31 December 2009 | BrianDanaCamp
"Cinderella and Her Little Angels" – Contemporary HK love story with Lin Dai
"Cinderella and Her Little Angels" (1959) is a black-and-white comedy-drama with songs and was produced by Cathay Studios, which, for a few years there, was a serious competitor with Shaw Bros. in the Hong Kong movie industry. It features one of the top female stars of the era, Linda Lin Dai, who was also appearing in many Shaw spectaculars at the time ("Diau Charn," "The Kingdom and the Beauty," "Beyond the Great Wall"). It offers a simple story about a tailor, Xiaolin (Peter Chen Ho), at a high-end fashion shop in Hong Kong who falls in love with a girl at the orphanage where much of the sewing and manufacture of the shop's products is done. When the girl, Danning (Lin Dai), visits the shop one day to deliver some finished goods, the manager and the other workers immediately recognize her potential as a fashion model for their upcoming show. It takes some doing, but Xiaolin gets Danning to agree to the job even though Madam Kong (Wang Lai), the matron at the orphanage, forbids it.
Danning's a success at the fashion show and even secures a donation to pay for the repair of the orphanage's crumbling wooden structures. Madam Kong refuses to accept the check and goes so far as to place Danning under a form of house arrest to prevent her from participating in the shop's "Brides of June" show. Danning's friends at the orphanage help arrange a clever subterfuge, involving the use of a mannequin from the shop that bears a remarkable resemblance to Danning, to enable her to "escape" and model at the show. Danning's success is dampened by further punishment from Madam Kong once she finds out. A near-disaster at the orphanage eventually causes the tide of feeling to turn.
It's a charming story and well-played by some top Hong Kong performers, but it's amusingly far-fetched at times. Even though the fashion shop is clearly set in the modern Hong Kong of 1959, the orphanage looks like something out of the 19th century, with its barracks sleeping arrangements, and a group of girls there, all of whom appear to be in their 20s, who seem to be sheltered beyond belief. "What's a model?" Danning innocently asks, yet once she gets a little direction from the portly shop manager, she's suddenly at the top of her game. What's even more startling is the way the girls at the orphanage are exploited, a la sweat shop labor, and made to spend their days sewing and manufacturing garments for the shop. In one number, they even sing happily about doing the work. Where was the ILGWU when you needed them?
There are seven songs in the film, one sung by Xiaolin, three sung by Danning, and three sung as choral accompaniment to the action. The best musical number is the first fashion show sequence, which lasts six-and-a-half minutes, and features Linda in all manner of costume changes, as the song comments, often quite frankly, on the fashions. Here are some sample lyrics and you can imagine what the outfits are like: "Modern people like to be sexy/They love to expose their body." "Wearing kimono and wooden sandals gives a lovely Japanese flavour/Westerners are naughty/They treat it as a nightgown." "It's like acting when in cowboy costume/This old lady must be a movie buff/If you chase after her you'll have bad luck." "Chinese lady suits are always cute/They show your figure completely/When you go shopping on the streets, you can always get a bargain in these." Needless to say, Linda is gorgeous throughout. (That cowgirl outfit is a must-see!)
The later bridal show, minus song lyrics, recreates wedding garb from different countries, including Malaya, India, Japan, Thailand, and China. Earlier, Xiaolin had a wedding-themed dream about Danning. Too bad the film wasn't in color, as Lin Dai's subsequent films at Shaw Bros. would be, including at least one with similar numbers ("Love Parade," 1961).
This isn't the greatest film I've seen Lin Dai in (that would be a toss-up between "Diau Charn" and "The Blue and the Black, Pt. 1"), but she was such a magnificent screen presence that I'd happily see every movie she's in. Peter Chen Ho would co-star with her (and most of Shaw Bros.' other 1960s female stars) at Shaw Bros. and would occasionally play mildly unscrupulous characters. He's a fairly decent and honorable guy here and he makes his feelings known to Linda's character fairly early on (although inadvertently), which saves a lot of wear and tear on the plot. The film is in Mandarin and most of the dialogue scenes were shot sync-sound, which means that you're hearing the actors' actual voices. IMDb gives a credit for singing voice to Xiuqiong Pan and I'm assuming she provides the singing voice for Linda. I'm submitting this review on the 50th anniversary of the film's release in Hong Kong.