As much as I have enjoyed finally getting to see
many of the Cathay classics from the 1950’s and 60’s, I have to admit that
much of my pleasure rests in their familiarity. They tend to be fairly
conventional and easily fall within the traditions, style and framework
of Hollywood films from the same period (remember Hollywood was not a bad
word back then!). Plots are generally linear, scripts are well honed with
life like dialogue, acting performances are subtle and natural, camera
movement is smooth but rarely experimental and the stories and characters
feel based on real people and true experiences.
In other words they are very different in attitude
and style than the Hong Kong films that many of us know from the 1980s’
and 90’s. Those films captured our imagination for their speed, their recklessness,
their outrageousness, their willingness to bend reality and the rules of
cinema – and we loved them for this. But by doing so they often sacrificed
coherent plots and well written scripts – the focus was on movement and
that often more than compensated for characters and stories that were sometimes
paper thin. Cathay films have no movement, no flash – they are all about
character, sentiment and the script. One thing that both periods of film
have in common though are wonderful, charismatic actresses that dominate
the screen. That would of course be the other reason that I have so enjoyed
Bachelors Beware (1960) falls squarely into a
Hollywood comic tradition from the 40’s/50’s – i.e. “Every Girl Should
Be Married”, “How to Marry a Millionaire” – in which a very determined
female lines up a respectable man in her marriage sights and hunts him
down! In this film there are in fact four women who seem to have no real
goal in life other than getting married to a good man and settling down.
These sentiments are certainly outdated to a large degree – aren’t they?
- and may offend some – but they make for an amusing fluffy little film
in which it is impossible not to root for the heroine to get her man.
The heroine in this case is the wide-eyed and
adorable Linda Lin Dai. She comes to Hong Kong for the first time to marry
her cousin and childhood friend, Zhang Yang. Of course Zhang has no inkling
of this – in fact he is a consummate believer in marital freedom and has
three girlfriends twirling about him like Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders. At
one time he compares women to clothes – you change clothes every day, why
wouldn’t you do the same with women – and at another time to teacups –
he is the teapot, they are the teacups and a set is made of one teapot
and four teacups!
Linda clearly has her work cut out for her and
begins devising an exit strategy for the three girlfriends – Lin Hui, Yu
Suqiu and Dolly Soo Fung. Zhang may think Linda is still a little girl,
but behind those arching eyebrows and cute pout she has a mind that Machiavelli
would be jealous of! Slowly, but surely the competition disappears (she
gets rid of these clay symbolic statuettes as they do) – the first two
are easy, but the third is a tough old bird who won’t go down. Then as
a last resource, Linda brings out the heavy artillery – sex appeal – the
bathing suit ploy with crowds of men admiring her form – does it ever fail?
Appearing also are two other Cathay regulars – Kelly Lai Chen as Zhang’s
brother and Liu Enjia as the manservant.
Becoming one of my favorite directors is Evan
Yang who also scripts most of his films. After having seen Mambo Girl,
Air Hostess, Our Dream Car and now this it is difficult not to be impressed
by his ability to tell a story. His characters are eminently likable and
though there are strong elements of sentimentality, he never overplays
them. He also has a puckish sense of humor that comes out on occasion –
here the entire scene in which Zhang sees Linda in a bathing suit and the
follow up has no dialogue but instead has a song from a Greek chorus narrate
the story to comic effect.
"People are pushing and pulling
Because they want to look closer at the
It’s really her in front of my eyes"
Bachelor’s doesn’t quite have the zip of Mambo
Girl, the sweetness of Our Dream Car or the giddy coolness of Air Hostess
– but it is an enjoyable old-fashioned bit of mush that is appealing on
a simple level – especially for those who are fans of Linda Lin Dai.
My rating for this film: 7.0