Our Dream Car
Hong Kong 1959
Directed by Evan Yang.

A lovesong to capitalism, and the pinnacle of human desire: the car. It will spice up your life! Make you feel rich! Improve your sex life! Make you a movie star! Yes, all this -- and more! -- can be yours if you just sign on the dotted line and bring a new car home. And that's just what newleyweds Zhang Daming (Chang Yang) and Jiaying (Grace Chang) end up doing, shortly after bumping into the young man she was originally engaged to be married to (Kelly Lai), long ago, who vanished then; only to turn up now as a car salesman. Looking to be the ideal husband, Daming buys the car, utterly heedless of the cost.

They can't afford it, and one is at first hopeful that the film will explore the effects of flippantly getting into an agreement to own a car. One imagines them losing everything, a ruinous melodrama with a heavy-handed moral. Alas, nothing much happens. They get the car, realize neither of them have a driver's license, and spend time together in the parked car pretending to drive in an interminable scene at the film's midway point. By now I was imagining that, after getting their licenses, they would pull out behind a truck carrying metal poles; the truck would have an accident, and a pole would shatter the windshield of their little car and pin Jiaying to her seat. In her last, gurgling breath, she would say, "I can drive, I'm so happy," and die. But again, it was not to be. Toward the end, their salesman friend enlists them in the "Dream Car Pageant," and they dress up and present a car at the racetrack in an unexceptional scene. By this point it is clear that not much is really going to happen to them in the movie, and this time, my imagination proves true.

There are interesting things happening in the periphery of the story, however. There is a dark jealousy brewing all about them. The woman who rents the room next door seems to be rather free, she drives Daming home one day and he doesn't mention it to his wife, then she brings in a box he left in her car. There is very little explanation to be made, but the tension is there. For Jiaying's part, she goes out several times with her former fiance, leaving Daming stewing. But when they finally fight, the soundtrack is filled with car sounds as well -- as if it isn't blatantly obvious that the car was the source of these troubles. It might have been a serious moment when Daming is about to slap his wife, but alas, the lifted hand is accompanied on the soundtrack by screeching tires, and that's just funny. I suppose if he did slap Jiaying there would have been a car crash noise, followed by the sound of a hubcap rolling away, and wobbling to a stop on the pavement.

Though they aren't having an affair with any person, it becomes clear they become so caught up in owning the car that they love it more than they love each other, for a time. They stroke it affectionately, can't stop thinking about it, they become fanatics. Nevermind the fact that they live in Hong Kong and don't really need a car. They really, really get in to owning it.

By the end, the director would like you to believe the movie is really about love, and finding out what is most important in your life. But no, it seems to me the movie is really about buying a car you can't afford and having it change your life in remarkable ways. Why not buy? You can always sell it back later -- you're young, you've got plenty of time to save up money! Come on, what are you waiting for?

Grace Chang sings a song about halfway through the movie, a love song about her car. ("When's the last time you wrote a song about me?" Daming was no doubt wondering). The song sounds a bit like and has lyrics a bit like some kind of communist workers chant. The song even squeezes in a bit about marching, though it doesn't really fit:

I am so happy I am flying
Marching in my car
I hope there is a brand new world
And I will forget all my troubles around me

Onward, capitalist soldiers!

Rating: Not Recommended (Not Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on February 26, 2005.


It's great that you're reviewing these mandarin classics. While I think your opinion that the film is essentially a temple to consumerism is absolutely correct, the film is valuable today as a compelling reminder of an era where traditional Hong Kong residents were faced with the allure of modernization and consumer culture. Read in this way, the conflict - dressed as a love story - is quite compelling. What seems irrational to us about their love for buying the car reflects an anxiety about significant cultural change. MP&GI specialized in these middle-class love stories reflecting anxieties in the face of westernization and modernization, and survive as a valuable complement to the Shaw Bros films which focused more on period pieces and huangmeidiao musicals. Oh and by the way, Grace Chang's ode to cars is priceless. I couldn't stop laughing and the silliness yet I was absolutely moved by the sincerety.

Posted by: Brian at February 26, 2005 02:24 AM
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