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蘇小小 (1962)
So Siu Siu

Reviewed by: dleedlee
Date: 09/21/2004

Quite simply, one of the most gorgeous Hong Kong films I’ve ever seen.

The story is that of So Siu Siu, orphaned as young girl, who goes to live with her aunt a brothel operator. Siu Siu grows up to be a clever and talented songstress. She falls afoul of the powerful Prefect Meng when she refuses to ‘drink’ with him. Though she works in a brothel, Siu Siu caters to the higher arts such as poetry, music and song. A chance encounter with the Prime Minister’s son, Yuen Yu, and the two are smitten. The son, who is in disguise while on his father’s business, hides his identity because he knows Siu Siu disdains the rich and powerful, especially those that frequent the brothel and curry her favors.

Yuen Yu and Siu Siu marry but are soon separated when the Prime Minister returns and refuses to accept the marriage. He takes his son home and tries to marry him to a general’s daughter. Siu Siu falls ill from the grief and separation. She sacrifices herself to the lascivious Meng for a handsome sum of money to save her fellow songstress,Tsui Yun, from a unwanted marriage to old man Wang a powerful merchant, Tsui Yun runs off to start a new life with her true love Ning.

I’m not familiar with Pak Yun and Chow Chung who play Siu Siu and Yuen Yu, respectively, but both are quite effective in their roles. Wong Man Lei has the role of the aunt Ku and Cheung Wood Yau plays Pao Yen a struggling scholar, skilled musician and aspiring official that Siu Siu supports. By film’s end he returns having passed his examinations. Lo Dun plays the dastardly Prefect Meng. Ko Lo Chuen appears as a minor official and Lee Pang Fei is the Prime Minister.

There’s not much ‘action’ in the film, one rooftop escape scene, a bit of slapping around here and there. Instead, there is a poetry challenge issued by Prefect Meng to Siu Siu, Cheung Wood Yau sings three songs (I believe it’s his real voice) and Pak Yan a couple more.

So Siu Siu’s story could have be told in an melodramatic and over the top style. But director Lee Sung-Fung unveils the story in a more staid and understated manner yet delivers a taut and riveting tale throughout. With actors like Wong Man Lei and Ko Lo Chuen, one could have expected their typical wailing and flailing bombastic acting style. For the most part, the director has them under his reins. Lee continues to explore the world of the high and the mighty versus the low and the disadvantaged.

The story opens with a lengthy travelogue documentary, a little over ten minutes, about the famous West Lake area of Hangzhou where the tomb of So Siu Siu rests before the story proper begins. A number of scenes seem to be shot at actual West Lake locations. One drawback of location shooting, there seems to be an electric wire that went unnoticed in one outdoor shot.

The color – it takes my breath away. The colors are so rich and saturated, it makes the Shaw Brothers’ presentations pale. The costumes and the sets look positively stunning. Were the storytelling not half as good as it is, the visuals themselves would be sufficient to recommend this film. I think I watched this film four of five times the first two weeks I had the video and I could start watching it at any point and become immediately entranced.

Reviewer Score: 8