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  • Warning: Spoilers
    'Hong Kong Rhapsody', from 1966, is director Inoue Umetsugu's(alias Jin Shang Mei Zi) follow-up to his Shaw Brothers-produced 'Hong Kong Nocturne', from 1965, a remake of one of his own Hollywood/Japanese style musicals. Inoue Umetsugu may not have been great at directing drama. Usually his attempts at drama are very clichéd and forced, but he knows how to add fun, style, and flavor to a film. The characters in the film feel two-dimensional. This is probably due to the Shaw Studio's "cookie-cutter, crank-'em-out-quick" policy, but the thespians add some life to them. The musical/dance numbers are very reminiscent of the ones we'd see in a Hollywood film or a Broadway stage production. In 'HK Rhapsody', a young, female, vagabond orphan, disguised as a 15 year-old boy, Chang Xiao Ping, portrayed by Li Ching searches for Chen Tsz-hsin, a magician colleague of her late father, Chang Te-chiang. When Xiao Ping finds Tsz-hsin, he's seducing two different women, played by Angela Yu-chien and Helen Ma, at different times and he tries to cheat them out of money. Both women want retaliation against him when his scam is uncovered. After being deserted by both women, Xiao Ping joins Tsz-hsin in his magic show. When Xiao Ping, in a "magic" box, sings a song about a pensive bird, Tsz-hsin runs "magic blades" into it! The audience starts to panic when something resembling blood oozes out of the box! That was some good, dyspeptic humor! DON'T TRY THIS AT HOME, FOLKS! Thankfully, Xiao Ping is unharmed by the magic blades. After Tsz-hsin ditches some people who are at odds with him, Xiao Ping joins him. After getting kicked out of his apartment and the fact that Xiao Ping is homeless, Tsz-hsin and Xiao Ping find shelter from the rain at an HK villa where nobody is living at; the house belongs to miser Lin Chin Fu. Xiao Ping takes a bath when Tsz-hsin finds a suicide note; later he finds out the suicide note is twenty years old. He looks for Xiao Ping to notify her about the suicide note, barges into the bathroom, and finds out she's a lovely, 19 year old girl! Tsz-hsin falls in love with Xiao Ping, but he keeps his hands off of her for the sake of his late friend, Te-chiang.

    While throwing a grand party at the villa for the poor, Xiao Ping's birthday, and the memory of Yu Hua, the girl who killed herself and she's also the daughter of Lin Chin Fu, a guy with a cane(Yang Chih Ching) comes to the party and Tsz-hsin gets him a drink. In the background, Li Ching,looped over by Jing Ting, sings merrily while everyone enjoys the party. The man with a cane asks Tsz-hsin who the young lady, specifically, Xiao Ping, is; the man with the cane is revealed to be Lin Chin Fu! Xiao Ping resembles his late daughter and she could be his grand-daughter. When Tsz-hsin and Xiao Ping have to go their separate ways, due to Tsz-hsin's infamous reputation with women, Chin Fu takes Xiao Ping into his home and he plans on sponsoring a large scale musical, also called 'Hong Kong Rhapsody' starring Xiao Ping, with Chin Fu's niece, portrayed by Allison Chang Yen, and her aspiring musician friends(very convenient cliché, huh?). However, Lin Chin Fu's accountant(Wei Ping Ao)secretly wants to get his hands on Chin Fu's wealth...and Xiao Ping! There are also old enemies who want to collect debts from Tsz-hsin when he becomes a co-producer on the stage show. Will the show go on despite the chaos in the background?

    'Hong Kong Rhapsody' is gaudy, dated fun from a lost era in cinema. At one time, starlets dominated the silver screen in Hong Kong. Things changed when filmmakers like Chang Cheh added lots of vigor to the screen. Li Ching, Allison Chang Yen, and their co-stars show off some sassy grace during a series of musical/dance numbers. Cutie-pie Chin Ping, sultry Lily Ho, and stunning Margaret Hsing Hui guest-star in a musical/color/emotion/montage(red for violence, blue for melancholy, and yellow for bliss; kind of like Zhang Yimou's 'Hero'). I'll never forget the first time I saw Li Ching(Li Guo Ying and "Baby Queen") in this film. I had a stressful, depressing day in the Summer of 2004; when I witnessed Li Ching singing(with help from Jing Ting), I was pulled by a tractor beam into her realm of bubbly charisma and charm! I wanted to live again! She makes me happy just to be alive! Then again, Li Ching dropped out of the acting scene in the 1980's, she retired, and now she's about 56 years old(assuming she's still alive). If you're out there Ms./Mrs. Li Ching, we love you! Wo men ai nin! Nin hao yeh! You have a new generation of fans! You're worthy of idolatry! What's great about Li Ching is that she's an unconventional starlet; at 100 lbs. or 200 lbs., she's still worthy of idolatry! I just love her cute looks, her large flying-saucer eyes, sensuality, and her solid acting abilities. I recommend 'Hong Kong Rhapsody'!
  • 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.