shek (son, cinematographer) and Gigi Lai (granddaughter, actress) were the other immediate family members of Lai Man-wai who worked in the film business.

Lai Cheuk Cheuk (1905-1990)

Lai Man-wai’s niece and Lai Hoi-shan’s third daughter. She made her acting debut in Humanity (1932) and instantly made an impression. Fluent in English and well-educated, she was the role model of new women in the 1930s. She made 170 films in a career that spanned 50 years.


  • Lai Man-wai and Yan Shanshan

  • Lai Man-wai, Yan Shanshan and Lam Cho-cho

  • Lam Cho-cho and Lai Man-wai as groom and bride

  • Lam Cho-cho and Lai Man-wai


  • Interview of Lai Shek