Monday, October 19, 2009

Jefri Zain strikes again

Back in my review of Gerak Kilat -- the film that introduced us to Jefri Zain, Singapore's answer to James Bond -- I mentioned that there were at least two subsequent Jefri Zain movies that I knew of. Those would be 1968's Bayangan Ajal (or, as the credits read, "Jefri Zain dalam Bayangan Ajal") and 1969's Jurang Baraya (ditto). Now that I've seen both of those movies, I know that they are simply the Malaysian language versions of the Lo We helmed Shaw Brothers spy films Summons to Death and The Angel Strikes Back, only with actor Jins Shamsuddin as Jefri Zain standing in for the characters that Tang Ching played in the Mandarin versions. In addition, we have Singapore-born actress Landi Chang stepping in as the leading lady in both films, replacing Tina Chin Fei in the case of Bayangan Ajal/Summons to Death and Lily Ho in the case of the second film.

From the screen grab comparisons below, you'll see that both the Malay and Mandarin versions of these films were shot alongside one another, using the same sets, costumes and camera set-ups. Only some slight changes were made to cater to different local sensibilities, like, for instance, the more conservative swimwear that we see Landi Chan sporting.

Another notable change, in the case of Bayangan Ajal/Summons to Death, is that, while Fanny Fan appears in both versions (along with much of the supporting cast -- not to mention much of the actual footage -- from the Mandarin version), her fanny itself, bared in the Mandarin version, remains covered for the benefit of the Malay speaking audience. And let me clarify for you Brits that when I say "fanny" I mean "bum"; the Shaws may have been getting increasingly risqué as the 60s progressed, but there were still limits.

Watching both versions of these films provided an interesting window into the shrewd economics of Shaws "factory" approach to filmmaking. Here they were not only expanding the potential market for one of their properties, but also, at the same time, adding to an existing franchise at little extra cost (and providing the Zain series with a noticeable boost in on-screen production value in the bargain). You'd think that the logistics involved would be mindboggling. Its easy to imagine one set of actors waiting in the wings while another set completed their shots, only to be then hustled in front of the camera to repeat the exact same shot but in a different language. I'd expect, however, that such a delicate dance, whatever it entailed, would have been no problem for the no-nonsense professionals involved, accustomed as they were to the rigors of churning out features on a day-in-day-out, production line basis.

Shaw also produced a Malay version of the first "Angel" film, Angel With the Iron Fists, but given the film's impracticality as a vehicle for Jins Shamsuddin and his screen alter ego, they instead cast Singaporean star Saadiah in place of Lily Ho and called it Nora Zain: Woman Agent 001. See a YouTube clip here.


David said...

You are truly better than an encyclopedia!

Anonymous said...

I was impressed by those actors who starred in both versions of each film. I'm thinking of Fanny Fan, who has a cat fight with Lily Ho in Angel With the Iron Fists and then again with Saadiah in Nora Zain: Woman Agent 001. Now that's professionalism for you!

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