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January 05, 2012

Air Hostess

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Kong zhong xiao jie
Yi Wen - 1959
Panorama Entertainment Region 3 DVD

"Tis the season to be pummeled by various studios with screeners, bearing the words, "For your consideration". And yes, some of these films have already been considered as award worthy by critics groups. For myself, I'm already tired of the sense of self-importance, and worse, the joylessness of these films. Sometimes you need to see a film that really isn't aspiring to be anything more than entertainment.

Enter Grace Chang. It was a couple of Decembers ago when I went through her five DVD box set. Any of her other films are now separate purchases. And there is nothing in Air Hostess that is expressly artistic, but it sure is fun. There's also nothing very original, but this is a film made at a time when the Hong Kong film industry would shamelessly crib from Hollywood without fear of consequences. It doesn't take much to imagine Doris Day, Lauren Bacall and Rock Hudson in the roles respectively taken by Chang, the lean and lovely Julie Yeh Feng, and the solid Roy Chiao.

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Chang plays Keping, a young woman who is constantly reminded by her mother, and a drip of a would-be suitor that she's of marriageable age. Maybe her motivations for being what is called in this film, an air hostess, is questionable, mostly as a way of avoiding marriage to a guy she wants to keep at arms length, in a profession that at the time required that the young women remain single. Even if being an air hostess keeps Keping from doing what she really wants, which is basically to sing and dance, it also allows her to bide her time to figure out what she wants out of life. And while Air Hostess can't really be described as being feminist, at least in the western sense, it does present a narrative involving women having professional aspirations and a loosening of the traditional filial ties.

Keping proves to be a natural at her job, proving her ability to offer coffee in English, French, and three different Chinese dialects, making friends with the other hostesses, and carrying on an on and off relationship with Daying (Chiao). Along the way, smugglers of fake jewelry are caught, Keping finds opportunities to sing and dance, and a marriage is conducted in mid-flight.

The film seems to be geared to a younger, more cosmopolitan Hong Kong audience. Keping travels to Singapore, Taipei and Bangkok, and the film would serve as reminder of the wonders of air travel, with an emphasis on pan-Asian connections. A song about Taiwan is a reminder of that time when Hong Kong and Taiwan were more closely linked as part of the Chinese diaspora following the communist takeover of mainland China. Chang and Chiao spend time wandering around various temple grounds near Bangkok, the kind of scenic meandering that could well have inspired parts of Wong Kar-wai's In the Mood for Love.

Based on what I've read previously, How to Marry a Millionaire must have been very popular in Hong Kong, providing a template for several films. Jean Negulesco's film had a running gag with Marilyn Monroe bumping into everything without her glasses. In Air Hostess, one of the women is perpetually clumsy, allowing her to "meet cute" with a flight navigator when she slips on the airplane stairway. One of the musical themes is a barely disguised reworking of the song, "I Cain't Say No" from Oklahoma, so obvious that Richard Rodgers should have received credit. Younger viewers may find themselves aghast at the sight of propeller airplanes and passenger meals handled with bare hands. For myself, at a time when the Hollywood machine wants to browbeat me into taking some of their very current films seriously, a detour into the past of cheerful silliness can be its own reward.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at January 5, 2012 08:21 AM


I am totally intrigued to watch this film one day considering your review here and having read Christine Yano's book AIRBORNE DREAMS a few months back - http://www.dukeupress.edu/Catalog/ViewProduct.php?productid=16536

Although the book emphasizes the stewardess experience of Japanese-Americans at Pan Am, the book's discussion of the general stewardess experience of corporately-constrained feminism through the opportunities such a job allowed is applicable. The film would be interesting to watch through the lens of Yano's book.

Posted by: Adam Hartzell at January 10, 2012 09:50 AM