Shaw Brothers With The Last Great Huangmei "Folk Opera", And In Fine Style.
This Shaw Brothers Mandarin language musical delight, based upon a well-known Chinese tale, does not break off from a successful Shaw formula established with its predecessors, but for minor improvements, and includes the many wonted pleasures of their productions, depicting a stylized romantic story with poetic verve, its featured players the two leading stars of the studio, Ivy Ling Po and "Baby Movie Queen" Li Ching, the latter misidentified within the IMDb listings. S.T. Coleridge's "willing suspension of disbelief...." is tested somewhat by casting Ling Po as a man, Tang Bohu, a renowned wandering scholar and painter, but her consistent performance, applied with feeling and assurance, creates a believable role of Tang who cares nought for fame or wealth, but rather for the joys of music and poetry, until the day he espies the fetching Autumn Fragrance (Li Ching), a soubrette in the service of Lady Hua, wife of the Grand Tutor. The film is titled for the three occasions upon which Autumn Fragrance smiles upon lovestruck Tang as he persistently pursues her, to a point of selling himself into servitude for the household of the Grand Tutor as Hua An, a pageboy, taking upon himself a responsibility of instructing in compositional skills the Tutor's two foolish sons, each of whom is also smitten with Autumn Fragrance, and where Tang uses guile and cunning through clever dialogue to woo the ostensibly unyielding maiden. This is the most accomplished filmed version of the popular story, benefiting as it does from the romantic Shaw style, and is the last Huangmei, or "yellow plum" opera produced for eight years, its screenplay nicely crafted by the highly professional veteran Yueh Feng, who directs here as well and brings to the film engaging additions to the customary mixture, including usage of freeze frames and partial shooting deployment into outdoor settings that help to develop a more naturalistic atmosphere; production quality is very high, notably with the decor, costumes, and lighting; the extraordinarily graceful hand and body movement and rhythm of Li Ching beggars description. Although the DVD version offers no significant extras, English language subtitles are, as always with Shaw efforts, well above the Hong Kong standard for comprehensibility.
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