Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Farewell, My Love (1969), starring Julie Yeh Feng and Kwan Shan. Directed by Chin Chien.

BOY, little did I know the second I started indulging myself in those import Shaw Brothers DVDs (from IVL) that went beyond the familiar territories of wuxia or martial arts what a rollercoaster ride they'd be. (I credit one "Glenn" over on A Pessimist is Never Disappointed with my excursions.) I've only seven of these kinds of titles, so far, but the sampling of dramas, comedies and musicals I've invested in has been an indoctrination to another reality of sorts! If you know what to expect with a Shaw movie containing swordplay or hand-to-hand combat, be prepared for a jolt with a Shaw "tearjerker", if you dare to take the plunge; you're not in Hollywood anymore!

In the case of Farewell, My Love, we have a drama with an issue which still holds relevance today: cancer. It's the reason why Jiang Han (Julie Yeh Feng) cannot conceive another child. (The cancer is only characterized as "inoperable", but maybe it's ovarian cancer?) From her diagnosis onward, it becomes anything but a Lifetime movie.

How does she decide to deal with her ailment? By courageously...letting it run its course, not telling any of her friends or family in the process!! That's right; she won't even go for a second opinion, and even the slightest possibility that something can be done to save her doesn't give her inspiration to fight it.

She accepts the fact (and a prescription for pain pills) she's only months to live; in the time remaining, she must find a woman to take her place as a wife to her architect spouse, Shimin (Kwan Shan, Police Story 2), and as a mom to her daughter, Lingling (Niu Niu, The Brave Archer 2).

As luck would have it, her husband recently hired an assistant, a pretty young lady with some emotional baggage of her own, Chuchu (Jenny Hu, Love Without End); she performs well at her job, but no one knows why she keeps a distance from the male co-workers who are attracted to her. Shimin thinks she's a touch strange; even so, Jiang Han quickly befriends her, not only inviting her to Shimin's birthday party, but also finding out why she is as morose as she is.

Chuchu's a widow; after a rough childhood, her husband was the only one who truly gave her love and affection, and his fatal car crash has left her isolated and lonely. With the passage of time, Chuchu practically becomes part of the family, even showing a fondness for Lingling to the point of giving her piano lessons. It doesn't take much longer before Jiang Han thinks Chuchu may be the suitable replacement for her. In fact, she's soon told by Chuchu that she's going to quit her job because she's fallen in love with Shimin!

Realizing her odd turn of good fortune, Jiang Han manages to stop her from quitting and keeps her around as a family friend; perfect timing, as it turns out, with the cancer beginning to drain out the life that's left in her. Shimin finally learns about Jiang Han's condition shortly before they go off on a trip to celebrate their tenth wedding anniversary; they eventually depart, letting Chuchu stay at the house to care for Lingling, Shimin not knowing if he will return with Jiang Han alive.

After that, I do not think I need to tell you how it ends; you may be right about the basics, but the way things exactly finish up would catch you unawares!

NO "SPOILERS"!

Farewell, My Love would rate more highly to me had I not previously seen an earlier Shaw release, Susanna (1967, directed by Ho Meng-hua), prior to this; I'm glad I did, because its quality shows how much FML is but a half-baked rip-off, despite good performances.

In Susanna, the teenaged title character (Li Ching, King Eagle) has a terminal brain cancer; like in FML, she tells no one until her time is nearly up, all the while trying to tie up as many loose ends in her life before she passes on. The movie even has in the cast actors who later turn up in FML: Kwan Shan, Niu Niu and Fang Mien (King Boxer), who plays a doctor in both films!

The big difference between the two movies is the script for Susanna is more cohesive and less riddled with holes than the one concocted for FML, where plot lines are only carried so far only to just move the story along with no tidy conclusions brought to any of them.

While fighting cancer in 1969 was a real uphill battle on many fronts, compared to now, I still could not believe Jiang Han giving up so easily; considering her spouse was a well-paid architect, and the family lived in a mansion with servants, I know Shimin had enough money (and health insurance) that an attempt to save his wife (or prolong her living, if only for weeks or months) could be done. (Susanna, with her brain cancer, had an arguably lesser chance for survival. Whether she had told her family or not about it, I believed her to be terminal, so her story's more plausible than anything in FML.)

Mainly, the purpose for this movie's existence was to showcase the talents of Julie Yeh Feng, a Hong Kong actress whose twelve-year run in films was ending in an early retirement. She had previously spent half of that time with the Cathay Organisation (Our Sister Hedy, 1957; Air Hostess, 1959) before finishing with Shaw. (Her 1964 Shaw debut,The Warlord and the Actress, was scripted by Chang Cheh.) She's a long way past the time when International Screen Magazine once referred to her as the "Kim Novak of the East", but once you get by the '60s hair and fashions in this (older pin-up shots of her, found on the Soft Film blog, are eye-popping), she's still quite attractive and does a fine job of acting, script be damned.

Jenny Hu comes off as an Audrey Hepburn type with a low-key performance that gradually blossoms as Chuchu comes out of her shell. Really, all the cast does work superior to the uninspired script they were given. (Any fans of the Shaw martial arts films will want to watch for Chuan Yuan, who'd go on to do movies like The Lady Hermit, Vengeance! and The Thunderbolt Fist, in an early role as this movie's only [lame] comedy relief.)

The IVL DVD is another nice example of Celestial Pictures' restoration efforts with a clean, anamorphic picture, very good sound and decent English subs; this cannot be disputed!

Unless you're a Julie Yeh Feng fan who wants all of her movies currently available on DVD, there's no good reason for anyone else to get FML; the other performers featured here were in films better than this, and you should try seeking out (and spending your money on) those ones, including Susanna!

