Little Sister-in-Law a.k.a.
Most HK film fans from the West first glimpsed
Brigitte Lin in one of her mesmerizing fantasy roles of the 1990s. That
first look was like a bolt of electricity directly fed into your nerve
synapses. Who was this woman? What was this woman? Seemingly more a force
of nature than a flesh and blood actress. Whether she was a man transmuting
into a woman (Swordsman II) or a woman coyly disguised as a man (Handsome
Siblings) or a woman warrior deeply in love with her comrade (Dragon Inn)
or a vengeful daughter seeking revenge for her parents (Deadful Melody)
or a killer softened by her love for a man (Fire Dragon) or an insane gender
switching schizophrenic (Ashes of Time), she held us transfixed with her
infamous glare, her enigmatic smile, her swirling grace and her rapturous
presence. She exuded power, confidence, beauty, style and charisma unlike
any actress – ever.
Even with all the wonderful HK actresses in
the 90’s, it is hard to imagine any of them playing the roles that Brigitte
took on. Without Brigitte one has to wonder if this fantasy genre would
even have existed – she gave it life and respectability and pure cinematic
magic. When she retired in 1994, the genre soon followed in her footsteps.
Of course as one delves more into HK films it
soon begins to filter through your consciousness that Brigitte didn’t suddenly
appear one day – a gift from the Gods – to play Asia the Invincible – but
that she had a previous life in film. In fact you begin to realize that
she was that mysterious and alluring killer behind the sunglasses and underneath
the blonde wig in Chungking Express, the sublime Ice Princess in Zu, the
witness in Police Story and the idealistic freedom fighter in the classic
Peking Opera Blues. Then you chance upon her in films where she is left
emotionally bare – searing dramas like Lady in Black and Dream Lovers –
and you begin to understand what an incredibly good actress she really
is. Its more than just presence – its more than whirling robes and shooting
scarves – its more than painfully beautiful close ups – its more than larger
than life characters – this woman is a great actress – pure and simple
– and she can act the hell out of any role and reach out and grab the audience
by the heart or by the throat.
Before all this, there was Lin Ching Hsia. During
the 1970’s this actress was a hugely popular star in Taiwan – churning
out weepies and light comedies – and becoming basically the sweetheart
of Taiwan and the many Chinese communities around the world. As YTSL has
informed me, to this day there are many Chinese who don’t even realize
that Lin Ching Hsia and Brigitte Lin is one and the same person. They have
never connected that fierce presence on the screen of the 90’s with the
gentle, sweet characters of their youthful memories.
When you take in the totality of Brigitte’s
career it is certainly momentous and awe inspiring. It spans the golden
age of Hong Kong film and she was a vital part of it all. From her debut
in 1973 (at the tender age of 19) through the Taiwanese weepie days – through
the low points of her campy collaborations with director Chu Yin-Ping (Demon
Fighter, Amazon Commandos, Fantasy Mission Force) in the early 80’s to
her “re-discovery” and “re-invention” under the direction of Tsui Hark
in Zu and Peking Opera Blues. Finally to the glorious years of the early
90’s to her all too early retirement in 1994 on the cinematic highs of
Ashes of Time and Chungking Express. Her life would make a hell of a movie.
Sorry for blathering on – I just have to
Brigittophize from time to time – and I don’t actually have much to say
about this film! Watching these old Brigitte films is always a bit of a
gamble in terms of them having sub-titles or not. As the opening credits
role, you hope that they will – but as often as not they don’t. Since I
am not really watching these for the story lines that tend to be fairly
anemic - but simply to see Brigitte – I go on with or without sub-titles.
In this case the film did not – and I have
to say I was a bit confused about what was going on. It was a family comedy
taking place in modern day times. From what I could gather – Brigitte’s
older sister and her husband (Ko Chuen-hsiang – Tiger in Jackie Chan’s
Mr. Canton and Lady Rose) come to visit Brigitte and mom and dad in Taipei.
For some reason, the sister doesn’t like going out – I think because she
is trying to get pregnant – and so Brigitte has to pass herself off as
Ko’s wife on business/social occasions. So at a business dinner she gets
herself all dolled up – looks like a million bucks – and knocks out everyone
at the dinner table with her charm and dazzling looks.
She has a bit too much too drink - dances
closely with the brother-in-law – comes home – does a few cha cha cha dance
steps (which made the entire film worthwhile) and passes out. For a while
I thought this was definitely leading to Brigitte and the brother-in-law
having a torrid affair – but no such luck – just wishful thinking. Instead
though Ko is invited to spend a weekend with a business contact at a posh
hotel – and he has to bring his wife – whom all these people think is Brigitte.
The real wife comes along and pretends that Brigitte’s boyfriend is her
husband and they play musical rooms.
It’s sort of amusing in a Andy Hardy innocent
way – but not one of Brigitte’s early classics like Run Lover Run.
My rating for this film: 5.5