Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Mermaid (1965) with Li Ching

Ivy Ling-Po plays a male scholar in this oft-filmed tale. The scholar is betrothed to Peony Jin (a young Li Ching) but the father (familiar Shaw veteran Yeung Chi-Hing) stalls.

Meanwhile, a carp spirit (also Li Ching) plans to seduce the scholar.

As the film was made in 1964, it's more than a stage-y Chinese opera; there's an inventive use of the sets and some striking camera work early in the picture.

And it's worth noting that the script was by Chang Cheh.

When Li Ching's carp spirit glides across the water at night, it's a more interesting presentation of this sort of material than what was previously seen in some Shaw Brothers' productions. The effect is impressive for the time and the moment seems at once beautiful and a little eerie.

The carp spirit takes the form of Peony Jin and the hijinks begin.

There's some confusion and soon the scholar is in dutch with the family and the carp spirit-as-Peony is causing mischief.

The second half of the film concerns the trouble the case of mistaken identity is causing the court. Ouyang Sha-Fei as the matriarch of the family gets a few choice moments. And look fast for a very young Lily Li as one of the handmaidens of the court.

Some split-screen effects are used when both Peony and the carp spirit have to plead their case before the family.

The second half of The Mermaid (1965) is full of special effects, though they might appear a bit rickety to our eyes now. Still, it's clear from the production values on display here that the Shaw Brothers studios were actively trying to take this familiar tale and present it in a bolder fashion, presumably for overseas audiences as well.

Li Ching is quite good in this role, especially when a viewer considers her age at the time. Her presence makes the film feel less static and more filmic -- if that makes any sense. Watching this film, a viewer can sense the difference in styles from Ivy Ling-Po and Li Ching and see -- quite clearly -- how things were changing in the Chinese cinema world of the mid-1960s.

In a few years, the Shaw Brothers studios would pump even more time and money into the equally familiar Journey to the West series.

You can order The Mermaid (1965) on DVD here.