Wednesday, December 09, 2009

A bit of this and a bit of that before leaving

On Saturday I am off on holiday! Even though I haven’t been working for quite a while I still like to think of it as a holiday when I leave the country. Getting away anywhere, anytime is a holiday of sorts.

I think most of us have something from our childhood that we cling on to for nostalgic reasons – of times when the only responsibility we had was getting home for dinner on time. For some it’s baseball cards, for others Hello Kitty – for me it is Tintin, the intrepid boyish reporter that the Belgian cartoonist Herge created back in the 1930’s and who is still popular today. I’ve got all the books (20 or so of them), have purchased a number of Tintin t-shirts in Asia and recently picked up a slew of his animation DVD’s in Thailand. I recall getting into Tintin way back when I lived in Turkey and a Pakistani friend who lived behind us introduced me to Tintin (pronounced like bon-bon as a Belgian corrected me once). He travels all over the world seeking stories and adventure with his best friend Captain Haddock and his faithful dog Snowy. Much has been written on Herge who as I discovered didn’t exactly lead an exemplary life – some racial prejudices that were later erased out of the Tintin books, a philanderer and a collaborator with the Nazi’s after they took over Belgium. But besides being a racist, a cheat and a traitor . . he wasn't such a bad guy! You try not to think about that stuff though and focus on Tintin who is always loyal to his friends and always ready to rush off on another adventure no matter where it takes him – from Tibet to the Congo to the jungles of South America.

Cool stuff when you were a kid traveling all over the world yourself and feeling a long way from home. Much critical analysis has also been written on Tintin's sexuality suggesting that he was gay (he never is remotely interested in women) and that he represents a last remnant of a European imperialism that took on in Kipling’s words “the white man’s burden”. No matter, he has fans all over the world though in America he is still only vaguely known – but that should all change in 2011 when Spielberg comes out with his first Tintin movie with others to follow. My t-shirts will be worth millions! The film is I believe a combination of The Secret of The Unicorn and its sequel Red Rackham’s Treasure. I can’t wait. But I guess I will have to!

Speaking of the “white man’s burden”, one of the two films I saw yesterday at Film Forum in the continuing James Whale retro was filled to the gills with it and it’s interesting to see how certain films age so badly because of changing attitudes. Green Hell (1940) had a great cast – Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Vincent Price, George Sanders (doing his usual lady man’s bit) and Joan Bennett as the damsel in distress - but it was hard not to wince at times as they all go exploring somewhere in Central America looking for Aztec treasures with the poor natives doing all the hard work as they sit about and drink martinis and make goo-goo eyes at Joan. When they find the ruins – which Fairbanks interestingly compares to Angkor Wat – they are in awe but then proceed to basically blow huge holes in it to find the treasure! But that is probably how people thought back then and so in a sense this film can be viewed as a periscope into the past.

The other Whale film was a doozie – The Man in the Iron Mask (1939) – a great adventure tale of intrigue, deception and swordsmanship. As far as I can recollect from reading my Classic Comic version of it this film resembles the book as much as I do Brad Pitt but I don’t think any of the film versions really do. In middle age, the four Musketeers mount up for one last fling with death. Great stuff.

Park Slope, the neighborhood where I live in Brooklyn, could be known as Nanny City – in the afternoon the sidewalks are filled with nannies of all nationalities pushing strollers with white babies of good means. Today I overheard one nanny from Central America teaching the little boy in her care how to say penguin as she pointed to four of them on a window - pronouncing it “peeee-win”. Cute. She should be teaching him words like “La revolucion” though.

And here are some photos of actresses from a more recent age – Anita Mui and Fennie Yuen. Anita was all class and Fennie all cutes. Both great in their own way and making films in Hong Kong back in a time when females actually had good roles in movies.

Anita - 1,   2,   3,   4,   5

I love Anita's headgear - she always had so much style and she must have had a closet bigger than the New Territories to keep all her clothes.

Fennie – here and here

To go along with the photos I promised myself to watch some of these older films I have lying around and this one has both actresses and turned out to be a great choice – the very amusing Trouble Couples directed by Eric Tsang.

