Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Place to Call Home with Li Ching *UPDATED*

A simplistic "weepie", 1969's A Place to Call Home is still required viewing for any fans of Li Ching. Or Irene Chen, for that matter.

Li Ching plays Ivy, the eldest daughter of a family led by father Yan Jun and mother Ouyang Sha-Fei. Add to this mix young sister Jane (Tong Jing) and conniving middle sister Irene (Margaret Hsing Hui) and the viewer is presented with one of those standard Shaw 1960s model families -- complete with a palatial estate consisting of perfect living spaces courtesy of the Shaw backlot.

The first third of this film is a lark; the film opens with Ivy competing in her school's field hockey game and that is followed up by the intoxicating sight of Irene Chen as Ivy's friend Lily driving her friends home from the game as the girls break into song like Annette Funicello's crew in an AIP beach picture.

The only drama is this section involves sister Irene trying on Ivy's dress, tearing it, and then an attempt to hide the tear from the girls' mother.

During a party, a family friend discusses the fact that eldest daughter Ivy is in fact adopted. Irene overhears this and then reveals it to Ivy.

Yes, as you can imagine, this leads to many crying scenes with Li Ching. While the film is not on the same level as Susanna, it is a similar experience and worthy of a Li Ching fan's time.

Ivy is soon determined to find her birth mother, played by future Shaw director Kao Pao Shu -- assistant director on such favorites of mine as The Twelve Gold Medallions -- and the mother is a bargirl who entertains sailors at night. Despite the mother's rundown living conditions, Ivy doesn't suspect anything and so waits patiently while her birth mother is out at work, her mother telling the girl that she is going to work at her job in a synthetic hair factory.

Shaw regular Yeung Chi Hing plays the lover of Kao Pao Shu -- essentially Ivy's new stepfather -- and immediately upon spying the young and beautiful Li Ching and he's making plans to turn her out into the bargirl life with the mom.

You can see what is coming next.

He chases Ivy around the apartment, she escapes and runs out into the rainy night to land on the doorstep of Lily (Irene Chen).

There's an attempted reconciliation with her adopted family but things are not wrapped up until the final school graduation speech by Ivy in which she reveals the importance of love and family and the viewer is now assured that Ivy has accepted her adoptive parents as her real parents.

I'd rate the film as rather standard and by-the-numbers but that's not to say that it's not enjoyable. The songs are pleasant and it's always a pleasure to see Irene Chen in even a small role.

Provided that a viewer has seen Susanna already, I'd say that A Place to Call Home is another worthy Li Ching film from the 1960s before she was underused in 1970s films.

UPDATED: I wrote this review in a vacuum and then noticed today that Brian had written an informative review of this already. Check it out for a bit more context than I can provide here.

You can order A Place to Call Home with Li Ching on DVD here.