Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Scandal (1974)

Scandal (1974)

Scandal (1974)

November 20th, 6:30PM in Garland 104 (2441 E. Hartford)

Set in the early twentieth century during the chaotic age of Warlords and the early Nationalists struggling against them, the film tells the story of two ne’er-do-wells Chen Ming (Michael Hui) and Chia Liang (Wang Sheng) who witness the rampant corruption going on at every level of government. They eventually decide to attempt to liberate some of the county officials ill gotten gains for themselves but in the midst of doing so they fall into the situation of acquiring information that gives them power over those around them. Now suddenly they are in positions of power and influence and even though everything seems to be spiraling out of control business seem to be going on as usual.

Scandal is the fourth and last collaboration between actor Michael Hui and director Li Han-Hsiang made at the Shaw Brothers studio. The other three being 1972's The Warlord, The Happiest Moment (1973) and Sinful Confession (1974). Before making these four films Hui had become famous with his television comedy/variety program The Hui Brothers Show along with his two brothers Sam and Ricky. American viewers can think of the program as a cross between Laugh-In and The Smothers Brothers and soon became incredibly popular. At this point Michael was offered the opportunity to try his hand at film at the then completely dominant Shaw Brothers Studio.

The four films he eventually made there were written and directed by one of the Shaw Brothers greatest in-house directors Li Han-Hsiang who had previously been known for his lavish period films and Huangmei Operas such as Diau Charn (1958) and Beyond the Great Wall (1964) but had later, after leaving the Shaw Studio for a time, branched out into erotic drama and comedy that frequently intermixed social satire and the four Hui collaborations are examples of this at its very best. The first of the four The Warlord cast Hui as a sometimes bumbling but always bombastic warlord who is morally ambagious to say the least. They follow his character through the glory days of the warlords in the 1920's through to the bitter end. Along with The House of 72 Tenants (1973) the film was instrumental in reviving Cantonese dialect cinema that had previously been outmoded by Mandarin beginning more then a decade before.

The next two films were anthologies that feature Hui in three separate roles each. The Happiest Moment being again set in the early part of the century and Sinful Confession which takes place in modern day Hong Kong. Both films take a comedic bent on the issues of greed, corruption and sexuality in society.

The forth film Scandal deals with corruption and government in the vein of the more things change the more they stay the same. In this sense out of the four Scandal is the most accomplished. When the two miscreants start to work their way into county government they soon discover they are probably the least overtly criminal officials around. Annotating this story there is one completely honest official, the county medical inspector who is completely oblivious to all shady goings on despite interacting with those perpetrating these acts on a daily basis.

After Scandal Li Han-Hsiang went on to make many similar films for Shaw Brothers throughout the 1970's. Michael Hui on the other hand ended his collaboration at Shaw’s owing to the limitations of the ridged studio system. He then joined the Golden Harvest studio which was becoming the Shaw Brothers chief rival at the time. There he was given complete creative freedom and control of his work which lead to a string of now legendary films that changed the face of Hong Kong comedy that he wrote, directed and starred in with his brothers such as Games Gamblers Play (1974) and The Private Eyes (1976). Ironically it was these films which significantly helped Golden Harvest win its fight against Shaw Brothers for dominance in the early to mid 1980's so to an extent in this case they played a major role in their own downfall.
Along with the other four Shaw Hui films Scandal is required viewing for those interested in the evolution of Hong Kong comedy and cinema in general and must be viewed to gain a balanced view of the Hui Brothers and their legacy.

Hong Kong, Director Li Han Hsiang. Starring Michael Hui Koon-Man, Tanny Tien Ni, Lily Li, Zhu Mu, Wong Sam, Ku Feng and Cheng Miu. In Mandarin with English subtitles, 94 minutes.

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