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December 15, 2009

The June Bride

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Liu yue xin niang
Tang Huang - 1960
Panorama Entertainment Region 3 DVD

The biggest problems with The June Bride are that it hardly makes use of Grace Chang's musical abilities, and is mostly a comedy. And as a comedy, The June Bride is not very funny. This is one of those films were misunderstanding tops misunderstanding until all is well at the end. I'm not familiar with Tang Huang, but his direction here is not distinguished. If David Bordwell compares frequent Chang director Yi Wen to Charles Walters, than Tang Huang might be likened, at least with this film, to Charles Barton, the director of several Abbott and Costello comedies, where there is no such thing as too much mugging for the camera.

Within the context of a sceenplay by Eileen Chang (no relation to the star), The June Bride is of some greater interest. There are also some autobiographical elements to be found in the film, suggesting that there may be greater value to be found in analyzing the film from the point of view of the author, rather than as a star vehicle. There are some elements of Hollywood screwball comedy with the father of the bride being a businessman who is always seeking investors for what is revealed to be a dummy company. Grace Chang's character, Danlin, is a young woman who refuses to marry the man she is engaged to as long as she believes that the marriage is primarily a means of financial advancement for her father, and that her fiance is actually in love with a less socially acceptable bar hostess.

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There is a clunky, literal mindedness to the filming of the title song. We hear Grace Chang sing of waves, clouds, and we see the sun, and we see waves, clouds, and the sun. It isn't until about halfway through the film that there is a sense of play, with Grace Chang getting drunk unintentionally by Roy Chiao. Chiao plays a friend who puts the moves on Chang, confusing her with the fiance's bar hostess. In an overhead shot we see Chang staggering a bit in the living room of her fiance until she falls on a couch. A shot of the ceiling shows a moving double exposure of a chandelier. In a modified wedding dress, Danlin walks through a misty forest, encountering the three young men in her life, her fiance, his friend, and a musician who Danlin has met on the boat coming to Hong Kong. Each encounter is accompanied by three different styles of dance and music, with Danlin explaining to each man why they are not suitable suitors. I'm not sure if Tang was responsible for the couple of musical numbers in June Bride, but this one production number contrasts sharply with pedestrian visual style of the rest of the film. There is also an oddness to the fact that this film opens with silent white credits on a black screen, as if someone had not done some crucial post production work and there were no funds to make a correction. The three songs used in the film have lyrics by the more visually inventive director Yi Wen, which in itself suggests that he might have been originally scheduled to direct the film.

Based on the handful of Hong Kong musicals I've seen, I don't think Eileen Chang's feminism was unique as much as her feelings may have expressed similar ideas about women challenging Chinese tradition with more complexity and consistency. Within the Shaw Brothers musicals, the stories are generally about women who explore new ideas in social and physical mobility, usually to the chagrin of their elders. As the screen captures indicate, June Bride was filmed in standard ratio black and white, while the bigger budget Shaw Brothers productions were in widescreen and color. It might be an indication of Grace Chang's popularity that her fans supported her films in spite of the comparative cheapness of her studio, Motion Picture and General Investment. When the camera hits the streets, part of the action takes place at Victoria Peak, with tourists and children chasing after Roy Chiao and actress Ding Hao, a scene more chaotic than when Henry King filmed Love is a Many-Splendored Thing. For Grace Chang and Eileen Chang, love here is a many confused thing.

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The June Bride is available individually or part of the "Grace Chang Collection" from HK Flix.

Posted by peter at December 15, 2009 12:58 AM