Greatest Civil War on Earth, The
Hong Kong 1961
Directed by Wang Tianlin.

It's North vs. South, Mandarin vs. Cantonese. The local, Cantonese tailor Leung Sing-po suddenly finds himself in competition with a new tailor who has opened up next door and is a northerner, Liu Enjia. They immediately get off on the wrong foot. Liu entices customers in with slashed prices and higher commissions for the tour guides, crippling Leung's buisness. To make matters worse, the interloper has also rented rooms in the same flat that Leung's family lives in. Both are single fathers, raising a daughter of marriagable age and a grade school child each. The tension between the two tailors escalates until each are scheming the others downfall.

There are also some cross-cultural romances as well, as their daughters meet with boys and fall in love. But of course, each girl pairs off with their opposite, northern with southern, and vice versa. It's enough to drive their fathers mad.

This is a very funny movie. This kind of spiteful production often doesn't work, mainly because the characters are too cruel to each other to be very likable. Here, their conflicts are fairly mild, and played with such good humor that you can't help but laugh. Liu Enjia and Leung Sing-po, both portly gentlemen who always play father roles, steal the show and provide almost all the laughs. A priceless moment involves the two trying to drown each other out by singing Opera -- of course, Liu sings Beijing Opera while Leung sings Cantonese Opera (in a falsetto voice, no less).

The girls are charming as well, especially Christine Pai Lu-ming, falling for the shy but wealthy northerner Kelly Lei Chen. And Kitty Ting Hao plays an airline stewardess falling for a Cantonese salaryman. The younger generation doesn't find the cultural differences to be a big deal, while the older generation can't stop bickering over them.

This movie, written by Stephen Soong, is the first of a trilogy to include THE GREATEST WEDDING ON EARTH and THE GREATEST LOVE AFFAIR ON EARTH, both written by Eileen Chang. All three pit Liu Enjia and Leung Sing-po against each other, North vs. South. I'm not sure if this plot line wouldn't begin to wear thin after three movies, but it held up nicely through one. Quite popular on its first release, THE GREATEST CIVIL WAR ON EARTH should still find a receptive and delighted audience today. Change Northerner vs. Southerner to Beijing vs. Hong Kong, and it seems that nothing much has changed in the intervening years.

Rating: Highly Recommended (Highly Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on October 25, 2005.

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