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後門 (1960)
Rear Entrance


Reviewed by: Stephe
Date: 07/06/2011

Butterfly Wu is an infertile older woman who would like to
adopt a neglected little girl (Wong Oi-Ming) who plays outside
the stoop of the back entrance of the building opposite her
building's back entrance. The girl's stepmother (Weng Mu-Lan)
regards her with disdain and treats her with indifference, and
her father (Cheng Miu) is a low-level Lothario. The older woman
and her novelist husband Wang Yin -- who memorably played the
father in the MP & GI Lucilla Yu Ming vehicles Her Tender Heart
(1959) and Father Takes a Bride (1963), as well as in Education
of Love (1961) and A Story of Three Loves (1964) -- through the
intercession of the maids from the two households (Kao Tsiang and
Ma Hsiao-Nung) and the blessing of father Cheng Miu, are able to
adopt the little girl. Up until this point, the film has been
heartwarming, but too pat and predictable. Making matters worse
is the anachronistic soundtrack created to make up for the
missing audio on the master film.

All proceeds well until, one day, out on a walk with
household maid Kao Tsiang, the little girl espies her birth
mother (Lee Heung-Gwan), who is on a date with an unknown man.
Butterfly's cousin Chiu Ming (1) comes to visit and bemoans
how he is having trouble finding a suitable woman with which to
settle down. Just as his visit is over and Wang Yin escorts him
back to the back patio, the birth mother appears, whereupon the
cousin stops a moment -- taken by what he sees -- before moving
on. Butterfly is crestfallen when she sees how Wong Oi-Ming
reacts to her birth mother's visit. Later on, birth mother Lee
Heung-Gwan tells Wang Yin (Butterfly's husband) that she is a
two-time divorcee and is not optimistic about finding a good
father for Wong Oi-Ming.

Eventually, Butterfly's cousin dates and falls in love with
the birth mother, and the older couple sees their adopted
daughter slip away, since the young couple would provide a stable
environment for the child, and Wong Oi-Ming would be able to be
with her birth mother.

The denouement is unexpected, yet fitting, and stands in
contrast to the way the story in Her Tender Heart plays out,
where an older adopted girl (played by Lucilla Yu Ming) makes a
quite different choice concerning her birth mother.

It is self-evident that this black & white 1960 Shaw Brothers
feature was produced in order to entice archrival Motion Picture
and General Investment (MP & GI)'s core viewing audience, which
was used to seeing their filmic tableaux in black and white, but
the superior film stock and camerawork on display, made possible
by the deeper pockets of the Shaw Brothers studio, makes for a
conspicuous and wonderful change.

There is an abundance of interior shots that show the older
couple's living space to be more sophisticated than in any other
MP & GI or Shaw Brothers film I've seen which takes place in a
modern era. Clearly, a talented architect and set designer were
chosen to create a specific ambience, and the results help anchor
the performances.

The film's director, Li Han-Hsiang, is perhaps best known
for having made the award-winning Huangmei Diao films Diau Charn
(1958), The Kingdom and the Beauty (1959), and The Love Eterne
(1963), but a director is not a writer, so he is perhaps not
responsible for the film's storytelling, which is obvious and
lackluster compared with the sort of scripts that distinguished
most of MP & GI's output. The acting is uniformly solid, but the
characters are hampered by a one-note script that leaves no room
for ambiguity. The end of the story reminds me of the MP & GI
film Spring-time Affairs (1968), where a parting of ways is
informed by a moral decision, but the resolution here connotes
maturation instead of entropy.

Ten minutes into the film, where Butterfly Wu plays piano
while kindergarten children dance, we see a teacher guiding the
children, flapping her arms birdlike, and then we meet the
school's principal. This teacher and principal are played by the
same two actors -- Liu Kei (1) and Man Sau -- who played Roy
Chiao's parents in the MP & GI film Devotion, released the same
year Rear Entrance was. Perhaps they are husband and wife, or
maybe it's just a coincidence. Either way, it's interesting to
note that their characters in the two films look almost identical.

The woman who plays the older couple's maid, Kao Tsiang, was
a MP & GI mainstay throughout her career, while the woman who
plays the little girl's stepmother's maid, Ma Hsiao-Nung, seems
to have worked for MP & GI from 1957 to 1963, and for Shaw
Brothers throughout the fifties and sixties.

Rear Entrance won the award for Best Picture at the 7th
Asian Film Festival.

Reviewer Score: 4