Father Takes a Bride

Viewing this film sapped all of my energy away to the extent that it was a struggle to even write about it. I have found most of the Cathay releases to be quite delightful in an old fashioned gee whiz kind of way – but this one felt like carrying a wet sack of potatoes on a forced march. The title might make one think that this was going to be a light amusing comedy – that was certainly my expectation – and the first scene creates that mood, but it then morphs into a very old fashioned slow moving melodrama that felt awkward and weakly scripted. It also has two children who are more annoying then gritty sand in your shorts and I think I can still hear them whining in the distance. Considering the pedigree of Father Takes a Bride (1963), it is surprising that it feels so stuck in mud and that it had so little emotional impact.
Lucillia You Min, Kelly Lai Chen,  Deng Xiaozhou and Peter S. Y. Dunn
The film is directed by Wang Tianlin who is best known to today’s audience as the father of Wong Jing and the often-used character actor in many Milkyway productions (in The Mission he is the restaurant owner). Back in the 1950’s and 60’s he was one of Hong Kong’s most prolific and respected directors with a resume that contained literally hundreds of films – though many were made in dialects other than Cantonese and Mandarin and are apparently lost today. Born in Shanghai in 1928, he moved to Hong Kong as a teenager and entered into the film industry and took on all sorts of jobs before being able to direct. His first film as director was “The Flying Sword Hero from Emei Mountain” in 1950 (he was 22 at the time) and he soon gained a reputation as a director who could finish a film quickly and he could take on any genre. Over the years he was to direct loads of martial art films, comedies and melodramas. He also gained a reputation as someone who could direct both Cantonese and Mandarin films – something that was quite unusual at the time as both actors and directors generally fell into one camp or the other. His first film for Cathay (MP &GI) was I believe the 1959 “All in the Family” and over the next ten years he was to direct some of their biggest and most critically acclaimed films – Wild, Wild Rose, The Greatest Civil War on Earth, the Greatest Wedding on Earth, Story of Three Loves and A Mad, Mad, Mad Sword.
Wang Yin, Wang Lai and Lucilla
The scriptwriter, Eileen Chang, was also a Shanghai native and is considered one of the finer novelists from China during the 1940’s and 50’s. Born into a well-connected family in 1920, her grandfather was a highly placed official of the Qing palace and her grandmother was the daughter of a prime minister. Her parents were separated and Eileen often seemed to be a pawn between them. At one point her father locked her up for a long period of time at home and she almost died from dysentery. In 1939 she left Shanghai for university in Hong Kong where she began to write for the school journal. Two years later the Japanese invaded the city – bombs fell right outside the dormitory – and Eileen returned to Shanghai which was also under Japanese occupation and she began her writing career in earnest. One of her works was Love in a Fallen City (made into a film by Ann Hui in 1984) and her writings became very popular at the time. Other films that were based on her writings are Red Rose White Rose (1994) and Eighteen Springs (1997). In 1944 Eileen married an official of the Wang Jingwei regime (the puppet government fostered by the Japanese) and after the war Eileen came under tremendous censure for her relationship with this collaborator. Much of this part of her life is depicted in the film Red Dust in which Brigitte Lin plays a character based on Eileen Chang.
At this point, Eileen began another facet of her writing career – film scripts – and in 1946 she wrote two scripts that were made into popular films in Shanghai – Love Without End and Long Live the Wife. She was still coming under heavy criticism though for her marriage and one newspaper called her “a walking corpse from the Occupation period” and in 1952 she left China (then under Communist rule) for Hong Kong. After a few years of odd jobs she was invited by the newly formed MP&GI film company to become a part of their script committee. Though she soon immigrated to the United States (1955), she was to write a number of film scripts over the next seven years from there. Her first script was A Battle of Love starring Linda Lin Dai and this was followed by scripts for A Tale of Two Wives, The Wayward Husband, June Bride, The Greatest Wedding on Earth, Father Takes a Bride, The Greatest Love Affair on Earth and Please Remember Me. Interestingly, most of her scripts were light, romantic and witty affairs taking a very female perspective, while her books for the most part seem to be very tragic ridden and depressing. To her, film scripts were basically a way to make money and she wrote them with a general audience in mind. Father Takes a Bride appears to be an exception to her usual script style - though it is not in any way tragic, it certainly indulges in a great deal of melodrama and contains very little humor.
Lucilla You Min is the grown up daughter of her widower father (Wang Yin, who also played her father in Her Tender Heart four years earlier), but she also has two much younger brothers (Peter S. Y. Dunn and Deng Xiaozhou) that she has to care for. In the first scene of the film, she is riding a crowded bus when she feels a pinch on her bottom and turns around and sees Kelly Lai Chen whistling a tune. One slap later she realizes that he is an old acquaintance from school and the pinching was done by some crabs he was carrying with him – maybe the only time a case of crabs got someone a date! They begin courting and this leads them to begin thinking of marriage, but it soon appears that her father is thinking the same thing with a female friend (Wang Lai) he has come to know. This leads Lucilla to all sorts of internal dramatics, as she fears that her brothers will not be taken care of by a stepmother – and in a bit of hit one over the head plotting device we witness the stepmother next door constantly abusing her stepdaughter. It all gets quite overwrought with no one acting very rationally and with the two kids whining up a storm. By the end I needed an aspirin.
Perhaps I am being somewhat harsh on this film as likely time more than anything has made it feel very dated – at the time it may have struck a much more emotional tone with its audiences with its themes of family, the importance of a mother, the subject of remarriage and the guilt this creates. But from a cinematic viewpoint there is much lacking here – the sets are drab, the chemistry between Lucilla and Kelly is non-existent and their romance is almost a foot note, the passage of time often makes no sense and the final frantic scene in which everyone is looking for the two missing children goes on for far too long. The best parts of the film were the little everyday things – the song on the radio that Lucilla sings along with as she washes the boy’s hair, the crabs for dinner and the delight it engenders, the outdoor scenes at the fair and the park and the trip to the outer islands.

My rating for this film: 5.5

Information on Wang Tianlin and Eileen Chang primarily from "The Cathay Story" and "Transcending the Times: King Hu and Eileen Chang".