Maid from Heaven, A
Hong Kong 1963
Directed by Ho Meng-hua, Chen Yu-hsin.


The back of the DVD states that it "took two directors, three assistant directors, and four cinematographers to capture the remarkable epic..." which seems hard to believe considering that all together about all they did was set up a camera and let it run. This is most static and stagebound Huangmei Opera I've seen yet, and it goes without saying it is also the most dull.


There is a grand total of about five different sets on which the entire story takes place, what little story there is. Seven maids in heaven (Set One: rocks, over which the smoke machine is working overtime) look down on earth and take turns singing songs about what they see. One sings about fishing, another about farming, and so on. Then the youngest sister (Fang Yin) sees Tong Yong (Ivy Ling Po), a young scholar, on the road and immediately falls in love. He is going to his new master, having sold himself into slavery to pay for his father's funeral. Seventh sister sneaks down to Earth and confronts him on the path (Set Two: The woods. A bridge or two, a clearing, a big tree).

Somehow, right there on the path and thus saving countless dollars so as to not have to re-situate the action at another location, she meets, and under a pretext, marries the young man, with the Ash tree acting as their witness (and sprouting a face for the occasion).

Next up is the only interesting portion of the story, they see his new master, who is outraged that the young man got married, and in the ensuing argument, makes a wager with them: if she can spin 10 bolts of silk in one night, he will cut Tong Yong's period of servitude down from three years to 100 days, if she fails, he must work for him for six years. Tong Yong craps his pants when he hears this, but his fairy wife is gung ho, and brings down her sisters to give her a hand. Alas, after this Rumplestiltskinesque interlude, the couple go back out to the woods (Set #2 again) where they sing away the rest of the movie.

This is no Li Han-Hsiang production, so the limited number of sets are rather shabbily constructed for a Shaw Brothers film of the era. In the woods, one can even clearly see the seams of the matte paintings in the background. The leads do a poor job lip-synching the songs (they do not sing them themselves, as was common for Huangmei opera movies). Anyway there are far too many of them, and they are monotonous. The acting is also nothing to write home about, though Fang Yang is cute as a button, her relationship with her husband is less than convincing, especially since he is being played by a woman (Ivy Ling Po). Haven't enjoyed a Ling Po performance yet, though I hope to someday.

Really, is there anything good about this movie? Well, the talking tree was fun, if silly looking. And the silk-weaving marathon is fun, especially compared to what comes before and after. A magic crane makes a quick appearance, which is also a bonus. At the end, some heavenly generals come down to pick up the wayward maid. This could have been a cool scene, but for the most part it isn't. There is a great bit in it, though, when Tong Yong refuses to let them take his wife, they threaten him with their weapons. Only one of them has a sword, though, so one of the heavenly generals threatens the young man with what looks to be his ukelele. I suppose, given the exhausting amount of singing in the movie, this threat shouldn't be taken lightly.

Rating: Not Recommended (Not Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on December 24, 2005.


Comments

I agree this was not the greatest huangmei musical ever made. For that, you have to view The Love Eterne. Ivy Ling Po was a versatile actress and you can enjoy her in many roles. She was great as the legendary woman warrior in The 14 Amazons, a TB stricken wife in Too Late For Love, a nightclub singer in Song Of Tomorrow, a one-armed swordswoman in The Crimson Charm, a longhaired ghostly warrior in Finger Of Doom, a self-sacrificing wife in The Younger Generation, an old witch in Golden Swallow, a young prince in The Grand Substitution, a male scholar in The Mermaid,
a lady general in Lady General Hua Mu Lan, etc. She has won countless awards. So take your pick. I am sure you will enjoy a Ling Po performance one day soon.

Posted by: Terence Lee at January 18, 2006 12:48 PM

After reading the above review, I feel that you understand very little Chinese culture.

I would like to suggest you to study further Chinese mythology to truly appreciate those hevenly generals without swords. I would also like to suggest you to study Chinese social order to understand what are the 4 principal social groups in ancient China.

An last but not least, next time when you go shopping for Chinese antiques, please do not repeat quotes from your review. Otherwise, most likely the salesperson will make sure that you pay the highest possible price for a piece of fake antique.

Sincerely

Posted by: Antoine Blanche at April 4, 2006 03:30 PM

I agree with Terence and Antoine. This is a musical/fantasy performed by an style of chinese opera that's meant for the stage. You have to try to remember that it's theatre that's been recorded onto a DVD disc. It's not a movie as far as movies go. On top of that, it's folklore/mythology. Enjoy it for what it is. Ivy Ling Po was very convincing in a male role in this movie. And she sang for herself in all her huangmei diao movies.

Posted by: Angel at April 13, 2007 01:46 PM

Readers interested in production details of this and other Huangmei Opera films should visit Angel's excellent site, at www.ivylingpo.com. Regarding the above comments, I have seen most of the Huangmei opera films produced by Shaw Brothers, and though some of the problems of A MAID FROM HEAVEN are inherent in the genre, most of its problems are due to it being a cheap-looking, poorly adapted genre cash-in without artistic merit.

Posted by: PTN at April 16, 2007 09:39 AM
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