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MOVIE REVIEW : ‘BACHELORS’: POLITICAL TO PERSONAL

Times Staff Writer

“The Happy Bachelors” (at the Grande 4-Plex in the Sheraton Hotel, 345 S. Figueroa St.) refers to the name of a song sung by a group of young Shanghai shipyard workers and reflects their high spirits. Carefree and rowdy, they have no responsibilities and secure jobs.

Such good feelings begin to change when they’re assigned to a math class, which they must attend if they want to keep on getting bonuses and raises. They are so genuinely threatened by exposure of their ignorance that they start to rebel, behaving like obstreperous schoolboys. To be sure, their young, pretty teacher (Gong Xue) gradually gains their respect and in turn instills in them a sense of pride and determination.

This modest, appealing little film may begin like “The Corn Is Green,” but it doesn’t linger in the classroom or focus primarily on the teacher-pupil relationship. Once past its message on the importance of universal education in China’s progress, plus the usual exhortations to team spirit (and the equally familiar castigation of the Cultural Revolution), “The Happy Bachelors” moves beyond the political and social to the increasingly personal. In time Gong finds herself at the apex of the eternal triangle.

There’s her brightest pupil (Liu Xinyi), whose initial resentment of her gives way to love, and also her childhood sweetheart (Ma Xiaowei), whom she finds working in the shipyard. They have long been estranged, thanks to the machinations of Gong’s hypocritical mother, who decided that although Liu is the son of the poor woman who cared for her daughter during the Cultural Revolution, he isn’t good enough to marry her.

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In Gong’s predicament, writers Liang Xingming and Yang Shiwen find an opportunity to observe class distinctions in a society supposedly dedicated to classlessness, just as director Song Chong manages to create a natural, easy atmosphere amid sentiments clearly in keeping with the official party line. He has been fortunate with his cast, starting with Xue, seen earlier in the Grande’s “New Films From China” series as the unwed mother in “Under the Bridge.” “The Happy Bachelors” is Times-rated Family.

‘THE HAPPY BACHELORS’ A World Entertainment release of a Shanghai Film Studio production. Director Song Chong. Screenplay Liang Xingming, Yang Shiwen. Camera Zhang Yuanmin. Art directors Zhang Chongxiang, Ye Jinming. With Liu Xinyi, Gong Xue, Ma Xiaowei, Zhan Che, Jian Pingping, Lian Longhai, Cheng Xin, Sie Quoping. In Mandarin, with English and Chinese subtitles.

Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes.

Times-rated: Family.

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