Second Sight: How to Get a Wife

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 February, 2013, 4:45pm

How to Get a Wife

In Cantonese cinema circa 1961, no screen couple generated as much celluloid heat as Patsy Kar Ling and Patrick Tse Yin. The two then-25-year-olds had co-starred two dozen times and were such an integral part of Hong Kong's pop culture that How to Get a Wife (1961) was able to strike comedy gold by taking self-reference to new extremes.

The marital farce was another sparkling work by Chun Kim, director, scriptwriter, and co-founder of Kong Ngee, the Cantonese studio most in-tune with the tastes and trends of Hong Kong's younger generation. In How to Get a Wife, Chun endowed the sometimes slapstick proceedings with a degree of wit and sophistication that transformed them to a higher level - but not too high to preclude mainstream audience approval.

Most unusual was the use of the stars' personae as motivating factors in their fictional romance.

In the role of Tse Sing, Tse plays an office worker well aware of his resemblance to the celebrity and mournful that his humble station prevented him from ever snaring a prize as lovely as Kar Ling. He is thus astounded when the actress' ringer, Cheung Wai-ling (Kar Ling), comes in to apply for a job as secretary, little suspecting that Ling is the mistress of his boss (Keung Chung-ping). Once the latter's wife (Sheung Kwun Kwan-wai) gets wind of the new employee, complications ensue that force the Patrick and Patsy "look-alikes" to masquerade as a couple.

The cast is a delight, with Ma Siu-ying stealing a few scenes in her patented role of gossipy aunt, and Sheung Kwun hilarious when she tries to get Ling drunk but only succeeds in besotting herself.

Surprisingly, the picture still makes a strong social statement when Ling stirringly describes the circumstances that led her to become a "black market wife" and forcefully condemns the sexist attitudes of Hong Kong's chauvinistic society.

Paul Fonoroff

How to Get a Wife, Feb 16, 7pm, HK Film Archive; Mar 10, 2pm, Broadway Cinematheque. Part of the 100 Must-See HK Movies programme