Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Chinese La Traviata - Lin Dai Love without End

There is no goddess of Chinese film greater than Lin Dai. Yes, others had greater range and the opera singers are icons, but Lin Dai touched something in the Chinese soul and continues to do so today, nearly 50 years after her tragic death.

This is a clip from the end of perhaps her most famous film, Love Without End. (But liu Ching in Cantonese). She's sitting on an island and flashbacks of her past fill her mind. She was a sweet, simple girl who became a nightclub star and fell in love with a playboy. He has money problems so she goes abroad with a rich man to pay his debts. When she comes back, she has bliss with lover and he finds out and walks out on her. Then she gets a fatal illness and retreats to the island to die (where she is cared for by a Catholic priest). Finally lover tracks her down and they're reunited but she dies, anyway. La Traviata ! Only the screenplay opens out wider and Lin Dai's portrayal is so memorable, so poignant, that no one has ever been able to top it.

The second clip shows the beginning of the film - wonderful historic footage of Hong Kong neon in 1961. Nightclubs were serious business then, the "modern" equivalent of teahouse or opera house. They were a cultural indicator of modern ideas and westernization. We see the young singer, in an old fashioned cheongsam, sing a folk song with a "mor dun" show band complete with electric guitar and bongo drums. Culture clash ! She goes on to be a big star but she is still a nice girl with Chinese values. In that era everyone was uprooted, thrown into different worlds, so people identified with Lin Dai, the nice, pure girl who didn't survive.

That's why Love Without End (Shaw Brothers 1961) is such a classic, in its own way a historic document. It's available on DVD with (I think) English subtitles. It deserves its place in the iconography of world film.

More nightclub scenes below for aficionados of 50's style. Note the revolving stage and Rachmaninoff pianist. This is the best clip for sound quality, and the wonderful performance of the song Wang Bu Liao, ("Can never forget") so haunting that it's imprinted in the psyche of all who know the genre.

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