Grace Chang, Peter Chen Ho, Kitty Ting Hao, Liu En-chia
Director: Evan Yang
Hong Kong's cinema, like its cityscape, has so radically changed during the past half-century that watching Mambo Girl is akin to an entertaining lesson in a bygone pop era.
This 1957 classic also ranks as one of the most delightful musicals ever produced in the region, with an infectious spirit that makes up for its conventional plot and somewhat plodding direction.
Its best facet, however, is the then 24-year-old actress-singer Grace Chang in what proved to be her breakthrough role.
As the lass referred to in the title, she is the personification of idealised Hong Kong youth, the demure but spunky 'girl next door' who warbles like a pro and, when not attending high school, dances up a storm.
The movie is also a testament to the high standards of MP&GI, a studio that specialised in Mandarin productions and, for a brief period from 1957 to 1964, created some of the most polished motion pictures in Hong Kong's cinematic history.
Mambo Girl is a prime example of a blended Shanghai-Hollywood sensibility filtered through a Hong Kong prism.
Director Evan Yang and his cast hailed from the mainland, settling in the colony after the change in governments across the border, but the movie was totally Hong Kong in spirit, albeit one reflecting the middle-class aspirations of its bourgeois Mandarin-speaking characters. Yang's script is very much a product of its time, with its mixture of song and dance accompanying a dramatic plot in which the 'mambo girl' searches for her birth mother.
Mambo Girl's most memorable aspect is its music. The initial shot, with the camera panning up Grace's harlequin pants as she goes into her mambo, is one of the most frolicsome openings in the annals of Hong Kong film.
Another highlight takes place in the Diocesan Boys' School gymnasium where Grace teaches co-star Peter Chen Ho how to cha-cha.
Mambo Girl also serves as a primer for fans interested in Mandarin movie history. In addition to its stellar couple, there's the teenage sister played by Kitty Ting Hao, on the verge of her own stellar career that was tragically cut short by suicide a decade later.
Even Mona Fong makes an appearance as a nightclub chanteuse, long before her ascendancy in the hierarchy of Shaw Brothers, MP&GI's main rival, and eventual marriage to Sir Run Run Shaw.
Mambo Girl was a resounding success upon its initial release and remains engaging today. It represents a high point in the career of its director-writer, whose oeuvre is currently the subject of a major retrospective entitled In the Name of Love: The Films of Evan Yang, organised by the Hong Kong Film Archives as a contributing programme to the 33rd Hong Kong International Film Festival.
For those who like to see their movies in a theatrical setting, it's a rare opportunity to catch Mambo Girl on the big screen.