BRIDE NAPPING - Hong Kong costume drama about mistaken identity
BRIDE NAPPING (1962) is a two-hour costume drama, with comedic elements, produced by Hong Kong's Shaw Bros. studio and adapted from a Peking Opera adaptation of Chapter Five of the classic literary work, "The Water Margin" (aka "Outlaws of the Marsh"). It's a lavish production with large sets, beautiful costumes, an original Chinese music score and a lively cast of performers largely unfamiliar to those fans in the west who are only now plunging into all the "lost" Shaw Bros. films finally becoming available thanks to the new line of DVDs from Celestial Pictures.
The plot has to do with the romance of a squire's daughter and a poor but refined scholar that is thwarted when a loutish bandit is mistaken for the scholar by a confused servant and is given the idea that the daughter's hand in marriage is his for the asking. This leads to a set of complications and confrontations involving escape attempts and characters disguising themselves as each other. At one point, the scholar disguises himself as the daughter, in full bridal garb, and at another point, the bandit's sister disguises herself as the scholar. There is some fighting, but it's fairly simple and stylized, and not terribly intricate in its choreography.
Interestingly, the lead actress, Betty Loh Ti (aka Le Di, from LOVE ETERNE), one of the studio's top female stars of the time, does not play the daughter, but her maid, Chun-Lan, who is clearly the smarter, more driven character (and a better match for the scholar, if you ask me). The second interesting actress in the cast is Diana Chang, who plays the bandit's sister, Chou Yu Liu, who struggles to keep her uncouth brother in line, going so far as to take the place of the scholar at the latter's "marriage" to the squire's daughter. She's quite a powerhouse of an actress and is dressed in a succession of striking costumes and even fights her bandit colleagues at one point. Chiao Chuang plays the scholar, Pien Chi, and Ting Ning plays the bride, Liu Yuet-Ying. Zhu Mu plays the bandit, Chou Tung, while Shaw Bros. regulars Tien Feng and Feng I turn up as, respectively, the bandit general, Li, and the warrior monk, Lo Teh ("Sagacious Lu" from the book). The star, Loh Ti, performs one song.
The recreation of old China is quite sumptuous and beautiful to watch at all times in this color, widescreen production enhanced by an original score by Yao Min, drawing on traditional Chinese melodies and instruments. The film was shot in Mandarin in sync-sound, as were most of Shaw Bros.' films of the early '60s. It's a fascinating film and the script is consistently interesting and entertaining as it tries to untangle the mess created by the servant's mistake. A "deus ex machina" intervention in the last act strains credulity but staves off the tragic ending that you'd normally find in a film like this. Interestingly, this last act is the only part of the story that's actually taken from "The Water Margin."
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