31 December 2008 | BrianDanaCamp
THE LARK Hong Kong musical romance with comic subplots
THE LARK (1965) is a Shaw Bros. musical that stars Carrie Ku Mei as a singer named Xiaoyun Shi, dubbed "the Little Lark," who comes to Hong Kong after a tour of other Asian countries, seeking to make connections to further her career. The film has a total of 13 songs, with seven sung by Carrie, so it serves as an effective showcase for popular Mandarin songs of the era. However, it's saddled with a contrived plot about a reporter, played by Peter Chen Ho, who impersonates a visiting show biz tycoon from Singapore in the interest of getting close to Xiaoyun in order to write a tabloid story about a scandal in Thailand that involved her. Making things worse is a tiresome "comic" subplot about the reporter's brother-in-law, a private investigator who is constantly hounded on the job by his meddling, jealous wife, the reporter's sister. Several scenes are devoted to this nonsense and it makes a long film (113 minutes) seem even longer.
That said, the songs are at least consistently soft and soulful. Some are staged in a nightclub, some in Xiaoyun's apartment, and some in a recording studio. The finale consists of five songs performed at a charity concert, with a couple of them staged as more lively dance numbers, including one done in a distinct WEST SIDE STORY style with a "gang" chorus line singing lines like "Who's born to be a rowdy? Who's born to be a thug? Who made us delinquents?," culminating in the unlikely declaration, "Let us be useful to our society." Mona Fong (later a top producer at Shaw Bros.) sings "The Wedding Song," partly in English and partly in Mandarin.
One of the most interesting things about the film, from a visual standpoint, is the prevalence of modernist décor and works of modern art adorning practically every interior space seen in the film. The production designer had a field day, but apparently didn't read the script since the designs are often wildly at odds with the purpose of the spaces used. Would a tabloid editor's office, a private investigator's reception area, and a hotel lobby all have such strikingly abstract paintings all over them? The art direction is generally nice to look at, though, especially when the goings-on get more and more ludicrous.
The other singers featured in the film are Pan Xiuqiong, Mai Yun, Betty Chung Ling-Ling, Landi Chang, and Yibao Hua. The director, Hsieh Chun, also directed KNIGHT OF KNIGHTS (1966) and BLUE SKIES (1967), both also reviewed on this site. Carrie Ku Mei is pretty, charming and quite a good singer, but she's not the most forceful of Hong Kong actresses. Still, I'd rather have someone in the role who sings her own songs rather than a stronger female star whose singing is dubbed by someone else.
As Hong Kong musicals go, I tend to prefer BLUE SKIES and parts of HONG KONG RHAPSODY (1967) to the others I've seen, although THE LARK stands out simply by virtue of having more songs than the others. Even so, given the lackluster leads and the weakness of the plot, a soundtrack CD, if one was available, might be the best way to experience this film.