Keeping it trivial....

Fang Shih-yu, Shaolin Temple.

P.S. - Purchase it from Play-Asia by clicking on here.

13 comments:

  1. Wow, I never bought this and I don't even recognize the cover art.

    duriandave at http://softfilm.blogspot.com/ has some good posts about Julie Yeh.

    You have got to break this up into paragraphs or something. It's a bit hard to read all together like that.

    And thanks for the mention too.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I know what you mean about "breaking it up"; it sucks royally I don't know how to INDENT!... At any rate, I'm still on a learning curve, so I appreciate your remarks and am working to improve myself!... I've seen the Soft Film stuff on Julie; however, I wound up picking up FML because it was marked down, and it had actress Jenny Hu, who caught my eye in a bunch of Celestial trailers! Like I said, the acting (including Julie and Jenny) didn't disappoint here, but "Susanna" was better made!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I really need to find this film when I go back to HK.

    I've got two Jenny Hu titles left to watch on VCD as I couldn't find the DVDs of those titles.

    You can use code for breaks in the HTML mode. If you use the compose mode, just hit return and it will do it for you.

    If you are pasting in the text from outside blogger, your results may be different.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thank you, Glenn, or is it..."Bluto"?! I'll try the HTML tip when I've time to!

    ReplyDelete
  5. OK, Glenn!

    I figured out how to break up my writing into paragraphs, so I've (hopefully) properly re-structured all my entries into something more readable for everybody!

    Again, thank you!

    Brother Fang :o)

    ReplyDelete
  6. Nice review, Fang! The melodramas that Julie made at Shaw Brothers are standard affairs but still quite enjoyable for their performances. The woman dying of a terminal disease is a perennial favorite in HK movies. I'm not sure how far it goes back, but at least to Lin Dai's famous Love without End (1961), which was remade with Jenny Hu in 1970 and again in 1993 with Anita Yuen (as C'est La Vie Mon Cheri). And I totally agree with you about Susanna. It's a masterpiece of that subgenre. Ho Meng-hua's sublime direction elevates it above the pack.

    If you're eager to see some more of Julie Yeh, I would recommend Sister Long Legs or The Warlord and the Actress, both of which are quite fun.

    Looking forward to following your blog! :)

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thanks for liking the review, duriandave!

    I take it you've seen FAREWELL, MY LOVE? What did you think of that ending?

    To me, I went, "WTF? This is IT?!" If a sequel had been done to this movie, THEN it would make more sense!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Fang, I had no problem accepting the ending. It's totally normal within the generic conventions of melodrama and just as implausible as any of Shaw's martial-arts movies. Both genres use over-the-top and unrealistic elements to heighten the drama.

    In the case of Farewell, My Love, all of the improbabilities and coincidences are used to highlight the virtue and self-sacrifice of Yeh Feng's character and to maximize the audience's sympathy with her through impossible trials and tribulations. That's why they call these films tearjerkers.

    Unfortunately, audiences nowadays (myself included) are much more cynical and expect a higher degree of realism from our entertainment. Although the realism of today is just as artificial as any of yesterday's styles. So-called "reality TV" being the biggest example.

    Anyway, when I watch a movie like Farewell, My Love, I try to totally accept it on its own terms. Melodramas may seem to exist in the same world that we live in, but actually they inhabit their own universe just as much as a sci-fi or wuxia film.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Oh, I'm used to "over-the-top", stretched boundaries of believability and abrupt endings from Shaws! (*SIGH*)

    I'm still working to accept this "alternate reality"! (Reality TV? That's even WORSE!)

    At any rate, there could've been one more thing tacked on to the end of this: a funeral scene where (more or less) Jiang Han's casket is in the ground with Shimin, Chuchu and Lingling standing together just above it. Shimin gives Chuchu a "Thank God you're here!" look, she smiles, and so does he. Lingling glances up at the two smiling, and after what must have been a lot crying on her part, she manages one of her own. Looks like Jiang Han's gonna get her wishes to come true...END.

    This would be a quick scene, of course, but it fits into the melodrama with a bittersweet sort of conclusion!

    Watch for an up-coming review of the drama RIVER OF FURY with Lily Ho and Danny Lee!

    ReplyDelete
  10. I've been curious about River of Fury for quite a while. Looking forward to your review. :)

    ReplyDelete
  11. Julie Yeh Feng's best role during her Shaw tenure was Pink Tears. She met her husband Ling Yun filming it. Their chemistry in it was unbelievable and Julie was still a stunning beauty when it was shot.

    ReplyDelete
  12. If that title's still easily attainable, I'll give it a look in the future! I like her from what one movie I've seen already, so trying another DVD with her is (happliy) a foregone conclusion!

    Thanks for the tip, terence!

    ReplyDelete
  13.       I just finished watching Farewell, My Love, and thought that it was almost as good as some Cathay films. Perhaps I am biased because it gives us Julie Yeh Feng and Jenny Hu in the same film, but I found it to be like a cross between the two versions of Love Without End and Susanna, with a touch of Pink Tears. Oddly, Guan Shan was the leading man in the original Love Without End, and in Susanna, and in Farewell, My Love (and in The Shepherd Girl and Unfinished Melody, too, actually). I've come to really like him. He brings out the best in the actresses he is paired with. I thought Farewell, My Love was heartwrenching, and almost as much so as such Cathay tearjerkers as Forever Yours, Devotion, and Her Tender Heart.

          I thought Julie and Jenny were great together, so I am grateful that the plot had them share so much screen time in so substantial and memorable a way.

          As for the ending, come on. It's pretty obvious what happens next. The daughter's song maximizes the severity of the situation and there is nothing left that wouldn't diminish its impact.

    ReplyDelete