Trouble Couple
Director: Eric Tsang
Year: 1987

Talk about an Idol gangbang – the Happy Troupe Girls meets the Grasshoppers in a wonderfully amusing teenage romp with Anita Mui and Eric Tsang trying to be the adults in the class – good luck. At the time of the film The Grasshoppers hadn’t really found fame yet but were soon to become one of Hong Kong’s biggest boy bands. They formed in 1982 but it wasn’t until 1985 when they had a stroke of luck while winning the New Talent Singing contest. Anita Mui, who was a judge, took a liking to them and asked them to be her back-up dancers and perform in concert with her. In a sweet musical montage, they are shown performing with Anita on stage. As far as I can tell The Happy Troupe Girls were a group of some very adorable teenage actresses who were starring in a number of teenage romantic comedies (often produced by Cinema City) - Fennie Yuen, May Lo, Charlene Chan, Ann Bridgewater and Loletta Lee - and a combination of them often appeared together in films like The Happy Ghost series or Fantasy Island. They are like little kittens in a box – you just want to take them home.

All of this cuteness in one film may seem like overkill but to my surprise the film is actually quite funny at times – good sight gags, excellent comic timing and witty dialogue that someone took the trouble to translate very well into the English subs. On top of this throw in a number of cameos from actors like Sandra Ng, Shing Fui-on, Wong Jing, Clarence Ford (director of Naked Killer), Ha Ping, Wu Fung, Charlie Cho, Hui Ying Ying (a veteran actress with credits going back to 1955), Fung Ging-man (with credits going back to 1937!), Helena Law Lan and Ann Mui (Anita’s sister). It is the kind of film that 20-years later you can simply enjoy for the actors involved. Tsang directed this towards the end of his very successful stay at Cinema City.

Anita plays Tai, the older sister and proxy mother to her three much younger sisters – keeping a roof over their head with her restaurant business and keeping a wary eye on their innocense when the inevitable suitors come round. She is every young sister’s nightmare – a harridan, a grouch, a slashing tongue and apparently on the verge of becoming a mean spirited spinster. When an older employer makes approaches to one of the sisters, Tai scares him off and says to her “losing your job is better than losing your virginity and ruining your life” The young sisters (Fennie Yuen, Charlene Chan and Ann Bridgewater) just want to have fun and romance and they find it easily – Yee (Ann) with a radio DJ (Matthew Wong) and Sam (Charlene) and Sai (Fennie) with three classmates at high school (the Grasshoppers – Calvin Choi, Remus Choi and Edmund So) – they just have to sort out which two of them get the two girls!

But there is a snag – big sister – so the solution is of course to find her a man – a complete loser who would want to be with her and so they go looking for someone committing suicide. They think they find their man (Eric) as they see him break up with his girlfriend (Sandra) who has found more security with a gangster (Shing Fui-on) who has made her mother a bookie and her uncle a heroin dealer. They talk him into courting their sister though he has reservations – she is a ‘laundry board” – but who else will have him. Along with the help of the girls and the boys he launches on a gargantuan plan of courtship that will have him pretending to be a mob boss, a lover in the rain, stabbed in the stomach, pretending to have had sex with Tai and so on. All is fair in love and war and this is closer to war than love. But it is all in goofy fun with enough cuteness to curl your toes.

My rating for this film: 7.5

Bigger screen captures here.

And as a bonus for getting this far – you have the incredible opportunity to listen to songs from . . . The Happy Troupe Girls! In this case the trio of May, Fennie and Charine. I had never actually listened to this till today though I bought it years ago – it was just one of those impulse buys that bankrupt so many of us! Just don’t shoot me. This isn’t exactly Anita singing.


Anonymous said...

Many thanks, Brian! I was kind of surprised that Margaret has such a nice voice.

It was also cool seeing Anita Mui's many different looks. Then I got sad when I remembered she's no longer with us. She was a great actress, equally at home with drama or comedy. One of these days I should become more acquainted with her music (which I mostly know just through her films).

Brian said...

Ya not bad at all - wonder why they had her sing it - someone must have thought she could sing.

Back a while I picked up a number of cds of HK actresses - even the Twins I confess - and though some of them were good the only ones I have continued to listen to are Faye, Sally and Anita - the rest just seem kind of formulaic and forgettable.

Brian said...

Let me add that I mean from the modern period - Grace Chang and Julie are terrific and I will put up some of their music one of these days.

Anonymous said...

I think singing was part of the standard training for Shaw stars (in the early 60s at least). In Southern Screen, you often see them singing a song or two at special appearances for their latest film. Even Fanny Fan sang during her tour of Singapore and Malaysia. But obviously, most of them weren't on the level of Grace Chang or Julie Yeh Feng.

Yeah, I've stayed away from Cantopop precisely because of what you mentioned. Faye Wong is an exception of course; and I really should check out Anita's music, since I do love her voice.