20 November 2016 | samuelding85
Shaw Brothers Studio's Rare Portrayal of Singapore in the Late 1950s.
While fans of Shaw Brothers studio Hong Kong knows that the studio is famous for martial art films and erotica during the 60s and 70s, not many people knows that Shaw Brothers studio has a division which specialized in black and white (B/W) Cantonese melodramas, which it began in the 1950s. The Merdeka Bridge is one of the title under their wing. Shot entirely in Singapore, this is a rare gem that is available for public screening today. (Another movie shot in Singapore by Shaw Brothers studio is The Fragrant Durian, which unfortunately the prints were damaged and unable to be salvaged from their library.)
Shot in Singapore in 1959 and directed by Chow Sze Luk, The Merdeka Bridge follows the life of popular nightclub singer Sit Yin Mui (played by the late Patricia Lam Fung). Living with her mother, her good-for- nothing younger brother Sit Kei (played by the late Mak Kei) and younger sister, Yin Mui was always seen hanging around with Mr Lee, a married businessman who is fond of her and pays for her expenses. A road accident at The Merdeka Bridge brought Yin Mui and artist Cheng Man Wai (Cheung Yin Choi) together, which soon both of them falls in love. When Man Wai wants to further his art studies in France, he promised Yin Mui he will get married with her upon completing his studies. However, afraid that their living expenses will come to an end when getting married to Man Wai, Sit Kei and his mother demanded Man Wai to leave Yin Mui, so that she can get married to Mr Lee and ensure the family lead a life without worrying about living expenses. To worsen the matter, Sit Kei was in cahoots with Mr Lee, where he sets a trap for Yin Mui to sell herself to Mr Lee while Sit Kei gets the money. Having paid for Man Wai's school fees and living expenses, Yin Mui unwillingly accepts the proposal from Mr Lee (which was the trap set by Sit Kei). Tragedy falls on Sit Kei and his mother shortly after Yin Mui follows Mr Lee, which droves her world to the dark end.
This is a typical story line that was commonly seen in B/W Cantonese melodramas, which mainly portray the lives of commoners struggling to meet ends meet. Such stories tend to be popular among the common Chinese folks in Cantonese speaking regions, such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia, for the folks find the story tend to their daily lives. While the plot seems to be complex, it is rather straightforward and easy to understand. In terms of presentation, the movie mainly explores the romance and relationship between Yin Mui and Man Wai, while the story development were supported by Yin Mui seeing Mr Lee as her sugar daddy to support the family, and Sit Kei constants trouble with the law.
Compared to Cathay Organization's The Lion City (1960), The Merdeka Bridge pales in utilizing Singapore as the location to shoot the movie. With most scenes shot in the studio, fans who are looking forward to see the pre-independence Singapore will be disappointed, since it doesn't feature much outdoor shots. However, this is the only movie which features the housing estates in Queenstown, Punggol Jetty, the streets of Orchard Road before development and the lesser known Orchard Police Station, which has been replaced by major shopping mall today.
While Patricia Lam Fung's is the main attraction of the film, it was Mak Kei's performance of Sit Kei that makes the movie memorable. Playing the young man who constantly got into trouble with the law, Sit Kei can be seen as the root of the downfall in the Sit Family. For fans of the late Patricia Lam Fung, they are in for a treat, since she performs several songs in the film, on top of her beautiful looks. Cheung Yin Choi's portrayal of Man Wai seems to draw less attention, which there isn't much chance for him to explore his role. It is also worth mentioning that the late James Yi Lui, who was well know for Hong Kong's independent production in the 1970s, make his debut feature in The Merdeka Bridge with a minor role.
To sum up, The Merdeka Bridge is one of the rare hidden gem from Shaw Brothers studio which the film was shot entirely in Singapore. However, they missed the opportunity to fully utilize the location, since it wasn't a trend for Hong Kong studios to shot the movie outside Hong Kong. Nevertheless, it gave the younger generations a good opportunity to see Singapore in the midst of development before coming to where we are today.