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December 22, 2009

Because of Her

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Jiao wo ru he bu xiang ta
Yi Wen and Wang Tian-lin - 1963
Panorama Entertainment Region 3 DVD

Because of Her was Hong Kong based Motion Picture and General Investment's attempt to answer back to rival Shaw Brothers, with a wide screen and color musical. The color is still there, preserved in an uneven fashion. The Cathay Scope is lost to an Academy ratio transfer which trims the image on all sides. This available version is still fairly entertaining, primarily on the strength of Grace Chang's charisma, and the extended musical numbers. The backstage story is the weak glue that holds the film together. That the DVD version is not in a widescreen aspect ratio is also important as this was the studio's first scope film.

Performer Meixin is in love with musician Ziping. Ziping has just found out that he can study music in Japan. He's about to tell Meixin that he's leaving Hong Kong, when one thing leads to another at Meixin's apartment. The beginning of a serious relationship in the eyes of the young woman turns out to have been a one night stand. Meixin picks herself up, and auditions for Shiming's musical troupe where she soon becomes the star attraction. Finding herself pregnant, Shiming marries Meixin. The two work professionally in a nightclub and join a new troupe when Ziping reappears. Of course there is more trouble for the three principle characters.

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In the time honored tradition perfected by Busby Berkeley, the musical numbers take place on stages that extend beyond assumed physical limits. One of the extended numbers is devoted to international travel with stops in Japan, a generic South America, Malaysia, Venice, and the U.S. The U.S. segment is primarily a Charleston number with lyrics expressing admiration for then president John F. Kennedy. The other big musical segment has something to do with angels and demons, with Grace Chang alternating between what looks like a white choir robe, and a far sexier skin tight black outfit. The sets are especially spartan compared to what was used for Shaw Brothers musicals done during the same time. More successfully realized is Grace Chang and a group of chorus dancers doing the twist at a rehearsal studio, a naturalistic setting that does not call attention to any budgetary limitations.

According to Wang Tian-lin, he primarily directed the musical scenes, while Yi Wen did the dramatic scenes, although they were often both together on the set. Because of Her was Chang's first movie in about two years after getting married. In spite of the film being a hit, it still marked the closing of Chang's film career, with only three more films before retiring from the screen. Chang is also reunited with two of her leading men, Roy Chiao and Kelly Lai Chen. The film uses Chiao's solid physical presence as the more dependable of the men in Meixin's life. I don't know who thought Kelly Lai Chen could sing, but his monotone vocals are especially glaring, though fortunately drowned out by Chang during their duets. Without giving away the climatic finish, I can only say that it was dusted off from use from other backstage dramas, and is cliched to the point of unintended hilarity. The real tragedy is that Grace Chang should have been in a better film.

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Because of Her is available individually or part of the "Grace Chang Collection" from HK Flix.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at December 22, 2009 12:07 AM