8 March 2001 | BrianDanaCamp
A Chinese Opera from Shaw Bros.
THE GRAND SUBSTITUTION (1965), the oldest Hong Kong film yet seen by this reviewer, serves as a link to an older era of Chinese popular entertainment. This is a costume melodrama set in ancient China and includes several sequences where the dialogue is sung by the characters, making this more of an operetta than anything else. (The singing comes with English subtitles also.)
The plot has to do with a tyrannical government minister who tries to eliminate the heir of a branch of the royal family that opposes him. In a complicated maneuver a friend of the royal family offers his own baby to be switched and killed in place of the baby prince while another friend takes the rap and is executed for hiding the `prince.' In an ironic twist, the evil minister becomes a father figure to the real prince and treats him as if he were his own son. When the prince is grown, he meets his real mother by chance and eventually learns the truth and seeks revenge.
This is a colorful and beautifully filmed studio production, but it remains a highly overwrought melodrama from another time. The evil minister overdoes the villainy, continually sneering, stroking his long moustache, and pumping up his chest. I would recommend this for Hong Kong film completists and students of Chinese culture, but it might be a tough sell for others.
In an interesting casting touch reflecting certain Chinese theatrical traditions, the teenaged prince is played by actress Ivy Ling Po, one of the top stars at the time at the Shaw Bros. studio where this was filmed. She also co-starred with Jimmy Wang Yu in TWIN SWORDS the same year (playing a female, of course).