Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Shepherd Girl with Julie Yeh Feng

The Shepherd Girl

This is the first film featuring actress Julie Yeh Feng that I've watched and I'm smitten. By 1963, I'm guessing that the actress was in the second wave of her acting career and, while she looks a bit older than the girl of the title, that tiny bit of age lends the character some weight which helps to ground the picture in a way that Li Ching's Sweet and Wild was not.

Julie plays Xiuxiu, whose father (Yeung Chi Hing) owes money to a local innkeeper. To settle the score, Xiuxiu has been promised to a hunter/trapper (Zhu Mu) despite her love for fisherman Kwan Shan (the real-life father of Rosamund Kwan).

The plot is pretty slight but the songs propel the story forward and Zhu Mu makes for an interesting villain.

Villain is probably not the right word because the guy is not entirely a bad sort, just not as refined as Kwan Shan's Dailong. The hunter even defends the village's lone fallen woman (Ouyang Shafei) just like Dailong does in a subplot that is largely superfluous.

There's a very moving sequence where an offscreen chorus sings of Xiuxiu's predicament while Julie Yeh Feng strides through barren woodscapes and an abandoned country temple, praying and thinking of her situation.

And if the final fistfight between Kwan Shan and Zhu Mu felt both entirely unnecessary and completely predictable, the manner in which it was enacted felt new to me, with Zhu Mu bringing a real modern acting style to the scene when it seems that he's "won" the fight.

This scene, the zooming-and-panning camera around the fight in the woods, and Xiuxiu's earlier solo scene all elevated this film into a richer work of art than Li Ching's very similar film.

And the songs were more memorable, especially the one sung by the men and women in the bonfire scene.

Now, I guess I should work backwards and find out more about Julie Yeh Feng's earlier films?

[As always, duriandave has some great links about actresses of this era, including this one about Julie Yeh Feng.]

You can order The Shepherd Girl on DVD here.