|She Is Our Senior
Director: Chan Lit-ban
Cast: Connie Chan,
Kenneth Tsang Kong, Law Oi-seung
Publisher: Tien Seng; Format:
I have to admit that my Cantonese is rusty. And I say “rusty,” rather than “completely nonexistent,” only because a Chinese friend recently complimented me on my pronunciation of “Tsing Tao.” Beyond that, though, it’s pretty much completely nonexistent. This language barrier, however, in no way prevents me from indulging in the fantasies of glamour and escape that Connie Chan’s 60s thrillers inevitably inspire. For instance, I don’t need to speak a word of Cantonese to imagine that I’m one of those dapper young gents doing a stately watusi to Connie’s latest hit in some deliciously mod Kowloon nightclub. And if you pretend along, perhaps you can see me there too: I’m that guy who’s the first to dive under a table when the big fight breaks out.
These movies, in addition to inspiring fantasies themselves, are also part of a larger—also movie-fueled—fantasy of mine, in which I am actually sitting in a smoky theater in 1960s Hong Kong watching them. Of course, the image of 1960s Hong Kong that features in this fantasy is completely derived from watching Wong Kar-wai movies (needless to say, my clothes are a-m-a-z-i-n-g), and this fantasy in no way involves me having just worked a grueling factory shift for a pitiful wage, or being a young Chinese woman. But my point is this: Though the finer details of their plots may be lost on those who don’t speak the language, films like She Is Our Senior extend an invitation to dream that translates effortlessly regardless of tongue.
She Is Our Senior was directed by Chan Lit-ban, marking a rare departure from the period martial arts films the director had done previously, many of which famously featured Connie Chan and Law Oi-seung. Though it has many of the surface adornments of Connie’s two-fisted contemporary action thrillers, the film, to me, has more the feel of a juvenile adventure yarn with elements of light comedy. As such, it gets across less by means of visceral thrills than by charm—which, I’m happy to say, it has in great abundance.
Connie Chan and Law Oi-seung here play a pair of young women set on rescuing Chan’s father, who is being held hostage by a criminal gang. Chan and Law Oi-seung have a nightclub act that seems to revolve around Connie’s ability to throw knives and wield a whip really well—and if you think that those skills are going to end up playing a big part in the action to follow, you’re thinking right in tune. Kenneth Tsang Kong provides the love interest for Connie, and romantic complications come with the revelation that the gang’s leader is his father! All leads to a plot rich with risky intrigues and sudden brawls, much of which serendipitously plays out against a nightclub backdrop. Naturally, a host of opportunities are provided for Connie to sing, as well as for some great period twang on the soundtrack (my favorite being a cool instrumental version of The Knickerbockers’ “Lies”).
For those of us who are shut out from the dialogue, much of the aforementioned comedy in She Is Our Senior derives from the guises that Chan and Law Oi-seung assume in the course of their amateur sleuthing. At one point, the pair does reconnaissance at a night club operated by the gang kitted out as a couple of Mafioso types, complete with matching mustaches. But it’s the goofy prowling gear that they rock during the film’s final half that takes the prize. This consists of leopard print togas worn over black cat suits, with masks that incorporate a sort of matador hat with brocaded ears. It’s really difficult to communicate just how silly this looks—and it’s equally hard to imagine that it wasn’t intended as some kind of spoof on Connie and Nam Hung’s iconic roles in The Black Rose.
She Is Our Senior is just one of the literal dozens of films that Connie Chan shot in 1967—and, while it’s not among the best of that busy year’s offerings (among her modern day action pictures, Girl in Red, The Black Killer and Lady With a Cat’s Eyes are pretty hard to beat), it succeeds admirably at being a thoroughly fun and engaging little picture. More importantly, despite being a little on the lightweight side (and perhaps even because of that), it’s a no less welcoming portal for escape into that seductive imaginary past—the one that, to my mind, is at once innocent and sophisticated, and blindingly colorful even when presented in black and white. That an unassuming popcorn movie knocked out in a week’s time could hold such awesome powers of transportation is pretty damn impressive, even without the aid of translation.
by Todd Stadtman of The Lucha Diaries