Sunday, June 24, 2018

Jiafeng xuhijang / Phoney Phoenixes / The Barber Takes a Wife

假鳳虛凰 / Jia feng zu huang / Fake Phoenix / [False fenici]
    Director: Zuolin (Huang Zuolin)
    Country: Cina. Year: 1947.
    Scen.: Sang Hu. F.: Huang Shaofen, Xu Qi. M.: Fu Jiqiu. Scgf.: Wang Yuebai. Mus.: Zhang Zhengfan. Int.: Li Lihua (la ragazza), Shi Hui (Yang), Lu Shan (l’amica), Ye Ming (barbiere n. 7). Prod.: Wenhua. DCP. D.: 92’.
    Restored by Angelina Fong at L’Image Retrouvée laboratory, Paris from a 16 mm copy from CDCC.
    Chinese version with English subtitles.
    2K DCP from a 4K scan from a 16 mm source with English subtitles from Centre de Documentation sur le Cinéma Chinois (Paris).
    Viewed at Cinema Jolly, Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato, The Rebirth of Chinese Cinema (1941-1951), 24 June 2018.

Marie Claire Kuo and Kuo Kwan Leung (Il Cinema Ritrovato): "In the political and financial aftermath of the war, Shanghai gave the illusion that it was a city full of opportunities and everyone was running after easy money. Li Lihua, a lady without means, and Shi Hui, the hairdresser, faked their identity, trying to convince each other that he/she was a good party for marriage. The film painted a ferocious picture of a society which gave few possibilities to ordinary people. Scenarist Sang Hu has written some of the best comedies of Chinese cinema and this sparkling and well-interpreted satire is still incredibly modern and funny."

"On July 11, 1947, about 800 hairdressers gathered in front of Shanghai’s biggest movie theatre, the Da Guangming, where Jiafeng xuhuang had its first projection, to protest against the way their profession was represented in the film. The management finally agreed to make some changes to calm them down. This incident helped the film obtain the highest number of ticket sales of all those produced by Wenhua. A journalist from “Life” magazine, then in Shanghai, made a photo-reportage on the two main actors. It was published and excited the curiosity of Americans about the film. Some months later, it pushed Huang Zuolin, himself fluent in English, to supervise a version of the film dubbed in English. Renamed The Barber Takes a Wife, it had quite a success in the U.S. Many were touched by the elegant beauty of Li Lihua and later she played the leading role in a Hollywood film, The Buccaneer (1958), with Yul Brynner." (Marie Claire Kuo and Kuo Kwan Leung)

Tony Rayns (Il Cinema Ritrovato): "Wenhua was the more sophisticated of the two leftist film companies operating in Shanghai during the civil war period of the late 1940s, probably because many of its directors, writers and actors came from theatre backgrounds. Not all, though: scriptwriter Sang Hu (who turned director himself the same year) had once been a theatre critic but came into the film industry during the war as a scriptwriter for Zhu Shilin and had a cinéphile sensibility. He infused this Lubitsch-like rom-com with lessons he’d learnt from Hollywood comedies of the 1930s. His satires of bourgeois manners and social climbing were loudly approved by pro-communist critics, but Sang turned out to be more an entertainer than a political animal."

"The wonderful Shi Hui plays Yang, star clipper in the Time Barber Shop, who poses as a business executive when he replies to a Lonely Hearts ad in a newspaper – little suspecting that the advertiser ‘Miss Fan’ is not a wealthy overseas-Chinese but a penniless young widow. Since the woman is played by the equally striking Li Lihua (who went on to star in movies by Frank Borzage, Li Hanxiang and King Hu), the film boasts two luminous performances and gives both stars the farcical situations and repartee which allow them to shine. Future director Ye Ming is also memorable as Yang’s co-conspirator, barber n.7. Director Huang Zuolin (here billed simply as Zuo Lin) doesn’t aim much higher than filmed theatre, but the script and cast carry the day." (Tony Rayns)

AA: A sophisticated Chinese comedy inspired by Ernst Lubitsch. A wonderfully fluid camera introduces us to the wizard "barber number three" whom all women want. He is like Warren Beatty in Shampoo.

When the barber is giving a haircut to a big businessman a debtor interrupts them, and it turns out that "everyone is up to their neck in debt".

The salvation seems to come via a newspaper ad where a 20 year old heiress seeks a husband. Our attention switches to two women who have invented the heiress thing. There is even a baby. They laugh at the piles of letters they receive and throw them into the wastepaper basket. Some of the letters are very poetic: "Together, we would reinvent humanity".

The barber and the businessmen decide to act together: the barber would marry the heiress, and the heritage would provide capital for the businessman.

This comedy of misunderstandings is at times funny, at times clumsy.

The DCP has been created from a battered 16 mm source.

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