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December 10, 2009

Spring Song

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Qing chun er nu
Yi Wen - 1959
Panorama Entertainment Region 3 DVD

After the general exuberance of Mambo Girl, Spring Song is a staid affair. If the title of the first film emphasizes Grace Chang's dance moves, the second film's title is about her voice. Chang's character is nicknamed "Songbird" after an impromptu display of her talents. Spring Song seems to have been made in part to show off Chang's versatility, with her not only performing songs that were designed to advance the story and themes, but also there's Chinese Opera and a little bit of rock and roll, sung in English. In addition to making Grace Chang an entertainer who can appeal to multiple generations, Spring Song is couched in civic lessons of working hard, staying in school, and getting along with everyone else.

Chang plays Quing, the eldest daughter of a man of modest means, a freshman at nearby university. One of her roommates at the dormitory is Jingni, the daughter of a wealthy man. Their friendship turns into rivalry, with Quing's musical abilities competing with Jingni's athletic prowess. Also contrasted are the two boyfriends who may be mismatched, with Jingni going with the nonathletic Monkey, while Quing is pursued by the muscle bound Buffalo. One problem with the film is that Quing and Jingni are confused by others who remark that they look similar, even though slender Jeanette Lin Tsui, as Jingni, looks nothing like Chang. After a series of misunderstandings, Quing and Jingni are friends again, with Quing accidentally scoring the winning points in a basketball game, and Jingni featured in the school chorus.

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Unlike Mambo Girl which used mirrors in a couple of key scenes, Yi Wen has the characters sometimes mirroring each others actions. The scene in the coffee house, as discussed by David Bordwell on his own site, is the high point of Spring Song. Roy Chiao (Buffalo) and Peter Chen Ho (Monkey) are both at the same coffee house. Neither is aware that the other is sitting in the opposite booth, nor is either aware that they are meeting each other's girlfriend. While not an exact match, both are adding cream and drinking their respective cups of coffee at the same time. While each is scanning the coffee house in anticipation of their dates, the camera pans from right to left, and later from left to right, mimicking the point of view of the two men. Part of the the frame image is lost in the transfer from film to DVD, but Yi ends the scene with the two confused men on opposite sides of the coffee house, after Quing and Jigni walk in, also confused and also angry. In the middle of the frame is another coffee house patron, visibly confused by what he has seen. Yi plays with the doubling of his characters in other scenes, or playing comic variations on each other. Near the end of the film, we see Quing's father and children, all with lollypops in their mouths, with the pan shot ending with Quing's father and Jingni's father, who is smoking a pipe.

There is a very light dialectic regarding westernization in Hong Kong, where Monkey convinces Buffalo that giving flowers to a woman is antithetical to Chinese culture. In the meantime, the college kids dance to "Que Sera, Sera" sung in Chinese. Chang and Chen go to a nightclub where we hear Bill Haley and the Comets singing "See You Later, Alligator", although the band performing in the film is seen from the chest down, in the signature plaid suits of the group they are impersonating. Quing's rock and roll moment comes with here singing the chorus line of Bill Hayley's song, much to the annoyance of Jingni. Spring Song is ultimately neither as comic or as tragic as Mambo Girl, but it does have a few moments to savor before the film is drowned by its more earnest intentions.

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Spring Song is available individually or part of the "Grace Chang Collection" from HK Flix.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at December 10, 2009 12:03 AM