Metrograph’s “Shaw Sisters” retrospective—a special program of Shaw Brothers productions helmed by female directors—has entered its final weekend. Eager to take full advantage of its rare offerings, I ventured out to catch a screening of The Twin Bracelets, a domestic drama about a young nonconformist taking a stand against her small, insular community’s archaic and dehumanizing customs. In the remote, backwater fishing village that she inhabits (a frequent destination for curious tourists from the mainland), women are treated as little more than property, valued only as potential wives. Marriage—often arranged by the parents before the future spouses have even met—is reduced to a mere business transaction, motivated more by financial gain than genuine affection.
Disgusted by the various injustices she’s witnessed—her chronically-ill sister-in-law is brutally beaten for the crime of being physically incapable of completing her chores, while another of her acquaintances is forbidden by law from living with her loving husband until she’s given birth to their first child—our plucky and strong-willed (but hopelessly naive) heroine makes a vow to symbolically “wed” her best friend as a means of escaping her preordained social role. Unfortunately, her new “wife’s” actual betrothed happens to be the most sensitive, charming, and compassionate man in existence (when he learns that tradition prevents her from sitting at the dinner table, for example, he stands up to share a meal with her on equal terms), putting the strength of their promise to “live and die together” to the ultimate test.
Although The Twin Bracelets features the tonal and stylistic inconsistencies I’ve come to expect from the studio, its rich thematic subtext is compelling enough to keep the material afloat. It’s certainly my personal favorite film of the showcase so far, and I won’t be forgetting it any time soon.