Papa, Can You Hear Me Sing (1982)
Directed by: Yu Kang Ping
Awards at the Hong Kong Film Awards 1984:
A village mute (Suen Yuet - City On Fire) discovers an abandoned baby and since the mother has resigned all responsibility, he raises her as his own. Not thought to cope with such a task, he quickly proves his fellow villagers wrong and the girl called Ah Ming grows up to become a prominent singer. As her career takes off, the contact with her adoptive father becomes lessened and this opens up wounds...
Yu Kang Ping (Spooky Kookies) logs here perhaps one of Cinema City's greatest underrated treasures from the early 80s, proving that the names Karl Maka and Dean Shek on a producing level was a force to be reckoned with. Set in Taiwan, Raymond Wong and his writers offers up a touching tragedy about broken humans and their relationships. Suen Yuet's mute character finds his way of mending what he's lost through Ah Ming and the fact that he's not disabled in child upbringing makes Papa, Can You Hear Me Sing quickly take on touching, uplifting proportions.
I say quickly because director Yu really comes out flying like a bat out of hell with his story developments and that is a choice that can make absolutely no sense at times and be very welcome if done right. Yu ends up in the latter camp and seems very confident in weaving in the past and ongoing development within a relatively short narrative. With a realistic touch to his directing and portrayal of the closely knit village community, he once again proves why it's Asian filmmakers that again and again can take seemingly sappy and old character material and inject the right amount of heart and warmth into it.
But Papa, Can You Hear Me Sing is not afraid dish out punishment and Yu Kang Ping takes the mended relationships apart via a crucial end to one of the reels, leading to an equal harsh social commentary as the village land is going to be redeveloped and tragic love story between father and daughter to dominate the latter half of the film. While shot in 1982, Yu's tale of how good people end up stepping on toes in favour of success rings eerily true today and I say good because Raymond Wong and company never portrays anyone of the main characters in a bad light thankfully. It sounds harsh to blame life, its inhabitants and circumstances but it definitely is the answer Yu is preaching here. Ah Mei is allowed her success by her father but it's soon the powers of the entertainment circle that creates the dangerous cracks in a relationship so dear to the two of them. It makes the viewing awfully hard to take at times and the tragic proportions are not just a little severe yet rings true to how random life can be. It's not cynical for the sake of being cynical, Wong's script is very assured in avoiding that criticism.
It's high gear and also high melodrama for the most part but since director Yu proves adept not only at injecting depth into his high pace, there is a set, well-done character development that almost always warrants more hysterical drama at hand here also. However there exist restraints and the centre of the film, Suen Yuet's character, brings in the subtleties that raises the film to a level it aims at. Not given any dialogue obviously, Suen may not seem like it but is an extremely expressive veteran actor. His old, resigned face speaks volumes for any mood he's given and it's a a mystery why he wasn't even nominated that year for this dramatic performance when the likes of Richard Ng and Sammo Hung was for their comedic acts. The movie shows that life isn't fair and yea, that ended up being the case at the Hong Kong Film Awards that year even though another crucial aspect of Papa, Can You Hear Me Sing, music, ended up taking home prizes.
Linda Lau is also saddled with a very difficult and increasingly decreased role as time goes by as she must be in her teenage version an pitch perfect loveable image of innocence that is robbed of that when success comes around. She and Suen Yet strike up wonderful chemistry and feels connected as they should even when not on screen together.
Papa, Can You Hear Me Sing is a wonderful, although downbeat discovery from the vaults of Cinema City (that brought you A Better Tomorrow and Aces Go Places). Yu Kang Ping's spot on touches in portraying a Taiwan reality where relationships are easily mended and broken in a heartbeat shows a director that probably deserved a longer career but even though the film is an example of a once in a lifetime peak, it's quite a felt peak.
Universe presents the film in an overmatted 1.92:1 framed aspect ratio approximately (no framing issues of any severe kind to my eyes though). At some points, heavier print degradation rears its head but on the whole, colours and sharpness register fairly well. There are some shots that appear more fuzzy but looks more like a sloppy error made during filming.
The original Mandarin Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track has a few scenes with distortion and even goes slightly off centre during a few moments but sounds clear otherwise.
The English subtitles has a few minor errors but remains largely comprehensible otherwise. Other subtitles options are Bahasa (Malaysia), traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese. Trailers for Papa, Can You Hear Me Sing, The Lunatics, Beloved Son Of God and Alan & Eric Between Hello & Goodbye are included as extras.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson