Director Zhu Shilin came under professional and political attack in Shanghai after the war and moved to Hong Kong – soon followed by his friend and collaborator Fei Mu. His work in Hong Kong’s nascent Mandarin-language film industry (most of it for leftist companies) ranged from historical dramas and earnest literary adaptations to sprightly comedies, the latter reflecting his long-time enthusiasm for Lubitsch movies. Case in point: Wu Jiaqi, which combines the ‘shining through’ qualities of the pre-war Shanghai classic Malu Tianshi (Street Angel, Yuan Muzhi, 1937, itself influenced by Borzage movies) with some smart, inventive plot twists and turns that are clearly indebted to Lubitsch. The direction is co-credited to Bai Chen, but no-one doubts that Zhu was the auteur.
Fellow refugees from the mainland film industry Li Lihua and Han Fei star as tough-minded factory girl Cui and a naïve young trumpet-player respectively. Friends in childhood, they meet again as adults and decide to marry – only to face unforeseen obstacles every time they name the day. There is little or no reference to the realities of Hong Kong life in 1951 (in Hong Kong almost everyone speaks Cantonese!), which confirms that the story remains rooted in a Shanghai sensibility. In fact, as the mainland’s new government moved to bring film production under complete state control in the early 1950s, films like this represented a direct continuation of the Shanghai traditions that were being superseded in China.
Wu Jiaqi was directed by Zhu Shilin and Bai Chen. It was set in Hong Kong just after the War. The main protagonists were two young lovers, interpreted by Li Lihua and Han Fei. The girl was called Ah Cui and her fiancé held the nickname of ‘Little Trumpet’ (Xiao Laba), because he plays the trumpet. It is a clin d’oeil to the character played by Zhao Dan in the famous Street Angel. Both of them were workers and because they were very poor, which was the situation of many refugees at that time in Hong Kong, their marriage was always postponed by some material difficulties. When he saw the film, Georges Sadoul said it reminded him of Il tetto by Vittorio De Sica (1956). It is true that the film has a flavor of neo-realism, although at that time, in Shanghai as in Hong Kong, Chinese directors knew very little of Italian cinema. Wu Jiaqi is a charming comedy in which the influence of Lubitsch can also be felt, full of good spirit and very merry, even if, as in a De Sica film, the optimism of the protagonists is sometimes mixed with bitterness. It is one of the best films Zhu Shilin (1899-1967) made in Hong Kong. He was a famous writer and director in Shanghai in the 1930s and early 1940s. He went to Hong Kong in 1946 and worked for several movie companies, first at Dazhonghua, then at Yonghua where he made Qing Gong Mishi (Secret History of the Qing Court) in 1948. Later he joined Longma and Fenghuang where he directed some of his most significant films.
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Cast and Credits
Scen.: Lu Jue. F.: Cao Jinyun. M.: Wang Chaoyi. Scgf.: Bao Tianming. Mus.: Li Houxiang, Chun Zhi. Int.: Han Fei (Xiao Laba), Li Lihua (Ah Cui), Li Ciyu (Wang Dagu), Lan Qing (la madre), Liu Lian (Wang Dasao), Jiang Ming (il padre), Ren Yizhi (A Ying). Prod.: Longma yingpian gongsi. DCP. D.: 110’. Bn.
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