9 February 2008 | BrianDanaCamp
IT'S ALWAYS SPRING - Hong Kong musical with good songs, engaging performers
In the Hong Kong motion picture industry of the late 1950s and early '60s, Cathay Studios was a rival of the better-financed Shaw Bros. studio. While Shaw Bros. turned out impressive widescreen Hollywood-scale spectacles, Cathay tended to focus on intimate dramas and comedies focusing on the ordinary workaday people of Hong Kong and China. IT'S ALWAYS SPRING (1962), filmed in black-and-white, tells a simple, charming tale of two rival female singers in Hong Kong who wind up signed to contracts at the same nightclub and forced to work on alternate nights. The rivalry soon extends to record deals and TV productions. The singers are Ailian Li, played by Julie Yeh Feng, and Tao Haiyin, played by Helen Li Mei. In the course of it, we get nine musical numbers, seven of them performed on the nightclub stage, with the singers, elegantly dressed, backed by a band and singing their hearts out. We get two larger production numbers late in the film, one in a TV studio and one on board a yacht, both of which involve chorus lines of accompanying dancers. (But they're still smaller in scale than the average musical number on an American TV variety show of the time.) The two leads team up for a duet at the end, with Helen in a sarong and Julie decked out in a white tux (shades of Marlene Dietrich!). Adorable teen star Annette Chang Hui-Hsien (aka Zhang Huixian) makes her film debut here as Ailian's younger sister Xiaolian, who also sings in a couple of scenes.
The simple production is filmed mostly on location, in Mandarin with sync sound (i.e. dialogue recorded on location, not post-dubbed). It's not a complicated story--a typical half-hour sitcom has more twists and turns--but the women look and sound great and the songs are generally very pleasant. (An exception is the silly "Won Ton Song," performed at the TV studio.) If you're the type that likes old Hollywood movies where actresses like Susan Hayward and Rita Hayworth would stop the show and sing a song, then you might find this enjoyable. I did.