Cinderella and Her Little Angels

In the hands of another director – say Michael Powell or Jacques Tourneur - this material may have come out very differently as it has aspects that could easily have been turned into creepy horror rather than light comedy. Here though it is all puffy humor and sweetness. This is yet another Cathay release (1959) that is enjoyable almost in spite of itself. The plot goes along just as you expect it to without a real dramatic bump in the road, the characters are as likable as Easter eggs and not an awful lot actually takes place – yet it manages to be charming and to go down very easily. The Cathay films just seem to have an ability to take very ordinary everyday people and make the viewer care about their not all that interesting lives.
Peter Chen works in a tailor shop (for the ubiquitous Liu Enjia) and spends his nights sleeping upstairs. He has a peculiar habit of speaking to the store mannequins in the lonely evening hours – in fact he has a particular attraction for one rather cute mannequin and licks his lips and plants a big wet one on her (or is it, it?) sometimes. The mannequin has a strong resemblance to Linda Lin Dai so I can sort of understand it – heck, I’ve been looking for a Hsu Chi looking one myself for years! It gets stranger though when a little boy and little girl mannequin come alive and sing to him (about tailoring and his exemplary life style!) and then later visit him in bed. At this point I thought this was getting way too weird for me as the children take Chen on a musical fantasy number. There is no doubting that Chen is one very abnormal guy – and he hadn’t even broke out into his song about loving peanuts yet! His co-workers of course just think he is sweetly eccentric – I think people said the same thing about Jeffrey Dahmer.
It turns out that the mannequin not only looks just like Linda Lin Dai, but it also looks just like the character she is playing in this film.  Linda is a young woman who was brought up in the orphanage run by Wang Lai – and now still works and lives there. The tailor shop that Chen works for outsources some of their work to the orphanage and Linda instructs the small children on how to stitch garments by singing a sewing song to them – very sweet. Wait a second – sweet? – who are we kidding - in most places in the world this would be termed a sweatshop employing children – I am surprised I didn’t see the Nike label on the clothing – “Please, ma’am, I want some more”.
Well, even with Linda running a sweatshop and Peter Chen having delusions that would have gotten most people committed, they make googly eyes at one another, but the shy (aren’t all serial killers) “little tailor” is afraid to make his feelings known to her. But one night he makes out with the Linda like mannequin and tells her he loves her – and of course Linda happens to overhear this confession of love and lust (as well as the peanut song) – and instead of getting the hell out of there, she is totally thrilled. These two are clearly made for each other like Adolph and Eva. Chen never does take out the butcher knife – instead at the behest of his boss he gets Linda to model for a fashion show they are having.
For Linda Lin Dai fans this is a complete treat and the highlight of the film – for some ten minutes she goes through an assortment of great outfits and smiles and with every change of clothing a new song breaks out – she is really a doll and a pleasure to watch. This outside work gets Linda in trouble with the stern Wang Lai and poor Linda is faced with the dilemma of either leaving the orphanage or leaving Chen and her newly found glamorous life. So she burns down the orphanage and kills all the children and goes on the run – wait that’s the movie Mario Bava would have made with Barbara Steele – but not our Linda Lin Dai!
This film is actually gently amusing – much of it revolving around mistaking Linda for the mannequin and vice versa. Linda is charming as a sunny day – the mistress of the wide-eyed look and big radiant movie star smile. Chen is his typical dapper low-key self and plays well off of Linda. The two were paired off again four years later at Shaw Brothers in another fashion parade of a movie called Love Parade. Showing up in smaller roles are Dolly Soo Fung as one of Linda’s orphanage friends and Tien Ching as one of Chen’s co-workers. The film has a number of songs – though no choreography around them – and according to the book Mandarin Films and Popular Songs, Linda sings at least one of them – “Song of the Steel Needle Dance” that she uses to terrorize the kids!

My rating for this film: 7.5