Spring Song

The back of the DVD case states that this 1959 film is "Most probably the first Hong Kong film to depict college life". Perhaps so, but one might wonder from a distance of forty five years whether the portrayal of the innocence of these young students could possibly have been near reality. Like many of the other Cathay productions, Spring Song focuses on an emerging middle class and their dreams of sending their children to higher education. This is a frothy little film full of songs, humor and misunderstandings and is driven primarily on the fresh-faced appeal of the two lead actresses.
From a cinematic perspective, for me 2003 has been primarily of interest for the Cathay releases after lying hidden all these years. For most Hong Kong film fans it has been the release of the Shaw Brothers films that have garnered most of their attention and budgetary dollars, but there have been so many Shaw films that I find it overwhelming to even attempt to get a grip on them and have only sampled a very few at this point. The Cathay films on the other hand are much easier to get a feel for - first of all they are much smaller in number and secondly they have been released at a rate that one can keep up with (and afford!). After a while, watching a Cathay film is like dropping in on an extended family full of familiar faces and feeling right at home. They basically seemed to have had five or so leading actresses and a like number of leading men - and one or more of each show up in nearly everything. The same goes for the supporting cast - you can spot many of the same faces playing parents, waiters, uncles and servants in film after film - and you almost feel disappointed if someone like the portly Liu Enja doesn't make an appearance at some point in the film.
Even more so then the Cathay films themselves has been the discovery of Grace Chang and in film after film she continues to entrance me like a moon faced youth. She simply takes up great space and has such a zest that you find yourself pulled into her characters and their everyday problems. And when she sings with her head tilted back, her eyes sparkling with joy and her mouth wide open in sublime ecstasy you want to just shout out "Go Mambo Girl, Go". Another discovery is Jeanette Lin Cui - though I have only seen her in two films now it's impossible not to realize what tremendous appeal she had. Petite, mercurial and with fire in her mischievous Faye Wong eyes, she is hard to resist. Here we have the pleasure of both these actresses as they go head to head over love and ego.
Both of their characters are just beginning university - Jeanette from a wealthy family and Grace from a middle class one. When Jeanette moves into her dorm, she has a parade of servants moving in her many possessions while Grace arrives with just one suitcase in hand. In a touching scene Grace's father proudly tells her that she is the first in the family to go to university and the financial sacrifice was well worth it. Before leaving for school, Grace bids goodbye to her parents and seven siblings by singing to her brothers and sisters to be good to mom and dad, to study and never to fight. Sure. The two of them are roommates along with the "Love Expert" and "Lin Dai" named after the actress for being so melodramatic. Those were the days when everyone had a nickname or you were no one - so Jeanette is “Peter Pan” and Grace becomes "The Songbird". This nickname is given after the older students challenge Grace to sing - little do they know - and she wows them by singing a medley that samples Chinese Opera to Shanghai pop.
The two start off as great friends but things begin to go sour when Jeanette sees Grace dancing with her beau "Monkey" (Peter Chen) and when Grace sees Jeanette swimming with her fancy, the lunk headed jock “Buffalo” (Roy Chiao). Just your basic love misunderstandings that lead to the two of them wrestling each other to the ground at one point and breaking lots of things at another. All of their friends and boyfriends try to make them see reason and that’s basically what the film is about. By the end Grace is trying to shoot basketballs and Jeanette is singing Chinese Opera. It is all done in good spirits and it is simply enjoyable watching these two charismatic actresses on the screen at the same time. There are a number of clever and amusing scenes as well. The film also co-stars Wang Lai as Miss Hong ("Curry Chicken") and Tien Ching as an older student.

My rating for this film: 7.5