The Bachelor's Swan Song


Hong Kong has its share of horror films – many without any true scares – but I would pit this 1989 film against any of them. After watching this I have to conclude that there is nothing more frightening than a Chinese wedding! It would be easier to face a horde of yapping wolves or a revenge-seeking ghost than a prospective mother-in-law wanting the best for her daughter. This film traces in small detailed steps all the occurrences in the lives of a young couple from his proposal to the conclusion of the wedding and though done in a semi-dramatic/semi-comedic fashion much of it sent cold shivers of sympathy down my unmarried spine.
The young couple that set down this thorny path towards marriage is Kenny Bee and Maggie Cheung. They have been going out together for a number of years and have been trying to save up a little nest egg to enter into married life with – but events are put on fast forward when Maggie announces that “Auntie has not come for a long while” (Cantonese slang for a woman’s period). With a face as long as an Oliver Stone film, Kenny proposes and Maggie happily accepts. From this point on just about everything that can go wrong does. Kenny discovers that the nest egg that he left with his friend, Lawrence Cheng, to invest has gone south faster than a Boeing 747 and he has to borrow money from the friendly neighborhood moneylender, Shing Fui On. When your moneylender opens a cabinet for an application and a pile of cutting instruments fall out, you may want to re-think that loan.
Of course, these weapons are not nearly as sharp as the barbs thrown by the mother-in-laws at one another. They haggle over every detail like Kissinger and Le Duc Tho at the Vietnamese Peace Talks. Everything is a negotiation – the food, the number of tables, who the young couple will live with, the wedding gown – and soon the couple is ready for nervous breakdowns. I found much of this quite amusing and interesting as well – the way in which both families bring along their extended Aunties to the initial negotiation in order to show strength, the custom of the groom having to bribe his way into the bride’s home on the wedding day, the ceremonial offering of tea as a show of respect to the parents. Every little step brings added cost of course – and then Shing Fui On is on Kenny’s doorstep the night before the wedding and demanding to be repaid immediately.
Though almost too subdued at times and a bit slow moving, this little film feels it way through these wedding minefields with a nice eye and a sense of humor. Once it gets to the wedding it enters into high frantic gear and finishes in very satisfactory style. The performances from all involved are very good. Kenny attains a believable balance of a man looking as if he is being led to the executioners, but at the same time clearly very much in love with Maggie. Maggie is lovely of course and gives a very restrained but moving performance. She has a small crying scene that is perfect and real. Good support is given by Lydia Shum and Woo Fung as Maggie’s parents, Lau Kau as Kenny’s father and Meg Lam as Maggie’s friend. Showing up in cameos are Eric Tsang, Alfred Cheung, Wu Ma, Tai Bo (as the thief) and Pauline Wong and Jaime Luk as the unhappy married couple. In the same year Maggie and Kenny were again to team up in the superior romantic tale A Fishy Story.

My rating for this film: 6.0