18 July 2008 | BrianDanaCamp
HONG KONG RHAPSODY Li Ching shines in entertaining Shaw Bros. musical
HONG KONG RHAPSODY (1967) is a charming, well-made romantic musical comedy-drama with an interesting plot and characters. It's one of the better Hong Kong musicals I've seen so far. (BLUE SKIES, also 1967, and also reviewed on this site, is another good one and probably the best I've yet seen.) Peter Chen-Ho stars as a playboy magician who changes his ways after he becomes the guardian of a young singer (Li Ching), the daughter of a deceased magician buddy. There's a miserly old millionaire (Yang Chih-ching in one of his biggest parts) whose niece is putting on a show and Peter manages to get Li Ching cast in the show, which prompts the millionaire, who has taken a paternal interest in Li Ching, to back it financially and take the girl under his wing, all with the approval of Peter, who wants to distance himself from her for fear that his bad rep will hurt her budding career. She, however, has fallen in love with Peter and resents his seeming change in attitude towards her. Will true love prevail?
There are lots of musical numbers, including a big one near the end about being nice to the poor that features a bunch of familiar Shaw Bros. character actors. I've seen Li Ching in quite a few Shaw Bros. movies, mostly costume action and dramas (THE KING WITH MY FACE, THE LONG CHASE, KING EAGLE, etc.), but she's at her prettiest here and has a steady stream of attractive costume changes as well. The film is a little too long at 122 minutes, but I stayed with it.
One of the problems though, and the same one I've had with pretty much every Hong Kong musical I've seen so far, is that the songs and dances just aren't very good. There's a lot of production value on screen, but either the choreography is haphazard or the dancers just aren't that competent. And the songs are all a little too...heavy. Where's the light touch, the sense of fun that these numbers needed? The average Elvis Presley musical made in Hollywood during the same period had better songs and dances. The more apt equivalent in American pop culture of the time would be the musical numbers on a TV variety show like "Hollywood Palace," although even those would have been better. I don't know what relationship the 1960s Shaw Bros. musical had to contemporary Hong Kong pop music of the era, although I'm guessing it was about the same as the relationship of the Elvis musicals to larger currents in American pop music of the time, i.e. practically nonexistent. To be honest, from a musical standpoint I happen to prefer the Shaw Bros. Huangmei operas of the period (THE BRIDE NAPPING, LOVE ETERNE, DREAM OF THE RED CHAMBER, etc.) to the contemporary musicals.