26 February 2010 | SamuraiNixon
Cantonese Wenyi Realist Drama
This is one of the few early Cantonese language films available on DVD. Like The Kid (1950) it is most likely only available because one of its costars became the most famous martial artist of all-time -- Lee Siu-Lung. While Bruce Lee is only 13 at the time of this film he had already co-starred in several movies. While most think of Hong Kong as an action-oriented cinema at the time of this film socioeconomic (wenyi) melodramas were prevalent in many of their films. This was one of the early films produced by Union Film Enterprises (Chung-luen) which was built out of the South China Film Industry Workers Union.
The combination of drama and class concerns is quite evident in this plot. A young mother is spurned by her rich lover (Cheung Ying) after she has his son. She cannot pay her doctor bill so she leaves the kid in the Doctor's care. The Doctor (Lee Ching) adopts this infant (played by several actors during this movie including Bruce Lee) whom he takes as his own, his previous wife is no longer alive, and names him San. However, when he remarries, the new wife Lucy (Yip Ping: The Kid) has an extreme hatred of the adopted son and when she gives birth to her own son; she forces the husband to give up the boy in one of the most moving scenes in the movie. Luckily the nanny (Wong Man-Lei) takes him in (the son goes from a rich environment to a poor one). However, her husband is a no-good gambler who takes a dislike to this intruder even though the kid does a lot of work for the lazy man.
The son San (neither IMDb nor HKMDB have complete credits on this film and they are missing this name as well as many others; HKFA has better information but is wrong on a couple of plot points and misses the English names used for several of the characters) befriends a blind girl (this becomes an important plot point later), is subservient to his new mother and father, but because the dad hits him this ultimately causes the nanny to care too much for him and she loses her job. She makes by with her sewing skills, but ultimately tensions rise because of the loss of money.
Issues go from bad to worse when the new mother (nanny) dies because of a blow from the new gambling dad. He soon gives away the boy to settle a debt on the urge from his even creepier brother. The family and his birth mother finally comes back to settle debts and see her son, but San is now gone.
The final act of the film is silly, but quite similar to other Hong Kong class-oriented films from this era. It even has a final moralizing message spoken to the camera (that reminds me of The Dictator) while every plot end is taken care of. Good things happen to the good characters, if they are still alive, and the bad characters get their comeuppance. While the message is noble the didactic browbeating can be a bit too much.
Not a great film, but the camera work was decent and the direction from Chun Kim was good. Most effective were several of the emotional situations San went through. I also really liked seeing many outdoor shots of Hong Kong interspersed throughout the film. These scenes especially made me wonder how much the Italian neorealist movement influenced this film. The use of classical music on the soundtrack seems too sporadic, but this use was not uncommon in several of the 1950 HK films I have seen.
The Guiding Light will certainly be of interest to die-hard Bruce Lee fans and those interested in early Cantonese cinema. However, if you specifically want to watch this film because of Bruce Lee be warned that you will probably be disappointed since there is no action and the film is strictly a social melodrama. Personally, I still found much to be gleaned from this movie. I think many would prefer to watch The Kid (1950) over this film since it has more Bruce Lee (even younger), a better print and is talked about more amongst Hong Kong cinema historians.
The Cinema Epoch R1 release is particularly poor. I suspect that nothing better exists than this and the copy is better than public domain. But is has such a plethora of scratches, cuts, poor night scenes, jumping of the reels and audio difficulties especially towards the end of the movie that make the viewing experience more tedious than it should be. I would have appreciated the cinematography much more with a better print. The scene selection on this DVD is one of the cheapest methods I have seen by only using numbers to get to a particular unknown scene. The producers of this disc populated this movie with another young Bruce Lee role in An Orphan's Tragedy.