Thursday, 9 August 2007

Eight Taels of Gold (1989)

All 3 of our leads in the Trilogy live in NY Chinatown. But in this 1, the lead - played by Sammo Hung - returns to his village in Guangdong, China. Most of the film revolves around his encounter with his childhood sweetheart Jenny, whose got herself a fancy English name as a fashionable emigre for USA (English name is more common in HK because it's a British colony. But not so in mainland China). As she's waiting for her future husband to pick her up from America, our hero, Baliangjin ('Eight Taels of Gold') and Jenny travels deeper and deeper into the village, and their old childhood flame gradually rekindled after 16 years of separation. The truth is more likely that the flame of passion was never extinguished. I suspect our hero Baliangjin leaves his village before she could reject him.

Eight Taels of Gold (1989)In terms of cinematography, this 1 is certainly the best of the 3 with natural landscape of the countryside presents to us like a travelogue of Guangdong countryside, and the generous use of the warm golden hues.

The movie features a diaolou, which is the ancestral home of our hero. The diaolou as seen in the film is quite dramatic as a tall dark tower suddenly rises up amidst the green rice paddies, complete with European battlements, fortifications, and turrets. Many of these buildings are located in the Four Counties (四邑) in Guangdong province. The 1 features in the film is only 1 in a 1833 scattered along the Pearl River Delta in Guangdong (these official 1833 diaolou are the remains of the original 3000+).

The significance of having the diaolou in this movie is its historical link with migration. These diaolous were erected in the early 20th centuries by Chinese immigrants returned home. They brought back with them the Western architectural styles where they had migrated to. Ask any 3rd or 4th generation Chinese in the immigrant - usually English speaking - countries of Australia, Canada, USA, NZ, etc, which part of China their great grand parents came from, their most likely answer would be Guangdong province (I say 70%). And the 2nd most likely answer would be Fujian (20%). Especially from the Pearl River Delta where HK is part of, and where the village in this film is located in. And all the rivers that appear in this film are therefore most likely the branches and tributaries of the Pearl River.

So our hero and heroine are retracing the footsteps of their grandparents in the early 20th century, migrating and returning to their ancestral home. The (his)story of migration repeats in the late 20th century as it was in the early 20th century. The story of Chinese diaspora.

Some director has a way of turning action actor into dramatic actor, and Mabel Chueng did it for Sammo previously with Painted Faces, and now this movie (interestingly Ann Hui turned Chow Yun-Fat from a romantic comedic actor into an action actor).

Fans of Sammo Hung please take note, don't expect him to do any kungfu here. He suppose to climb up the roof of a house unaided, but the camera never follows him, probably because the prop department handed him the ladder to climb up. In any case, he pulls off as a solid dramatic actor in a romantic role (so can Jackie Chan).

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