Saturday, 19 March 2016

Good Fortune of the Ting Clan

Folklore meets cinema and traditional ways meet modernity in a liitle-known but well-crafted Cantonese movie from 1951 丁財兩旺 Good Fortune of the Ting Clan. It's comedy but, as with most good Chinese film,works as social commentary. Sixty five years after its release, it's a window onto the past the younger generation might not know.  Worth a closer look !   In a country village a woman gives birth to quadruplets ! All are "fat and white" denoting health. The father weeps, because they already have five other children and can't afford another 4. Meanwhile, the father's simpleton brother comes in and announces that their pig has delivered a litter of 12. In folklore, multiple children signify good fortune. Will there be good fortune for these peasants after all ?

Meanwhile, far away in the big city, a rich man's wife prays to the Buddha.  She doesn't have children and her husband has taken on two gold-digger concubines, who don't have children either. Rich man reads in the newspapers about the quads. They are "Tung Heung" ie, they come from his native village, and his clan, so effectively by custom they're "family". So the rich couple go back home to the countryside, and adopt the poor couple's eldest son Sai Ngau (Little Ox), a typical old-fashioned country nickname. Poor mother rebels against husband but the kid is gone. Little Ox gets a "proper" name, Ka Keung, and grows up in luxury in the city.He goes  to upper middle school and comes back a gentleman.  He brings great happiness to rich Mr and |Mrs Ting, who are reconciled, the concubines banished.  His natural mother, however,  has never forgiven his father for giving him away, so Dad and simpleton uncle go off to the city, where the rich couple welcome them as family. It's an example of the extended family of a clan with the same name and origins, of intra clan adoption and the role of women, both wives are assertive personalities, not meek .

Cue for an extended sequence in which the country bumpkins discover modern life. Horrified by the cost of a rickshaw they think they can pay less by riding "third class" by sitting on the step not the chair. The poor Tings in their country rags have brought chickens as gifts. The chickens run round the rich Tings' palatial mansion. The poor Tings bounce on upholstered sofas, and are shocked by big beds. They cover the lamps because they don't know how to switch them off. Next morning, they're up at dawn, like country folk, while the rest of the house is still asleep. They panic because doors aren't shut by latches, but by strange devices we recognize as doorknobs. They discover the bathroom. "We could keep fish in that ", says one of them seeing the bathtub. The brothers try to lift the sink off the wall, as if it were a basin.  Water comes out of taps ! Rich Ting takes Poor Ting to the office. Untranslatable discussion of business terms and social protocols.  

The Tings meet the Big Boss and Miss Cheung Meyling,  a nightclub singer, who fancies handsome young Ka Keung. Miss Cheung sends a message to "That Mr Ting sitting next to Yuk Hwa" (Ka Keung's girlfriend and the secretary in his father's office), not realizing that the bumpkin beside the girl is  also a Mr Ting. Assignation goes wrong. She then concocts a plan to get Ka Keung to spend the day with her so he has to leave the office, where he's in charge while Rich Ting has gone abroad.   Poor Ding is expected to take over but he's illiterate. When he's asked to sign something, his brother says "Just mark a number ten" says his brother, (number 10 written in Chinese like a cross.)

More misunderstandings.  Poor Ting thinks Miss Cheung  fancies him but she's using him to get close to Ka Keung (not realizing their real relationship). There's a wonderful scene in which glamorous Miss Cheung takes the Tings dancing in her nightclub. Her bare shoulders would have been shocking to real country bumpkins, but they join merrily in the fun.  In real life the actress who plays her was a well-known singer.  Poor Mr Ting sings along too : he was played by Yee Chau Sing, a character actor with, I think, some training as a singer, which wasn't uncommon then.  Miss Cheung is touched by the simplicity of the brothers because .they don't treat her as a pariah for being a nightclub singer. Then Poor Mrs Ting turns up with her 8 remaining kids, all screaming "Daddy".

Rich Mr Ting and wife return from abroad and come across the scene. Poor Mrs Ting sees Ka Keung and says "That's my Little Ox!"  Ka Keung, who didn't know he was adopted is in for a shock. Rich Mr Ting explains and tells Ka Keung to acknowledge his birth parents and his whole bunch of siblings.  "How can you abandon your family?" he cries at his natural father. Then he announces he will marry Yuk Hwa, his schoolmate, and go back to the countryside to educate the poor  The rich Tings are proud of him. The poor Tings are reunited, and Miss Cheung announces she'll marry Poor Ting's good-natured brother Ah Choy.  So good fortune for the Ting clan all round.!

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