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  Bride Who Has Returned from Hell, The Consider That A Divorce
Year: 1965
Director: Hsin Chi
Stars: Chin Mei, Ko Chung-Hsiung, Ou Wei, Lau Ching, Dai Pei-Shan, Hsiao Hui, Yue Fan, Hsu Yu, Chou Yo, Chin Tu, Ling Yu, Ding Shiang, Hsiao Pi, Guo Ye Ren, Ke Yo-Min, Wang Man-Jiao, Tien Ming
Genre: Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: The wealthy Wang Yi-Ming (Ko Chung-Hsiung) has just suffered a humiliating tragedy, as his wife has been discovered to be out on a boating trip with another man. He knows this because said boat has been washed up on the shore, with the other man dead inside: however, the wife is nowhere to be seen, presumed drowned. This leaves Mr Wang with much to think on, like an unfaithful spouse and a lack of anybody to look after his young child, therefore he is moved to hire a governess for her, who can also tutor the granddaughter of his housekeeper. This is Miss Bei Sui-Mi (Chin Mei), who is happy for the work, but does not realise what she is letting herself in for, as there are murky goings-on in the clifftop mansion...

This sounds like it is going to be a Gothic like Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca - with which it shared some similarities – except director Hsin Chi did not warm to the possibilities of a stylish horror yarn based in a decadent family, and preferred to keep things, if not prosaic, then verging on the banal, all the better to highlight the plight of the female characters. If this came across more akin to a soap opera that you would have found on Taiwanese television of its day, then for that reason you could legitimately judge it as a missed opportunity, for a full-blooded chiller from this part of the world could have been highly entertaining. As it was, it merely burst into life in fits and starts rather than haring along all the way through the story.

There was actually a tendency towards lack of style with The Bride Who Has Returned from Hell, which undercut the mystery, not completely self-sabotaging, but you would come away from the experience wondering if something more - a lot more - could have been made of the material. Some sources list it as horror, yet the only really horrific aspect occurred near the end where we found out where the wife had gone, otherwise it veered casually from domestic drama, social concerns, light thrills, even wistful songs, and plenty of doting over the two little girls who took up probably too much of the screen time. But there was no real supernatural element (aside from one scene) and the fear factor was limited to the peril Miss Bei was trapped in when the true villain made themselves apparent.

As for those social concerns, they have been the motive for recommending this film, as they were intended, so we're told, to emphasise the plight of the typical Taiwanese woman who struggles to get by in a man's world, at least in the nineteen-sixties when this was created, yet while the drama appeared to be aimed at those members of the population, a plot that pitted them against one another to an extent was perhaps not the most positive of examples of early feminism. Of course, there were allegiances forged as well, and Bei seems to get plenty of support from her young charges, but when romance develops between her and the cold, bad-tempered Mr Wang, it is difficult no to go through mixed feelings. That might have been the intention, but more likely we were supposed to be happy that the heroine had been swept off her feet by the distant man she manages to warm up with her good heart and honesty. However, while it may not be everything its reputation claims it to be, it was a solid, if meandering, little mystery thriller all told. The inclusion of the James Bond theme at the denouement was, on the other hand... not sensible.

[Click here to see the Taiwan Film Festival website where this and other films can be watched, 18th-27th September 2020.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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