Tse Lo lin (紫羅蓮) died this week aged 90. Song of Malaya (馬來亞之戀) (1954) was one of her most famous movies, for which she also wrote the script. The film is much more than a romance in an exotic locale. It deals with issues like the traumatic dislocation of war, the identity of overseas Chinese, and the moral and cultural obligations of an individual to society. An extremely beautiful film and very moving. Tase also founded and managed the production company. She was then only 30 years old – quite an achievement for any young actress, anywhere.
Tse was caught up in the Japanese occupation of Hon K9ong, and forc3ed to participate in the high progile film the Japanese Army made to commemorate their victory. It is an important historical document, since it was begun within weeks of the fall of Hon Kong on Decemeber 25th 1941, when the city was still scarred by battle. Re-enactments were filmed as accurately as possible, on location, with the supervison of officers who had taken part. Tse played a small part as a local girl welcomin the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere but she was most certainly not a collaborator. She was smuggled out in considerable danger, rejoining other members of the Hong Kong film industry who had regrouped as exiles in Free China. The charismatic actor, Ng Chor Fan already was a figure in nthe anti-Japanese resistance, having been an activst since the early 1930’s, making patriotic movies and organizing refugee relief. Chinesze cinema always has had social and moral conscience.
In The Song of Malaya (aka Love in Malaya), Tse plays Yuk-kin, a girl who has lost her homeland and family in the war, and travels to Kula Lumpur, searching for her father who had emigrated years before. Since Malaya had also been occupied by the Japanese, the background of social upheaval hangs heavily on the film. Tse arrives in Malaya, excited by the strange new surroundings, but she’s dispossesed. Luckily, she’s taken in by kind local Chinese, some of whom had been in Malaya so long that they acculturated Malay. She meets and is attracted to Mr Wong (played by Cheung Wood Yau) who runs a school for the Wah Kiu, (overseas Chinese) so they can learn Chinese and understand their identity in a multi-cultural society. He’s from China, too, and, like Tse, has lost all contact with his family and native region. Eventually, Tse meets up with her father, (played by Ng Chor Fan) who is now a prosperous businessman with a Wah Kiu wife (Mary Man Lee) who wears sarong kebaya and acculturates Malay. Imagine the tensions.
Tse goes to live in Singapore with her Dad and finish her education. Her father’s associate Mr Cheung (played by Cheung Ying) falls in love with her and wants to marry her. Below, in the clip, we can see Tse sing about Malaya, new hopes and dreams and of friendship between Wah Kiu and China-born. Watch the dynamic between her and her audience. She waves at Schoolteacher Wong, who wavews back at her. But things are not to be. Wong’s wife and son come out of China, but Wong dies, and pr4esumably they’re destitute again. Tse marries Cheung, and they plan a round-the world honeymnoon. But Tse knows where her destiny lies, and Cheung is a good man. So they use their money to continue Wong’s mission to provide a good education for the Wah Kiu.
Tse, the woman, not the character, was deeply religious and stopped making movies in the mid 1960’s to eaise a family. Her marriage ended early in divorce, and she moved to Seattle, bringing up her daughters. So she, and they, became Wah Kiu, ;like millions of other Chinese who have emigrated and live often outside their roots. Not refugees like tse’s character in the movie, but displaced people who forge new identities. I wish The Song of Malaya could be released again because in some ways it’s even more relevant now. In nthe second clip, whic h mixes nthe itro with short clips frommthe film, the scne at the building site is symbolic.The cranes work well, but the peasant hauls soil in a wheelbarrow. Together they build a channel for a river. Hence, integration and commitment, not anomie.
Original Source: The Song of Malaya ; a aong for the displaced